Haitian medical student thanks Mitchell church for funding education26-year-old William Hyppolite is visiting Mitchell during spring break from his medical studies.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
William Hyppolite is a man on a mission.
The 26-year-old man from La Gonave, Haiti, is visiting Mitchell during spring break from his medical studies.
Hyppolite (pronounced hip-PO-leet) is in town to say “thank you” to friends at Mitchell’s First United Methodist Church and elsewhere who have supported his schooling, and to assure them he has plans to pay forward their investment of faith and cash. He arrived Wednesday and will be here through May 14.
In the coming weeks he will visit Mount Rushmore, tour Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, the Mitchell Medical Clinic and make speeches highlighting the physical and spiritual needs of the Haitian people.
Born in Jeremie, Haiti, Hyppolite never knew his father. His mother died in 2000, leaving him and his two sisters orphans. He was raised by his uncle, Verel Medina, a Methodist pastor on the mountainous, 387-square-mile island of La Gonave, which sits in the “claw” of Haiti in the Caribbean, northwest of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
“In Haiti, being an orphan is not a good thing,” said Mitchell host Bruce Blumer, who is also executive director of the Dakotas United Methodist Foundation.
Orphaned children are often abused, pressed into criminal activity, or used by unscrupulous politicians.
“Missionaries identified him in 2009 as someone who we could help to make a difference,” Blumer said. “He is a bright young man, who has taken advantage of some wonderful opportunities.”
Against all odds, Hyppolite has survived his tough beginnings, his country’s often desperate societal problems and one of the greatest earthquakes in recent history.
“I am the first person in my family to attend university,” he said proudly.
Hyppolite was on La Gonave, assisting a United Methodist medical team, when a magnitude 7 earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, destroying the Haitian medical school he was attending and killing many teachers and classmates.
“My house, my books, my clothing were all gone,” he said. “Some of my friends had to leave university because their parents lost everything.”
His benefactors found him a slot at the Santiago University of Technology, which he attends with former Haitian classmates Dominique, Carlos and Jeremy. He is in the second year and sixth term of a five-year, 16-term course of study.
Relief poured into Haiti from many sources after the disaster, Hyppolite said.
“After the earthquake they thought everything would change, but nearly three years later not a lot has changed,” he said.
Classes at his former university are held in tents and many people, still wary of aftershocks, also live in tents. “They are afraid to live in buildings,” he said.
Raised speaking Creole, a mixture of French and other languages, Hyppolite picked up English from missionaries and he has had to learn Spanish in order to pursue his medical studies in the Dominican Republic.
“Santiago is a beautiful city, but I miss my country a lot,” he said. Hyppolite was asked if he ever considered the source of his good fortune. After several communication misses, fractured high school French made a connection. “Pourquoi vous? — Why you?” A smile of understanding lighted his face. “God cares for me a lot,” he said. “For 12 years, I am without a mother, a father, God always put someone in my way to help me. God chose me, I don’t know why.”
In 2008 that someone was Pastor Shirley Edgerton, a mission volunteer on La Gonave who first introduced Hyppolite to Hank Kor, former pastor at the Mitchell First United Methodist Church, who was part of a missions team visiting the island. Arrangements were eventually made to have Mitchell FUMC and Hot Springs United Churches sponsor Hyppolite’s medical training and living expenses.
During his time off Hyppolite returns to Haiti to work on La Gonave. He frequently lobbies his medical instructors to return and help.
“I tell them the people need them in the mountains,” Hyppolite said. That need became apparent on a recent clinic staffed by Hyppolite, a teacher and 10 friends.
“In two days we see more than 500 people,” he said. “We want to stay longer, but the medicine was gone.”
Malaria, typhoid and other diseases are common, many due to a shortage of clean drinking water and good sanitary facilities.
Basic antibiotics are in short supply and small cuts and minor injuries regularly spiral into major infections. Hyppolite and his friends often pool their meager funds to buy medicine, but the money doesn’t go far enough, he said.
Blumer said Hyppolite, who has a good sense of humor, was impressed by his visit to the Corn Palace.
“William said they have peanuts on La Gonave, so he’s going to make the first Peanut Palace,” Blumer said.
The trip to South Dakota has been filled with firsts, including a first plane ride.
“Everything was new for me,” he said, “and I am very happy. I was not scared.”
He carried reading material in the bag formerly occupied by his laptop computer, which was destroyed in the Haiti earthquake.
“I use the time on the plane to write a speech I will give to the churches I will visit,” Hyppolite said.
He plans to talk about helping others so they can learn to help themselves.
Hyppolite is already doing his part. His “Orphan Christmas,” which he started in 2010, has been a hit.
“We make a party for children and try to give them food and toys,” he said.
About 130 kids attended. Hyppolite said his sole disappointment is that there weren’t enough toys to go around last Christmas.”
But he is just getting started.
“The 100,000 people who live in La Gonave need my help,” Hyppolite said. “Someday I hope I can give back. It’s my dream.”
Donations for Hyppolite and Haitian relief can be sent to Mitchell First United Methodist Church, 310 North Rowley St. Mitchell, S.D. 57301.