‘I was not in the hospital, that day: on January 12th 2010 I was celebrating the beginning of my first vacation after a two year period of work. On my way, while I was rushing to the hospital, I could already count lots of dead. I worked uninterruptedly for hours, without stopping for a moment, almost in trance, just as also my colleagues were doing, in an attempt to remedy such catastrophe, perfectly aware that my efforts were just a drop compared to the sea of devastation and mourning that had hit my country and my people.
We have met Marc Edson Augustin, medical coordinator of the Saint Luc Foundation (the Haitian partner structure of ABF in the Caribbean Island), on the occasion of the second edition of “Celebrity Fight Night”; the Italian American philanthropic marathon that was at that time almost ending. Just the day before Dr Augustin had given a speech on stage during the Gala presented by Sharon Stone.
Earthquakes are a topic that is ironically actual: in fact during the night the earth has shaken, in Florence, thank God without any consequence…”The shock has waken me up with a start”, explains our speaker, talking at a low voice, weighing his words: “Last night I could not help but go back with anguish to the tragic moments of the Haitian earthquake. I phoned home immediately, I wanted to hear my wife’s and my daughters’ voices just to reassure them and to reassure myself. It is still an open wound; it is something difficult to talk about, for me and for all my fellow countrymen”.
Today Dr Augustin oversees a hospital, some clinics, and a women’s health center. He continues to practice his profession (he is specialized in internal medicine), even if his directional role within the Saint Luc Foundation engages him in directional and administrative issues. ABF works side by side with him and with the other Haitian operators of this meritorious Caribbean Institution on projects that aim at the empowerment of people and communities.
‘For me medicine has always been a great passion since childhood. When I ended secondary school I chose this path, without putting myself too many questions. A contribution perhaps was the fact that I loved helping the others, and above all that I did not accept (and still do not accept) to see people suffer without doing anything for them. Furthermore even though we had no relatives in the medical branch, even my sister, who is a little older than I, has made the same choice, and works as a pediatrician’.
But at the moment is education, though partially, guaranteed in Haiti? ‘No, unfortunately, it isn’t. Suffice it to say that 70% of its population is illiterate. On the island studying is a privilege. Only one out of ten, among those who finish high school succeeds in attending University. You have to struggle a lot to emerge, and you must also be lucky, if you want to enter a faculty like medicine. There is only one state University and three private ones. Also education is not always top quality’.
Once graduated, after years of sacrifice, the temptation to go abroad is very strong…’60% of those who have accomplished university studies leave the island: Haiti is next to the US to Canada, to other countries where if you have studied it is possible to have different prospects, Here you can think of growing your family granting them a future of well-being, while, the economic situation of my country is very complex and extremely fragile’.
Yet Dr. Augustin has decided to stay. ‘Working in Haiti is always a challenge. I have got many friends and former school-mates who have decided to go to US where I have been for a period, perfecting my medical skills… With my wife, who also is a doctor, we have often discussed whether or not to stay, above all thinking of our children: but I am very pleased of my work for the Saint Luc Foundation…In addition, the enormous effort that has been requested after the earthquake is one more reason to stay. But anyway, the economic and political situation is in critical conditions, and in times of distress I must confess that there comes to my mind the option of throwing in the towel and go abroad. But, at the moment, I am holding on’.
Does your role in the Saint Luc Foundation require relating with institutions, with politics? ‘We try to steer away. We work with other Foundations, and limit to a strict minimum the relationship with local power’.
Five years ago the first meeting between Augustin and the charismatic passionist Father Rick Frechette: doctor and priest, founder and director of the N.P.H. Haiti and of the Affiliate “Saint Luc”, who has dedicated his life to help children in need and to adopt the most marginalized and poorest families of the island…’Father Rick is a great source of inspiration for all of us, and he is also a colleague! On my first day in the Family Hospital St. Luc, the medical director of the time told me he would introduce me to the founder. I expected to meet an elegant gentleman, in suits, while to shake my hand, warmly welcoming me, there was Father Rick, T-shirt and sun-glasses who was fiddling around on a truck. On my second day in the hospital, I was already wearing my white coat and was visiting patients. I love Father Rick and I am happy I have been near him since then, in this that is a daily exciting challenge’.
What has changed since 2010? ‘In a certain way today we are unprepared for a seismic event, just as we were then, because after the earthquake we had to start from scratch. The catastrophic event has devastated our economy already very fragile, even though the aid from outside has supported us in our attempts to start once again. And in our hospitals, thanks also to the cooperation with other friendly Foundations, just like yours, and thanks also to the support regarding tools and skills, we are now able to provide even cutting edge medical care, in some cases’.
Marc Edson Augustin tightened his relations with ABF starting from 2014, thanks to a program aimed at providing medical insurance for all the students of the schools supervised by the Saint Luc Foundation and by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation.‘I am really glad of the many common work fronts that we have set and I am taking this opportunity to express my gratitude to Andrea Bocelli and to his Foundation .Unfortunately in Haiti still many, too many people, die because of poverty, because, may be, they cannot buy medicines that cost the equivalent or less than one dollar …We are, therefore, always in need to ask the foreign Foundations for economic support. On the contrary, it was ABF, to offer, discreetly and generously, its help. We are happy of it and try to exploit such opportunities in the best way, we work hard, every day, to make the difference, to help our people and to make the world understand how necessary it is to join forces in the desire to give a future to Haiti’.
Giorgio De Martino