Published October 19, 2018
While a college student in the United States, Pierre-Louis Joizil told his friends back home he wanted to come back to impoverished Haiti to build a secondary school in his hometown of Fontaine.
“Are you crazy?” they asked him.
Through faith, hard work and support, Joizil has managed to accomplish that dream, something he shared with Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences students in a September talk sponsored by the Global Health Interest Group.
Joizil walked four hours each day — two hours to get there and two more to get home — to attend high school in Pignon. He knew he needed to make it easier for students in his community — who often stop formal education after the sixth grade — to learn.
After graduating from Siena College in Loudonville, New York, he went home to make his dream a reality. St. Gabriel’s School opened its doors in 2012 and graduated its first class in 2017.
And he didn’t stop there.
With the help of Jacobs School medical students and others associated with UB — including a fortuitous friendship with a fellow Siena alum — health care is improving in Fontaine.
While completing his undergraduate education at Siena, Jacobs School alumnus Vincenzo B. Polsinelli, MD ’18, became involved in constructing the school. When he came to Buffalo, Polsinelli decided he wanted to start a medical outreach to Fontaine, and ever since the Global Medicine Initiative has been running five days of clinics in Haiti twice a year.
“If I lived here (in the United States), I’d be able to help myself and maybe help some family or friends in Haiti, but not 200 kids, not 600 or 700 people you see at Christmas and Easter,” Joizil said. “God is using me as an instrument to help others.”
He encouraged those in attendance to come to Haiti on one of those trips to make an impact.
“We help you to feel that you are called. While you are practicing, while you are studying, you are helping them,” Joizil said. “I really encourage you to put all your heart into it. You may not know if you are helping, but you are changing people’s lives.”
Aaron van Dyne, a second-year medical student in the Jacobs School, told the gathering about his visit and the impact it had upon him.
“I was struck by the entirety of the experience of going to Haiti,” van Dyne said. “The people are fantastic. I hear them say we’re doing so much for them, but they’re doing so much for us. It really impacted my life and my career. I’m eternally grateful for the people of Haiti.”
At a low moment of her life, Mona Lloyd discovered how life-changing the trip could be.
“Two years ago my sister was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. It was very quick and very sad. At the same time I was diagnosed with cancer and I’m a survivor. Why does it matter? It matters because I felt I had more to do,” said Lloyd, a CPA by trade and the mother of David Lloyd, MD ’16, a third-year internal medicine resident at UB.
“About that time my son graduated from medical school here and I asked him if I could go to Haiti — and I went. I’ve been there five times since and it is truly a life-changing event. You can’t even begin to imagine. It’s a community unlike any that you’ve ever experienced. If you get a chance to go, if you get a chance to be part of this experience, you don’t want to miss it. It will change your life,” said Lloyd, a board member for Friends of Fontaine, which raises money to support relief trips and projects that benefit the Haitian community.
David M. Holmes, MD, clinical associate professor of family medicine and director of global health education, became friends with Joizil while leading several medical relief trips to Haiti.
“Pierre-Louis is an inspiration to the students, health professionals and me. He’s shown that one person with vision, determination, leadership and the help of others can make a huge difference even in a very poor and remote community in Haiti,” Holmes said. “I believe there are many Pierre-Louis’s among our UB students, who now have a broader vision of the world and the good they can do in it, thanks to Pierre-Louis and their time in Fontaine.”
Joyce M. Paterson, MD, clinical assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences, lauded Joizil and the Friends of Fontaine.
“One of the most amazing things about it is that every penny that is raised goes to the Friends of Fontaine — there’s no overhead. Nobody gets paid. The money goes directly to these programs,” Paterson said. “It’s well worth meeting our neighbors. Haiti is not that far away. We’re all neighbors together and you get treated like a real neighbor when you’re there. I really encourage you to go meet these folks and just revel in the experience that’s available.”
Paterson and Kate Schaefer, treasurer for Friends of Fontaine, have organized fundraisers for the organization through the Newman Center at UB.
Global Medicine Initiative trips to Haiti take place at the end of December and in April.