Summer Olinger, a Danville, Va., native, is currently studying for her Master of Science in Nursing at King University specializing as a Family Nurse Practitioner. This past summer, she put her nursing skills to use during a medical mission trip in Haiti.
During a conversation with a friend on Facebook, Olinger discovered a lady from her hometown, Vanessa Folkes, took medical mission trips to Haiti at least once a year. Olinger was immediately intrigued.
"Our mutual friend put us in contact with one another. The first time I met Vanessa was in the Atlanta airport prior to boarding for Haiti. She brought with her three additional friends, two of which were licensed nurse practitioners and one who was a nurse practitioner student like me."
Folkes had been to Haiti on medical mission trips at least 12 times previously through an organization called Haiti Kidz Foundation whose goal is to provide medical care to the people of Haiti. Olinger had only been on one medical mission trip to Mexico prior to this trip.
"I have been on several Habitat for Humanity trips. I've had the privilege to travel quite a bit. Argentina was the first country in which I had seen people who lived in such severe poverty. It really struck me. We live in a fairly sheltered world here [in the U.S.]. While the poverty was shocking in Argentina, it was nothing compared to that of Haiti. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere."
On Jan. 12, 2010, a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving some 1.5 million homeless.
"We landed in Port-au-Prince, where much of the relief efforts have been channeled. We then drove about three and a half hours to a place called Hinche, a much more rural area where the resources are scarce. We stayed in a house there called Midwives for Haiti. While there, we performed family practice for those in need. We would also drive out each day to area villages with a translator. There were five of us with five translators who spoke French and Cajun, a dialect of French. As we drove into the villages, the people were there to greet us singing songs of blessings."
In addition to visiting area villages, the mission group visited both a boys and girls orphanage as well as a feeding center.
"The feeding center was a place where people took their children they were no longer able to feed. The center is run by nuns who take care of the children's basic needs. But, there are not enough nuns to hug and kiss and love on all the babies. While the families have visitation, it is basically a case where families are saying 'I can no longer feed my children. I give them to you.' Medical care aside, visiting the children of the feeding center was the most important thing I did. Something about those children just melts you."
When the trip was over, Olinger came to realize several things.
"I first asked myself, how much stuff do we really need? I have far more than I am ever going to need. Second, a lot of the people in Haiti seemed much happier than the people at home I come in contact with on a daily basis who don't even know what real problems are. We spend so much time stressing about trivial things when there are people who do not have enough food to eat."
Although her mission during this trip was to tend to medical needs, Olinger said anyone can make a difference.
"The people of Haiti just need people who are willing to say I care about what happens to you. That, to me, anybody can do."
Despite the challenges of the trip, Olinger commented on the sheer beauty of the country.
"Haiti is a beautiful country. It is very mountainous and tropical. I can't wait to go back! I am forever changed. It is not our differences that are remarkable; it is our similarities. We really are not that different. We are the same in so many ways. It is just so cathartic to see how strong people can be. I definitely plan to go back. You really can't go through an experience like this one without being changed forever."
Olinger received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Radford University in 2004. In 2011, Olinger received certifications in wound care, ostomy care, and foot care from Emory University. Prior to entering King's MSN program, Olinger served as a nurse for almost 10 years - working in the emergency room and cardiovascular intensive care. Olinger will graduate from King with her Master of Science in Nursing specializing as a Family Nurse Practitioner in May 2014.
Summer Olinger, along with her husband, plans to return to Haiti on future medical mission trips.
Share Your Story features stories written and contributed by our readers. Today's featured story and the accompanying photos were submitted by Laura Boggan, the associate director of communications at King University. If you'd like to submit your story for consideration, email it to: email@example.com with Share Your Story in the subject line.