Inspiration from Haiti

Thursday September 12 2013


Ancito EtienneWhen the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Ancito Etienne helped rescue 15 people from the rubble. He then served as a translator for American doctors. Later he collected books and started summer school programs for his fellow students.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Ancito is one of the standouts in the Class of 2017. A member of the Westover Honors Program and an economics major, Ancito first came to this country and learned English because of a health crisis at age 12, when he felt large lumps in his neck, but had no idea what they were. “We had never experienced cancer in my family before,” he said. Finally, he traveled four hours north of his hometown to a hospital his parents could afford, and discovered that he had lymphoma.

In 2008, thanks to Partners in Health (PIH), Ancito and his father were able to come to Boston, where Ancito received chemotherapy and radiation for eight months. “I was fascinated by the way the doctors were speaking,” he said. “I had never heard English before.” So during his stay, he learned to speak English, adding to his native Haitian Creole and French, and he beat the cancer.

On Jan.12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 100,000 people and doing massive damage. Ancito happened to be at the Partners in Health office, where he had been volunteering as a way to repay all the organization had done for him. This is how Ancito described, in an essay, what he saw as he ran outside and the dust cleared.

“The big old building across the street collapsed, and about 50 people died inside of it,” he said. “All we heard was people screaming and crying, and cars honking. I stood there for about 15 minutes until I could see. When I was finally able to see, I wished I was blind.”

Ancito ran home, and his family’s rental house was cracked, but standing and he found his parents and four siblings in a nearby field unharmed. So he began going from house to house and finding people to help him pull others from the rubble.

He soon received another call to help. PIH said the American doctors needed translators in the ER, the ICU, and even in the operating room. “I saw a lot,” Ancito said. “That’s why I don’t really like medicine.”

Cate Oswald, the woman Ancito worked with at PIH, was so impressed with him she helped him secure a scholarship to attend a two-week summer program at Brown University on leadership and global health. At the end of the class, each participant was to submit an action plan. Ancito’s plan was to build a library at his school. There is only one library in Port-au-Prince, the national library, and students rarely have a chance to go there during hours of operation, he said.

Ancito managed to round up about 300 books in French and another 400 in English, though very few Haitians can speak English, he said. Those books are still in use at his former high school.

In 2011, Ancito once again earned a scholarship to Brown for a summer program on organizing and mobilizing leadership for social change. Again, Ancito created a plan to create a summer class in Haiti on the same topics he studied: education, housing, food security, birth control, and climate change.

With the help of a former social studies teacher, his program got stared in summer 2012 with 15 students and continued in 2013 with 25. He hopes to be able to go back again next summer to keep the project going.

In the interim, a woman at Brown was so impressed with Ancito that she asked her parents to take him in and found a high school for him to attend in Rhode Island for his senior year.

Ancito found Lynchburg College through Colleges That Change Lives, and LC was able to provide scholarships to pay half his costs for a year. His Rhode Island family fundraised for the other half. Unfortunately, he said, his parents cannot afford to help him (they have no electricity and only recently moved out of their cracked house) so he is unsure whether he will be able to continue college next year. But he remains hopeful.

“My parents have taught me that education is the most powerful weapon which I can use to change the world and that nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal,” he said.

Read more about Ancito in The News & Advance.