When a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck southwest Haiti on August 14, 2021, the international community rushed to send aid. But for three Union College alumni, simply sending supplies wasn’t enough. International rescue and relief graduates Janae Schumacher, Justin Dena and Lauren Lombard volunteered with Educáre, a Haitian-run organization, to bring medical help to those most affected by the disaster.

Schumacher, a paramedic, assisted doctors with medical care, while Dena coordinated the mobilization of the team and other logistics from the ground in Haiti. Although Lombard was working remotely, she was able to bring her expertise in communication, organization and fundraising to assist Educáre’s efforts.

Educáre’s medical team trekked into the rural mountains surrounding the epicenter of the quake where aid was most needed and least available. “No one else went out there because if you went out, you had to hike into the mountains,” Schumacher, a 2021 Union graduate, said. “One day we hiked almost eight miles with all our clinical supplies to set a clinic up at the top of a mountain. Working with the local communities we were able to go to the areas with the most need. Our team answered the call despite the difficulties of accessing some of these areas. Our group went out and met the people where they were.”

Doing a lot with a little

Educáre was founded after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Lombard went down to Haiti for seven weeks to assist with relief efforts and made many connections with the Haitians she served alongside. When they formed an organization to bring better education to children in the region, she joined the cause. Since then, Lombard has continued to volunteer with Educáre even while working full-time at a non-profit she cofounded, We Nurish, that provides access to food in her community in Minnesota.

Already connected to Haiti, Dena has worked extensively with Singing Rooster, an organization that provides support for small, Haitian-owned coffee farms. So when Lombard introduced him to Educáre, he was happy to get involved.

When the 2021 quake struck, Educáre pivoted to disaster relief to meet the current needs of the country. Dena contacted Schumacher, whom he had met at Union, and invited her to come join the team. Even delayed by a tropical storm, the two were able to join with the team of Haitian doctors and begin holding emergency clinics within days of the disaster, treating more than 1,700 patients at 12 different clinics.

Lombard says her Union education helped prepare her for the challenges of working in disaster relief. “I paired communication and international rescue and relief, which ended up being a really good combination,” Lombard said. “I didn’t anticipate using the things we studied later, but they directly informed things I ended up doing. The problem-solving aspects of how you handle a crisis… were definitely highlighted in the things we were studying and doing.” 

Although the Educáre team faced many difficulties, Dena, Lombard and Schumacher wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for the world. “Even though we were limited by unreliable transportation, poor communication channels and a lack of supplies, we were able to do quite a lot with a little,” said Dena.

Lombard summed up her experiences saying, “Anytime you respond to a disaster, it’s inconvenient and exhausting and challenging, but you see the people you’re able to impact and each person makes it worthwhile all over again.”