Local ties help a Haitian's dream come true
Against all odds, William Hyppolite graduated from medical school in March. A 30-year-old from La Gonave, Haiti, Hyppolite is on a mission to serve the people of his home country in ways some Mitchell natives did for him years ago. An orphan, Hyp...
Against all odds, William Hyppolite graduated from medical school in March.
A 30-year-old from La Gonave, Haiti, Hyppolite is on a mission to serve the people of his home country in ways some Mitchell natives did for him years ago.
An orphan, Hyppolite (pronounced hip-PO-leet) has faced an uphill battle since the beginning. His father died when he was young and his mother died in 2000. 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. Orphaned children are often abused, pressed into criminal activity, or used by unscrupulous politicians.
"Many of my friends are dying or are killed in, Jeremie, the city where I was born," Hyppolite said. "Now, I'm a doctor. It's a very, very long way from an orphan to become a doctor."
In March, Hyppolite graduated from medical school in the Dominican Republic. But not before being present for a magnitude 7 earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, destroying the Haitian medical school he was attending, killing many classmates, friends and professors, and forcing Hyppolite to have to begin his schooling over.
Over the past month, Hyppolite has been in South Dakota, including Mitchell, visiting different ministries and organizations that have helped support his education.
Missionaries with Mitchell's First United Methodist Church were in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck, and helped Hyppolite transition to his new school, and, through fundraising efforts and generous donations from people across the state, paid for his medical training and living expenses.
Bruce Blumer, co-Founder of LaGonave Alive, a nonprofit focused on providing necessities to schools, women, children and elderly, as well as health care in Haiti, said he and his missionary team had been introduced to Hyppolite in 2008, and had been helping fund his schooling since then, but was taken to a new level following the earthquake. Though based in Tea, LaGonave Alive was created after the original Haiti outreach program through Mitchell First United Methodist Church began to grow beyond the group's abilities. Blumer is a Mitchell native, and he is the former executive director of the Dakotas United Methodist Foundation. He and his wife recently moved to Tea.
"He said, 'Well, I really don't want to go back to that school in Port-au-Prince, I'd like to go to school in the Dominican,' " Blumer said of Hyppolite. "It was too difficult to be there."
At the time of the earthquake, Haiti and the Dominican Republic had a tense relationship, so Hyppolite's credits didn't transfer. Hyppolite, who was raised speaking Creole - which a mixture of French and other languages - was forced to learn Spanish to take classes in a new country. He said it is one of the most difficult obstacles he has had to overcome and the first year was overwhelming at times.
"When you are in the class with 30 or 40 students and the teacher is talking Spanish, and all the students are talking Spanish, they didn't know you don't speak Spanish well," Hyppolite said. "So they try to ask you something and you weren't listening and you want to go so you say, 'Yes,' to finish the conversation and go. It's a little funny because if they tell you something and you should say no, but you say yes, they think you are crazy."
But he learned, and was able to graduate from his school's five-year program. Hyppolite said he learned quickly because there was no other path to success-there was no chance to "do it over." He only had one chance.
Now, Hyppolite plans to start an organization called Hello Doctor, which will focus on providing medical care to the people of Haiti.
Hello Doctor will provide basic medical care in a mobile clinic set-up. Hyppolite said thousands of people suffer from diseases that would be considered "basic" and easily treated in the United States, like high blood pressure and diabetes. But, in Haiti, they can become deadly.
"Sometimes, we find somebody who has high blood pressure and they don't take the medicine because sometimes, in Haiti, you have to choose between buying food and buying medicine," Hyppolite said.
So, through Hello Doctor, Hyppolite hopes to provide basic medicines to treat those conditions, as well as others and bandages and antiseptics to treat burns. Additionally, he hopes to provide vitamins weekly for pregnant women and education about how people can treat themselves at home.
But, perhaps the most important facet of the program, Hyppolite said is the clinic's remote availability. To reach the country's lone primary hospital, some residents have to travel three hours or more by motorcycle or pickup. For many, the trip is impossible to make.
Though not a 24/7 operation, Hello Doctor will have a nurse available to answer phone calls and receive messages from those people who must receive treatment from a distance.
"We call it Hello Doctor because now in Haiti it's easier to find a phone. Anybody can have a little one," Hyppolite said. "We have a phone and phone number and whenever people leave on the island, they can call and ask about medicine, how they can (get) clean water."
Hyppolite said there are approximately 75,000 people in the country who need care, and there are only eight to 10 doctors, none of whom are specialists or surgeons-only general practice doctors. He said if Hello Doctor can help even just a handful of people, it will have been worth the process it took to become a doctor.
And the same is true for Blumer, who, through helping Hyppolite hoped to only help a small group.
With his outreach efforts, Hyppolite plans to impact more than the duo ever imagined, and watching Hyppolite succeed has been the greatest reward for Blumer.
"Here's a young man who had a dream," Blumer said, "and now his dream has come true."