Some called it a case of wanderlust. Others called it a wild foolishness. However, Annie Brown is convinced it was fate that brought her to Haiti. Whatever the reasons, this Rasmussen College instructor has spent the past four years building a grassroots, humanitarian organization in the poorest country of the western world.
I sat down and spoke with Mrs. Brown about how this all began.
Brown, a Montana native and registered nurse, spent the first five years of her career seeking a path. After her graduation from Montana State University in 2002, Brown and her husband, Jared, moved to Portland, Oregon. By 2005 they had moved across the U.S., with a brief stop in Kansas City and finally ending up in Florida. At each stop, Brown worked as a trauma nurse in large metropolitan hospitals, and by 2007, found herself yearning for even more from her occupation. It was during this same time, that the Browns were invited to Haiti to resupply an American orphanage on the coast of Haiti; an opportunity not heavily endorsed by most of their friends and loved ones.
“A lot of people looked at us strangely and wondered why anyone would want to go to Haiti? I don’t even think we knew why we were going,” she recalls.
The Browns, however, accepted the offer and made the journey in October 2007.
Upon arrival, the couple was amazed by the devastation and poverty prevalent throughout the country. As a nurse, Brown could not ignore the amount of preventable health issues she witnessed. From malnutrition to infection, Brown had finally found herself surrounded by thousands of patients that could be saved, and at a minimal cost. The Browns knew there was more that could be done, and because of this, created Project 81 Incorporated upon their return.
Using a small village called “81” as a test site, Project 81 was established with the vision that given their basic needs, a group of people could flourish and change their situation. Over the past four years, millions of meals and needed supplies, such as medicine and clothing, have been shipped, college scholarships provided, health treatments and screenings initiated, wells have been drilled, gardens and Moringa trees planted, concrete homes have been built, thousands have been treated and every child in the village has been provided a free education.
In the coming year, Project 81 will be introducing a large-scale research project that will focus on Haiti’s education system and student performance.
“I love inspiring my students to step out and strive to help those in need and those suffering from injustice, whether in a third-world country or in their neighborhood. I believe when they hear my story it demonstrates that we can all do our part to create a better life for those in need, we just have to do something no matter how great or small it can make a difference.”
Annie Brown is currently a nursing instructor at the Rasmussen College New Port Richey Campus, and resides with her family in Tarpon Springs, Florida.