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Awaken Haiti

Vanessa Brandt checks the lungs of a woman in Canaan Haiti in one of the buildings constructed by Awaken Haiti crews.

A microscope may not seem like much to anyone who’s gone through a biology class in school, but it means the world of difference to Vanessa Brandt.

The Boiling Springs High School graduate knows that even something as simple as a microscope will mean better medical treatment in Haiti. And that’s just what she’ll be able to take with her on her next trip to Haiti in June.

"The main reason we want to bring it down is that it will help people identify malaria in blood samples," Brandt said, adding that although they have been able to avoid much of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, malaria is something they haven’t escaped. "Malaria is a huge problem down in Haiti. We didn’t have a way to test for it before."

While beneficial, the microscope won’t be the only thing Brandt takes with her.

Brandt is one of the members of Awaken Haiti, a nonprofit group started by Jeff Denlinger and his family when they moved from the Carlisle area to Haiti to help rebuild at least a portion of the country

after the earthquake. The Denlinger family settled in Canaan, and they, along with Brandt, are some of the few full-time workers in Haiti.

But in addition to the group’s staff and volunteers, Carlisle Regional Medical Center has also joined the nonprofit to help out with a medical trip.


Dr. Joe Pion of Graham Medical Clinic has worked on medical trips to Honduras previously as a part of the Cumberland Global Medical Care Foundation, but when that was no longer an option, the opportunity at Awaken Haiti presented itself.

It didn’t take long for Pion and the nonprofit to put something together. In June Pion, along with Dr. Ryan Crim of Carlisle Family Care, Physician’s Assistant Alicia Mills of Boiling Springs Family Medicine and a number of nurses, including one from Holy Spirit Hospital, will become the first big batch of trained medical professionals to visit Canaan.

"This opportunity with Awaken Haiti really seemed to be what we wanted to do," Pion said. "It was exciting because it’s a fairly new endeavor, and we’ll be a part of that. They want to start a family practice clinic, and our mission, for the most part, has been our family practice."

Both Mills and Crim also work in the family practice field, and the two were recruited when Pion sent out an email to the Carlisle Regional Medical Center staff about the work in Haiti.

Mills worked with Pion before and learned about his other medical trips to Honduras. She jumped at the chance to join the Awaken Haiti trip.

"I always wanted to do a medical mission," she said. "I just said, ‘I’m going. Sign me up.’"

Work in Haiti

The group out of Carlisle, which includes some husbands, a nurse’s son and Pion’s own son, will be headed out for a week to mostly where Awaken Haiti has a presence, according to Pion. They will be working in the medical clinic that Awaken Haiti built in Canaan, and the physicians will also be visiting the two orphanages that the organization built in Haiti.

It’s a big leap from where Canaan started after the earthquake in January 2010.

According to Doug Denlinger, Jeff’s brother and financial adviser for the organization, Canaan didn’t exist before the earthquake. The "city" was only formed after the mass evacuations out of the major cities.

"It was just an open field before that," Denlinger explained. "About 5,000 people settled there, and it’s now a tent city."

Though Awaken Haiti started out small as a mission organization, it’s since expanded with Jeff Denlinger’s expertise as a builder and Brandt’s knowledge as a physician. The organization was responsible for building orphanages in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, two other buildings to be routinely used as medical clinics as well as a few homes.

Awaken Haiti also makes a point to make sure Haitians are involved every step of the way.

Those constructing the new buildings hire and train those living in the tent city on how to build them, and the local Haitian leaders choose who will get to live in the newly built homes, which promotes leadership within the community, Denlinger said. Haitians have already been trained and educated with a number of medical seminars, and once the microscope arrives, more will be trained to identify what they need to look for in blood samples.

"What we’re working to get is that network of knowledge and skills," Denlinger said. "We don’t want to take away any work from the people there. We don’t want to make them dependent on us. We want to build that economy and work with the local people."

The efforts can sometimes be costly – private sponsors help pay for staff while proceeds go to the work in Canaan – but it’s worth it for those like Brandt who left her job at Duke University to work for a year in Haiti. She’ll be traveling ahead of the June team and getting back to Haiti in May.

"I’m really grateful for all of the support back home," she said. "I get to help people who aren’t accustomed to that kind of help."

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