Walking with Pierre Richard through the streets of Petionville makes you feel magnetic. It’s not uncommon to have people shout out his name, loud bursts of “Doctor” often accompanying the more familiar moniker of “Richie!”
Come back to Tabarre, and the Commandante of Italy’s Military Unit in Haiti is trying to get Richie on the phone. “He’s probably in class,” someone gently reminds him.
Richie is NPFS’s first medical student, currently in his 6th and final year of classes at Haiti’s University of Notre Dame. At the age of 26, Richie has been with NPFS for the last decade and a half. He entered St. Helene, NPFS’s 382-child orphanage, at the age of 11, and excelled as a student in Kenscoff’s on-site schooling. Moving into Secondary School at the External Program, which serves an additional 282 students, Richie continued to perform well. Finishing his senior year and successfully passing the baccalaureate, he made a decision that would set a precedent for the possibilities of life at NPFS.
“I had always wanted to be a doctor,” he explains, sitting back in his scrubs at the St. Damien Pediatric Hospital where he currently lives. “My father left when I was little, so I spent my childhood with my mom and my aunt. When I was 8 years old my aunt became very sick.” Healthcare in the rural areas of Haiti was hard to come by, and in Richie’s home village of Jacmel, finding care for his aunt proved difficult.
“At eight years old, your world is still very small,” Richie explains. “You don’t know concepts like health discrepancies, brain drain, inequity. All you know is that someone is sick, and that no one is coming to help.” He gives a small smile, and laughs softly. “I was eight, but there I was, telling my aunt to fight and be strong. ‘Poco Mouri,’ I told her in kreyol. Don’t die yet.”
“I wanted her to hold on ’til I became a doctor. But I was only eight. She ended up passing away later that year. And then my mom died when I was eleven, also due to lack of medical care. After that, all I could see was how many people were in that exact same situation. Sick, with no one able to help them.” When Richie was accepted at Haiti’s University of Notre Dame, a medical school with a 10% acceptance rate, he was able to start fulfilling the promise he made so many years ago.
Then, when the earthquake hit in January, Richard immediately jumped from medical student to volunteer doctor, arriving at the hospital to assist wherever he was needed. He provided invaluable support in the emergency room, followed by the external mobile clinics as well as neonatology and maternity. He did this all while continuing his school work at the university. His exposure to hospital life gave him an early glimpse into the speciality possibilities awaiting him. Currently interested in neurosurgery, he is still “narrowing it down” as he figures out what field will allow him to have the maximum impact in Haiti.
“It’s very important for me to be a Haitian doctor in Haiti,” Richie asserts, “and it’s also important that I show the other eleves at Kenscoff, and now FWAL, the possibilities that await them at NPFS. I want to open the door for them, and make it so my country, at long last, can begin to heal.”