hitch your wagon to a star
Will in Haiti
hitch your wagon to a star


                           



An Interview with Will Perez by the AOL Philanthropy Project

Tell us about your cause or organization.

    Through education, I am mobilizing communities in Haiti, equipping them with the tools they need to take control over their own health. These efforts are most important in rural Haiti where there are no doctors and where the people themselves must save their own lives.


    By teaching local volunteers information about a variety of issues including hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and water quality -- along with testing, treatment and prevention strategies aimed at reducing the incidence of diseases common in the area -- countless lives are being saved and communities of people are being empowered.

  

     I am a second-year medical student who has been working in Haiti for the last three years. Living in Haiti for a year, I trained 16 orphaned youth and formed a public health team. The team went on to provide hundreds of children and adults with tuberculosis treatment and drastically reduced malaria cases in their area, along with reductions in waterborne pathogens, bed bugs and parasitic infections through simple preventive measures.

   

    More than 1,200 patients were directly treated, and nearly 10,000 benefited from the public health efforts.


Together with Hope for Haiti (Hopeforhaiti.com), we’re bringing my community health training program to more than 50,000 rural Haitians in three dozen villages, mobilizing 10,000 students from 40 schools in southern Haiti. The ripple effect is going to be incredible. The programs are all Haitian run and taught and specific to each region.


Who or what inspired you to do something?

    There was no defining moment that inspired me to take action. I spent most of my childhood moving from house to house and shelter to shelter, switching schools a dozen times before graduating. I learned courage and tenacity, watching my mother fight every day for our survival.

   

    With the support of many, I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school. The obstacles I've overcome and struggles I've faced have painted for me a clearer picture of the world and my place in it. 


    I was still in high school when I picked up a New York Times article with a picture of a Haitian woman baking clay biscuits of sand and water, to feed her children. I hung the picture above my bed and for weeks, it was the only thing I could talk about. I woke every morning to that picture, and made the same promise, that I would give my life to put an end to that kind of suffering.


Other than donating money, what can people do to help your cause?

    More important to me than money is that people stay informed and continue to educate themselves on the issues of global poverty and the importance of preventive medicine. My work comes down to believing that the standard of health care should be universal and that health care is a basic human right not to be denied of anyone.


    I am setting out to change minds. I want to change the way medicine is practiced, how it is distributed and how it is defined.


How do you stay motivated and inspired?

    I have faith in myself. I believe that the work I do triggers a cascade of positive change whether in the mind of an individual or an entire community.


    After seeing my mother go undiagnosed with advanced cervical cancer because she lacked health insurance for regular check-ups, my drive runs deep and is unstoppable.


What advice would you give other young people who want to do something?

    Believe in what you do, that your voice is being heard and that your efforts are not overlooked. Fight and don't stop no matter how hopeless the situation appears. Share what you know with those around you. Don’t underestimate your ability to inspire others.

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Wilfredo Perez Jr.: "I want to change the way medicine is practiced, how it is distributed and how it is defined."