Christin Austin '16
- Junior from Wayne City, Ill.
- Major in political science; legal studies minor
- Student Government Association Secretary
- Technos cultural exchange trip to Japan, Summer 2014
- President’s and Dean’s Lists
- Debate team
- Pi Gamma Mu social sciences honor society
- Phi Eta Sigma honor society
- Homecoming queen candidate, 2014
- Emerging Leaders Program / Advanced Leaders programs
- Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority
- Public Affairs Forum political science club
Christin Austin '16 was looking forward to a day at the beach when the cruise ship pulled into Haiti on her summer 2012 Caribbean vacation. Her mom had other ideas. She signed them up for a cultural tour in the mountains, curious to see beyond the pristine beaches and turquoise coastal waters of one of the world’s poorest countries.
It was an unforgettable experience. “The first person I saw was a woman making peanut butter. Her feet were so cracked. I tried to give her my shoes but they didn’t fit,” Christin recalled. “It is so poverty-stricken there. It is the most unimaginable environment but it’s also so beautiful. I knew I would return.”
Her next visit would be different, she told herself, determined to make an impact somehow. To pay for it, Christin sold $1,500 worth of sweet corn from the family farm. Online she discovered New Life for Haiti, a Chicago-based Christian organization that sends doctors, nurses and building teams to a remote village at the tip of the island’s southern peninsula.
In November 2013 Christin, her mom and two friends joined the group’s weeklong medical mission trip. After an hour flight from the capital Port-au-Prince, a rough landing on gravel and a bumpy ride in the back of a truck, they arrived at an isolated mountain village outside of Jérémie. It has no roads, no clean running water, no sewage system and virtually no access to medical care.
The visitors stayed in a large solar-powered guest house owned by New Life for Haiti. After dinner each night, Christin assisted the doctors as they performed minor surgeries on the kitchen table, usually removing small benign tumors. Patients were treated for diabetes, high blood pressure, scabies and other ailments, she said.
“We saw 400 patients in seven days. We were their medical service for the entire year.”
Unlike her mom, a registered nurse, Christin has no medical training. She was put
to work giving eye chart examinations and handing out reading glasses. “Many of the
people can’t sew or whittle without being able to see. People would light up when
they put those glasses on. One day an 80-year-old man came down from the mountain
with his walking stick. When he put the glasses on for the first time, he stood up
and started crying. We gave him the gift of sight.”
To bridge the language barrier, she worked with an interpreter to write cards with questions or instructions in Kreyol, or Haitian Creole. She also handed out antibacterial soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes. “The little kids played with the toothbrushes. They didn’t know what they were. They thought they were toys,” Christin said.
She and her mom were so touched by one little boy with severe club feet that they now sponsor him. “We got him a wheelchair and he will get the surgery he needs in January,” she said, noting that many McKendree friends have donated for his medical expenses.
The experience has affected her in unexpected ways. “It was harder for me, culture shock-wise, to come back home than it was to go,” she said. “I’m not the same. I’ve changed. It changed every aspect of me.”
She has saved more than enough money to return to Haiti in November. After she graduates from McKendree, Christin plans to attend law school and pursue a career in health-related law.
“But I’m thinking about becoming an LPN first.”
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