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May 27, 2005 • Volume 13 Number 18

Amanda Houston Fellowship Award winner Thamarah Crevecoeur

Houston Fellow Plans Study in Haiti

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

Inspired by Boston College honorary degree recipient Dr. Paul Farmer, this year's Amanda V. Houston Fellowship Award winner will use her grant to study infant and maternal health problems in the country she left years ago.

Connell School of Nursing junior Thamarah Crevecoeur was presented the award on April 20 in a ceremony in the Thompson Room of Burns Library.

Named in honor of Boston College's first Black Studies Program director, the Houston Fellowship is awarded annually to prepare a BC undergraduate for leadership by enriching their educational development through travel-study experiences.

Born in New Jersey of Haitian parents, Crevecoeur spent her early childhood living in the Haitian city of Port-au-Prince but fled the Caribbean nation with relatives when the political situation there worsened in the early 1990s.

"We had the opportunity to escape, so we did," said Crevecoeur, who settled in Miami. "But I love Haiti and all things Haitian and want to return and help my country."

With the help of the Houston Fellowship, Crevecoeur will travel to Haiti in August and spend a month -- her longest stay in Haiti since leaving for the United States -- working at Maison de Naissance, a birthing center in Les Cayes, a city in the southwestern corner of the country.

Crevecoeur will employ her nursing skills to assist the center's staff as they travel throughout the countryside offering care to pregnant women and new mothers. She also will interview new mothers about how they care for their infants and what they experienced as they carried their babies to term.

"It will be a lot of open-ended questions aimed at generating stories about labor, birthing, post-partum depression and the health of the newborn," said Crevecoeur.

When she returns to BC this fall, Crevecoeur will compile her findings and seek to publish the results as a way of providing useful information on maternal health.

"Hopefully what we learn will help reduce the number of mothers and infants who die after birth," said Crevecoeur, who hopes to make the research part of her application for a Fulbright Scholarship next year.

To broaden her understanding of health and poverty issues in Haiti, Crevecoeur turned to one of the best possible sources: Farmer, whose humanitarian efforts in Haiti have earned him wide-spread admiration -- including at BC, which presented him with an honorary degree this year at Commencement. Crevecoeur managed to make personal contact with Farmer, who gave her valuable advice on how to approach her research project.

Crevecoeur came away impressed by Farmer's dedication to his work and his commitment to the people of the country she loves.

"He's so sincere and has been dedicated to the people of Haiti since he graduated from college -- that's a model for me," she said.

How to get the ear of a busy man like Farmer? Crevecoeur acknowledges that she had a certain advantage.

"We speak Creole to each other," she recalled with a laugh. "That set me apart so he always remembered who I was."

Crevecoeur came to BC with the intention of carrying on her family's long tradition of service in the health care field. She started out as a biochemistry major and planned to attend medical school, but was drawn to nursing because of its hands-on nature, and the fact that she would be able to work with patients more immediately.

"My time spent studying to be a nurse has been amazing," she said. "It's what I've always wanted to do, and now I'm doing it."

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