March 17, 2004 - Ventura County Star: Peace Corps Volunteer Lorelei O'Hagan eager to return to aid Haitians

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Haiti: Feb, 2004: Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers from Haiti: March 17, 2004 - Ventura County Star: Peace Corps Volunteer Lorelei O'Hagan eager to return to aid Haitians

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Peace Corps Volunteer Lorelei O'Hagan eager to return to aid Haitians

Peace Corps Volunteer Lorelei O'Hagan eager to return to aid Haitians

Peace Corps worker eager to return to aid Haitians

Caption: Lorelei O'Hagan, 28, in a Haitian village marketplace in this undated photo, was among 76 Peace Corps volunteers who were pulled out of the country last month.

Camarillo visitor, cohorts evacuated during insurrection

By T.J. Sullivan,
March 17, 2004

Lorelei O'Hagan is missing the babies the most, the occupants of the Haitian hospital where infants lie uncuddled in cribs for two weeks at a time because there are simply more babies than arms to hold them.

She's missing the women whose lives she had begun to help change by starting a literacy program focused on promoting women's health, a rare thing in a nation where not much changes for women at all.

She's missing the second year of her two-year commitment as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Haitian city of Hinche because of the political instability that resulted before and after the departure of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But though the Peace Corps pulled her and all her fellow volunteers out of the nation of 8 million people last month, O'Hagan says she intends to go back very soon.

"The first day I'm back, I'm going straight to that hospital," she said.

Stuck between plans to begin graduate school in about a year and having no desire to work a temporary job in the states until then, O'Hagan, 28, is visiting friends and waiting until the situation in Haiti calms enough to allow the women in her program to focus once again on improving their lives. She was in Camarillo this week visiting her mother, Judy Lucas, and stepfather, Ted Lucas.

"I had a plan all set up, but things don't always work out as planned," she said.

Distractions were not a frequent occurrence in Hinche before this. For months at a time, days blended together without incident.

It allowed time for O'Hagan to discover a way to help women by initiating a pilot program that taught reading while imparting lessons about women's health. The program was part of a micro-finance bank she founded, a small company that provides small loans to poor women who use the cash to start or maintain businesses. The loans are very small, as small as $45 with six months or more to pay, but the changes they produce are tremendous.

One Haitian woman, who used to make and sell food in the streets, was able to use her loan to help put together enough capital to open her own restaurant -- a building constructed from tin with Dominican Republican newspapers pasted to the wall as wallpaper. That same woman soon began catering for O'Hagan's program functions.

"When you find a program that really empowers people's lives, women especially, and really enriches them, you jump on it," O'Hagan said.

The program doesn't just give the women money, it teaches them to use it and aids them in improving the quality of their lives.

But the realization of such a dream was interrupted for O'Hagan, as were the distractionless days once the crowds began to gather in the streets around radio speakers a couple of months ago.

The uncharacteristic interest in the broadcasts was a direct result of tensions in Port-Au-Prince, the capital of Haiti about 80 miles south, a six-hour journey on a dusty, or otherwise muddy, road. The news brought forward thoughts that had been in the back of O'Hagan's mind, and the minds of most all 76 Peace Corps volunteers in Haiti.

Police stations were taken over by rebels. Roadblocks went up. Evacuation was increasingly possible.

Within a couple of weeks, O'Hagan was in Port-Au-Prince for a regularly scheduled Peace Corps meeting and was encouraged to delay her return to Hinche afterward. When word spread of the killing of a police chief in Hinche, everything changed.

"Never before had they had a physical problem in a volunteer's site," O'Hagan said.

With Mardi Gras about to start last month, and safety concerns mounting, the Peace Corps pulled all of its volunteers out of Haiti. Within a couple of days they were in Washington, D.C., forgiven the balance of their two-year obligations and sent home.

O'Hagan has not been deterred. Talk of Hinche still causes her eyes to light as her hands move to help express the significance of the work she was doing.

And so she's going back.

"It may not be worth my going until they're in a good place," she explained. "I'm thinking middle of April."

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Story Source: Ventura County Star

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Haiti; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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