Haiti earthquake

Will Perez ’08 and a young friend in Haiti last year: Triage now; rebuilding to come.

Credit: Courtesy Will Perez

Catastrophe in Les Cayes

A Brown medical student worries about the public health program he established last year in southwestern Haiti.

By Mark Hollmer  |  January 13, 2010  |  Email to a friend

Alpert Medical School student Will Perez lived in Haiti for a year after his May 2008 Brown graduation, devoting his life to the creation of a public nonprofit health program under the auspices of Pwoje Espwa (Project Hope).

Pwoje Espwa provides housing, schooling, and food programs for thousands of children and families in and near the village of Les Cayes, in southwestern Haiti, about a four-hour drive or a short plane ride from the now-demolished capital of Port-au-Prince. Perez trained local citizens to provide information on disease prevention to families in the area. Although he returned to Providence last year to begin medical school, Perez continues to travel back and forth to Haiti to oversee the outreach program, known in Creole as Pwoje Espwa Pwogram Sante Piblik.

Perez and health outreach trainees in Les Cayes: Perez and health outreach trainees in Les Cayes Two days after the catastrophic earthquake hit this week, he was struggling to take in the impact of the disaster.

“I am pretty senseless about it,” Perez said. “In one day, the clinic in Les Cayes has seen the same number of patients we would normally see in a week. I’ve lost four friends, and the major hospitals and schools are destroyed. There is no water, no food, and no basic medical supplies. People are dying from wound infections that could be treated easily with an antibiotic. There will be many deaths just from minor casualties.”

On the other hand, he said, Les Cayes was not hit as badly by the shocks as the capital, and the outpowering of support is enormous: “Even while supplies are evaporating, our manpower has never been greater. People from the nearby villages are coming together with our public health workers to rescue, treat, and care for the sick and injured.”

He worries about Les Cayes and other outlying villages because supplies come through the capital first. With the only road out of Port-au-Prince unusable, rural Haitians will face worse hardships as the days go by. “Food and fuel will not be able to get to several regions,” he said.

Perez first learned something was wrong Tuesday afternoon when he spoke to a Haitian colleague who was calling from neighboring Dominican Republic. “My friend said in mid-conversation that the ground was starting to shake,” Perez recalled. “I asked, Is a big truck coming? He said, No, the ground is shaking faster – and he started to yell. And then we lost the connection.”

Perez, who continues to raise funds for Pwoje Espwa, is also involved in community service in Rhode Island, where he and other student volunteers organize birthday celebrations for children in homeless shelters.