Are you a Haitian-American eager to find a way to help those in Haiti? Trisha Therese, a New Yorker born of Haitian parents, who’s currently living in the Los Angeles area, counted herself among those who wanted to find a way to apply her skills to serving the island’s population. Let’s find out how this medical student took action and fulfilled her quest of giving back to Haiti.
Kreyolicious: Tell us about your memories of growing up Haitian-American.
Trisha Therese: I grew up in the suburbs of NYC. There were a lot of Haitian people in the surrounding communities and I definitely took for granted the plethora of Haitian restaurants and bakeries within driving distance (I’m especially missing this since I moved to Los Angeles where there are none to be found). Growing up, I had a regular life as an American kid living in the suburbs, but my parents made sure that I was well connected to Haitian culture, and that I had Haitian pride.
My mom really put an emphasis on learning languages and how to make traditional foods. As a kid, she made sure to get me children’s books in French and English so I could practice both languages. She also bought computer software for me to practice French grammar and learn French at home. I was also exposed to a lot of Haitian Creole and unlike some parents, she really encouraged me to learn and speak it. I know some parents who worry that raising their children in a multilingual home makes it harder for them in school or they worry that their kids will have an accent. But my mom saw it as an asset that I could speak three languages and I’m so glad she did. It’s nice being fluent in French, Creole, and English, and the fact that I can read, write, and speak in Creole has been an asset to my work in Haiti. When it comes to cooking, I will admit that I didn’t take my mom very seriously when she was trying to teach me as a child. I am genuinely regretting it now that I live across the country from her and I can’t make my favorite Haitian dishes on my own. But you best believe that every time I come home during school breaks, I make sure to have her teach me at least one new recipe!
Growing up, my parents were always involved in the Haitian community. My dad was especially active (and still is today), so it makes sense that I’ve started to follow in his footsteps by taking on leadership roles in organizations and causes dedicated to helping Haitian people.
Above: Trisha Therese during one of her trips to Haiti.
Kreyolicious: You were part of a Haiti project?
Trisha Therese: Yes, I was part of a few. During my time at Harvard, I worked with different Boston-based organizations that focused on improving healthcare and medical education in Haiti. One of the projects was to perform a census of Haitian families living in the mountains on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. Before this project, it was unknown how many families were living in the mountains. We used GPS trackers to map the coordinates of the homes that we found in the mountains and collected data on their needs, health, and access to food and water. I was the only one who came on the trip that could speak Creole, so I did almost all of the speaking and translating for the group. I’ll never forget when one of the kids realized I was speaking Creole and not French. He ran and got his mother and she gave me a hug. She couldn’t believe that I was born in [the United States of] America, learned to read, write, and speak Creole, and came to her remote community to help. She explained to me how missionaries came every so often to her area, to bring food, water, and medical supplies, but they never spoke Creole and usually only spoke French or Spanish. She said that she has never seen a Haitian or a Haitian-American come to her community and that I gave her hope. That experience was really humbling and I realized that my Creole skills should not go to waste. Since then, I’ve returned to Haiti a few times and have been dedicated to helping Haiti in any way I can.
I ended up returning to Haiti during my time in undergrad to work with another organization on a new medical education curriculum for medical students in Haiti. I spent a year helping to develop this course for Haitian medical students. American medical students were invited as well and they flew to Haiti to participate. We created a summer course that focused on the social determinants of health and how social and environmental factors are major contributors to disease, especially amongst poor and vulnerable populations.
After entering medical school, I sought opportunities to continue work in Haiti. It was hard at first since my school is in Los Angeles where there is a very small Haitian population. Thankfully I found a research mentor who was planning on doing a research project in Port-au-Prince. Thanks to generous sponsorship by my school’s global health program and guidance from my mentor, I traveled solo to Port-au-Prince to lay the foundations for a study we were working on. The study took place at GHESKIO, which is a leading center for the study and treatment of HIV and AIDS in Haiti. During this time, I spent the summer living in Port-au-Prince and working at GHESKIO where I worked alongside the nurses and doctors in the maternal HIV clinic. I also got to spend time at GHESKIO’s laboratory in Tabarre.
[Photo Credit: Trisha Therese/Three Thousand Miles Blog]
This concludes PART I of the interview with Trisha Therese! Watch out for PART I, which will give us more insight on this Haitian-American’s remarkable background journey.
CLICK HERE to visit her blog and website!
CLICK HERE to follow her on Instagram.