Student’s passion runs deep for a healthier Haiti

By Sally Crocker

Public health student Abby Winstead made her first trip to Haiti on a ministry mission seven years ago, and when she graduates from UNT Health Science Center this spring, she will take on a full time position there to continue serving families in need.

Winstead will manage maternal and child health programming for the non-profit organization But God Ministries, which provides support through housing, education, economic development and programs addressing spirituality, medical and dental health, safe water, agriculture and nutrition.

“I fell in love with the people and the country the first time I visited,” she said. “Earthquakes, homelessness, poverty and limited access to food, clean water and sanitation have all pushed the country to the verge of collapse. But while the world might see a list of heartbreaking statistics, I see people who have managed to preserve an astounding sense of hope and pride in the face of unimaginable adversity.”

In her new role, Winstead will focus on outpatient malnutrition and programs for improving maternal and child health. Hygiene, reproductive health, breastfeeding and motherhood classes will be an important part of her responsibilities, as well as health promotion in schools.

“The MPH I’m earning in Maternal and Child Health, coupled with my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology, have been key in preparing me for this position, to be able to work alongside medical providers and make a difference in community health directly and at an individual level,” she said.

Her experience with the organization over two summer internships and 12 other weeklong trips has also provided valuable preparation.

Over the years, Winstead has worked in medical and dental clinics, assisted with the transition to electronic medical records and pharmacy systems processing, built houses, partnered with Haitian staff in their responsibilities, paired children with U.S. educational sponsors, and invested in irreplaceable friendships.

“I’ve helped deliver children in our clinic, and I’ve watched them grow. I’ve served alongside our Haitian staff in cooking and cleaning, because this is a partnership in my mind. Sometimes my job means going outside our gate and playing with the children and investing in young teenagers. Those are the moments I cherish the most,” she said.

The most exciting part of Winstead’s work has been that the needs and her responsibilities are continually evolving. The ultimate goal is to create sustainable support systems to help break the cycle of poverty and teach healthy behaviors that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

“Though it takes much more than small steps to alter the course of a village, it all starts somewhere, and the impact on these people’s lives is clear,” she said. “Though I’m not yet fluent in Creole, I feel a strong bond with these people that goes beyond words. I’m anxious and excited to see where this next chapter will lead as we work side by side toward a healthier Haiti.”

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