In May of 2001, I was working as an ER attending physician at St Vincent's Hospital in New York City. My wife was a relatively newly minted doctor, and together we were raising our young sons, and helping to care for my own parents who happened to both be ill. One night I met up with up with a friend, a Jesuit priest who told me that he was taking some high school students on a trip to Haiti. He said that he was going with one other adult, but that they were looking for yet a third to come along, and inquired of my availability. I quickly checked with my wife, who gave me the needed clearance and I signed up to go.
On that first trip, I was stunned. I saw poverty unlike anything I'd ever witnessed. I had seen pictures, but never anything up close and in person like that. It was chilling when I saw the real effects of deprivation of things that I take for granted, things like food, clean water, and healthcare.
I suppose like many who want to make the world a better place in the span of two weeks, I was a more than a bit delusional in vowing to make this experience a permanent part of me on my return to my life working in the Big Apple. Of course life keeps going, and events big (like 9/11, and my own mother's subsequent passing away) and small (birthdays, paying the rent, keeping our marriage intact) keep happening. Haiti was still on my radar screen, but the importance it played in my life diminished.
In 2005 I found myself unexpectedly briefly unemployed. With the encouragement of friends and family I seized the opportunity and made plans to return to Haiti. We fundraised around my birthday and bought medications and supplies. Together with a friend, I returned and went to work in the notorious slum known as Cité Soleil. Why Cité Soleil? Because it was supposed to be one of the worst off neighborhoods in the entire country. And bad it was. Some of those images still haunt me because the situation was downright inhuman.
And so that's the infancy of Lamp. We saw a problem that was glaringly obvious and decided we had the means to try to address that problem, and we jumped in with both feet. Fast forward ten years and the administration of care from my backpack on the streets has evolved into a full-fledged community medical center caring for more than 13,000 people a year. We have weathered an earthquake, many tropical storms, political unrest and shortages of supplies. And still we carry on with our mission.
It takes organization, commitment, competence, and caring to keep the flame of Lamp burning bright. If there were an adjective that characterizes Lamp's work, and those involved with it, I'd say it is "fortitude." Fortitude involves sticking with a process, even when it is difficult, or dangerous. The person with fortitude doesn't abandon the planned path because the road is rocky or when there is no road at all. We observe and receive the gifts of fortitude in one another too, through relationships we nurture, and through our own actions. For me this comes from a deep, grounded place. My parents taught my siblings and me that serving the poor was always expected, not just because we are called to service, but also because doing so enriches our own selves. The Morgan family motto "Rise to the Occasion" was a mantra the children not only saw emblazoned on a plaque on a wall in our kitchen, but witnessed acted out each day by our parents.
I feel proud that I rose to the occasion and that Lamp has been, and continues to be, about fostering positive change. We have been about both giving immediate care (often saving lives literally!) and training local people and cultivating local partnerships to work towards the creation of sustainable local solutions. Today, Lamp is not just surviving, we are growing. We can do so only because of great hearts like yours, who continue to see the positive fruit being borne and join us in rising to the occasion to make a difference for those in such dire need.
Dr. James Morgan