Sarah Brownell


I first went to Borgne, Haiti in 1998 as a volunteer to install a solar panel system on a health clinic. I had helped design the system as part of an independent study class during my senior year at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).  In preparation, I shipped all the equipment by air and, a week later, headed to Haiti for a three month stay.

However, each time we made the difficult, day-long journey from Borgne to the airport to check on the solar panel system, we were told that it had not yet arrived.  It seemed that I would be unable to complete the tasks I was sent to accomplish.

Still, even though I had little to offer the people of Borgne, they welcomed me. They taught me to speak Kreyol as well as how to do laundry by hand, dip water from a well, use a machete, crochet, and plant banana trees. They took care of me.  

The solar panels finally arrived two weeks before my flight was scheduled to leave, but all my new friends pitched in and we got them installed quickly, bringing light microscopes and refrigeration to the clinic.

Now I think of Borgne as my second “home town”—a place where I grew up and became the person I am today. I’ve since visited many times and lived there from 2006-2010 working on water and sanitation projects. One of the friends I made along the way is Francius Estimable (Johnny) who had the inspiration for starting the Fondasyon Dauphin in 2008.  This foundation is Friends of Borgne’s main partner on the ground.

When I first met Johnny he was a fourth grade teacher working on incorporating hands on learning in his classes. We became friends and have worked together with at least three different organizations on numerous education and public health projects. He is also the godfather of my daughter.

Borgne is a place full of courageous, dedicated and persistent grassroots leaders with their hearts, minds and hands in the struggle to improve their beloved town. Now, as a lecturer at RIT, I’m working to bring the next generation of students to Haiti to collaborate with them. Wherever I work and whatever I do, Borgne is always in my heart.