Megan Dant, an INSTALL-certified Floor Coverer and Local 68 union member from the Twin Cities, travelled to Haiti twice in 2016 to assist in building desperately needed medical facilities in the towns of Mirebalais and Fond des Blanc. She found out about the opportunity to travel with Build Health International through her local labor union’s regional council, the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.
“They were looking for INSTALL-certified people to go down and help finish this facility. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and they needed the help,” said Megan.
“When I told people I was going to Haiti to work for a week, I got two responses: ‘You’re crazy’ and ‘It will change your life’. Both held true,” Megan wrote in a reflection piece on Facebook about her time in Haiti. Megan was not only the only person from the Midwest on the trip, but she was the first female carpenter the Haitians had ever encountered.
Her first trip was to Mirebalais, Haiti, to assist with the only Level 3 biosafety lab in the Caribbean. The importance of this facility to the community is immeasurable. Previously, if someone needed testing on a cancerous mass or similar medical condition, they would have to wait weeks or months for a doctor from Harvard to come collect the sample, take it back to Boston, and have it tested at the Harvard Medical Facility. The six-person professional crew, made up of Megan and members from Boston and New York, was assisted by community workers who were eager to learn and worked hard for $10/day. The crew had to be flexible and creative in utilizing the tools and supplies that were available to them.
“It really teaches you to think on your feet and make do with what you have on a job site,” said Megan.
Her next trip was right after Hurricane Matthew hit the area. They were scheduled to assist in Fond des Blanc at a brand-new surgical center, the first in rural Haiti. The nearest surgery facility before this was in Port au Prince, five hours away. Most Haitians do not have vehicles, so they were forced to walk or ride donkeys to the city for treatments. At first, Build Health International cancelled the trip due to safety concerns. After assessing the situation, however, they decided to send a five-person crew to the area, as the need for the new surgical center was higher than ever. The first surgery at the new building was performed November 25, 2016.
While Megan has no scheduled plans to return to Haiti, she said she “would go in a heartbeat.” She has also garnered the interest of some of her co-workers to volunteer with her next time. Build Health International provides the flight, housing, food and a small stipend to the workers so their commitment is giving up a week or two of work at home. Megan has been with the Union for 13 years, working mostly for Acoustics Associates. She has worked in almost, if not all, of the hospitals in the Twin Cities and she worked on U.S. Bank Stadium, the State Capitol, and the FBI Building. In her free time, Megan runs marathons. She has finished 11 marathons already and has plans to run even more in the coming year.
“We are proud to have members like Megan who make a difference in their communities and in communities all over the world,” said NCSRCC Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Raines.
“I learned firsthand that you need so little in order to survive. And that even though you have very few material possessions, you can have so much love, hope, and happiness in your heart. Haiti has taught me to appreciate things like taxes, easily accessible healthcare, running water, a sanitation system and traffic laws, among other simple things that we as Americans take for granted. The people of Haiti also reminded me that if you want something bad enough, and that if you fight hard enough, and that if you’re unwilling to give up, anything is possible. It is a testament to the human spirit to not just survive but thrive.
“Haiti is the poorest place I’ve ever been. And the dirtiest. But at the same time, there is a richness in the souls of the people there that you just can’t buy. Haiti and its land and people are beautiful. The whole experience made me feel more alive than I have in a long time. Haiti was nothing I expected nor could I have imagined. It was crazy and it changed my life.
“Dear Haiti, I came to you to build something in you. And in return, you built something in me. And for that, I am forever thankful.”
Thanks to the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters for submitting this story to Elevate MN.