Jeremiah J. Lowney, Jr is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in being a Rotarian.
I am so pleased to be honored with the White House Champion of Change title – thank you!
I was born in Fall River, Mass, the oldest of eleven children. Our family was very poor, and we all struggled to get through school and college – and, for me, Dental school. My mother and father always taught us that our only way out of poverty was through education.
In 1981, at age 45, I had a wonderful, healthy family and a successful orthodontic practice. I was recovering from a serious malignancy and decided with my wife that we had reached the “giving back” or “paying forward” plateau in our lives.
I accepted an opportunity to join a group venturing to Port au Prince, Haiti in February 1982. I carried dental instruments, anesthesia, and miscellaneous items, and, along with my son, Mark, a Boston College student, we set up dental extraction clinics in the slum clinics and hospices operated by Mother Teresa’s Religious Sisters. The need was overwhelming. I would remove hundreds of diseased and infected teeth each day. Usually, it was the first time that these poor folks had experienced extractions with anesthesia.
I was so thoroughly captivated by the need, the dedication of the Sisters, and the appreciation of these poor and broken neighbors that I returned to Haiti in three months, and have journeyed to Haiti every three months for 31 years.
In 1985, at the request of Mother Teresa, I moved my small, volunteer operation to Jeremie, an extremely remote area in southwestern Haiti. Other than a small, poorly equipped government hospital, there was virtually no health care for a population of 600,000 people.
We formed the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) and began to build a health system. Our current operating budget is $3.5 million. 230,000 of this hemisphere’s poorest people are under the HHF umbrella of care, and HHF’s facilities in Haiti employ over 180 people, mostly local Haitians.
Since 1985, HHF has created a number of outreaches in this area, including:
- Built a 27,000 square foot, three-story concrete outpatient clinic, with medical facilities, office, and a volunteer residence. Several hundred patients a week are treated there. Services include: full clinical laboratory, pharmacy, X-Ray, sonography, inhalation therapy, breast exam programs, and a diabetes program providing for several hundred diabetic patients.
- Secured a USAID Maternal and Child Health Grant, which has grown to help fund HHF’s Public Health Program to over 100 extremely rural, mountain villages.
- Built a residential treatment facility (The Center of Hope) for village women in high risk pregnancy (50 beds), and for severely malnourished children (25 beds). In addition to the residential services, hundreds of prenatal women receive prenatal care at the Center each day.
- Fully immunized over 100,000 children, decreased deaths from pneumonia in children by 50%, and, among others, have impacted maternal mortality, early pregnancy and diarrhea deaths in children with our programs.
- In 2000, built (and fully funded) a school adjacent to a slum area where 1,200 children grades K–9 receive an education at no cost, and each receives a daily hot meal (usually their only meal of the day).
- Supported up to 800 poor families through a family sponsorship program since 1988, and provided school support for up to 1,500 children for over 16 years.
- Built five Akamil food processing plants in Jeremie and villages to make high protein foods out of local produce.
- Established a feeding program for the most malnourished children and perinatal women, serving several thousand with high protein food, including ‘take home.
- All programs involve a level of education before services provided. Health lessons are always taught through songs, stories, and skits, due to the high level of non-literacy.
- Since 2005, nearly 4,000 youth – mostly teenage girls – have benefited from HHF’s Responsible Sexuality/Soccer program. This program teaches anatomy, physiology, sexual negotiation skills, etc., and has already had an impact on teen pregnancy in our catchment area.
- Restored about 8,000 Creole sows lost in the 1970 Swine Flu. This began as a Rotary project and grew.
- Built nearly 3,000 new cement/tin roof houses in the villages (Happy House) at $1,000 each and nearly 3,000 latrines. This started as Rotary project.
- Distributed over 5,000 female goats to poor Haitian farmers. This also began as a Rotary project.
- Established and supported a Rotary Club in Jeremie.
- Rebuilt a terrible slum, Makandal, with 115 new cement/tin roof houses at $5,200 each, making a healthy social and hopeful future for several thousand.
- Established a garden/tree nursery project to replace trees and gardens lost in villages due to storms.
Provided for 130,000 “internally displaced refugees” who ventured to Jeremie after the January 2010 earthquake searching for shelter, medical care, and food.
These are but a few of HHF’s programs. Each month at least one or two teams of volunteers journey to HHF at their own expense, serving the poor and sharing time, talent, and treasure.
I was given one year to live in 1981, and it has been a wonderful, productive and fulfilling “year”!
Jeremiah J. Lowney, Jr. is the Founding President of The Haitian Health Foundation.
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