Tufts University

A Mission to Help

Marjorie BrisardWhen Tufts dental student Marjorie Brisard travels to her native Haiti this summer with a team of classmates and faculty members, it will be one step toward fulfilling a life's goal.

During college, Marjorie Brisard spent a summer shadowing her uncle, an oral surgeon, at his practice in Maryland. But there was a lot more to learn about than just dental implants. The week-long mission trip Brisard took with her uncle back to her native Haiti proved that much.

Working with her uncle and seeing how he interacted with his patients—both in Maryland and in the poor villages of Haiti—guided her career trajectory.

"His professional attitude and leadership skills drove me into dentistry," says Brisard, now a third-year student at Tufts School of Dental Medicine. "He showed me that I could be a leader for other dental communities later."

Brisard is wasting no time in taking a leadership role. This August, she will guide a team of eight of her fellow third-year students and two professors on a ten-day trip to Haiti to provide dental care and oral health instruction to underserved populations there.

"When I heard of poor children with extensive decay and many people complaining of not enough rural dentists, I wanted to go there and help out."

— Marjorie Brisard

"When I heard of poor children with extensive decay and many people complaining of not enough rural dentists, I wanted to go there and help out," says Brisard, who hopes the mission to Haiti will become a permanent fixture of the school's commitment to serving communities abroad.

The Tufts team is planning to provide dental care at a variety of locations in the Caribbean country. The itinerary includes six days of work at Max Cadet Clinic in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, where Brisard grew up. The group expects to perform restorations and extractions on at least 100 patients daily.

One day will be spent at the Marie-Suzanne and Leon O. Baptiste orphanage in the small Haitian village of Jacmel, where the group will provide oral hygiene instruction, emergency dental care and dental care supplies. This part of the trip bears particular relevance to Brisard—her grandfather founded the orphanage, now run by an order of nuns, several years ago.

The group will conclude the trip with a day of work at the GHESKIO Center, an HIV clinic in Port-au-Prince, where they will provide oral health education and distribute toothbrushes and toothpaste to patients.

Third-year dental student Claudia Maiolo, who helped organize the trip and is Brisard's best friend at Tufts, is excited to go to Haiti and help the underserved populations there. The key, she says, is determination.

"With a group of people who are willing to do it, you can pretty much go anywhere and do this sort of thing," she says.

Driven To Help Out

When Brisard decided she wanted to lead a Tufts group to Haiti, she sought partners for her plan. The result was the formation of the Haiti Humanitarian Board, which includes Brisard as president, Maiolo as vice president and fellow third-year students Dilshan Gunawardena as treasurer and Sophana Hem as secretary.

The students coordinated all fundraising, marketing and trip planning efforts for the entirely self-funded journey, with money raised helping offset the approximately $1,000 each team member is contributing toward airfare, lodging and other trip expenses.

The fundraising efforts have been extensive. Besides selling pens and raffle tickets and organizing a party with students from Boston University and Harvard that raised more than $1,000, the group has lobbied airlines for lower fares, organized "lunch and learn" events to promote the goals of the trip and received large amounts of donated supplies from Tufts. The university's backing has been a key factor in making the trip a reality.

"I had strong support from my friends and faculty at Tufts," says Brisard. "I had a lot of people who really wanted to get involved when they heard the way I wanted to make it happen." (continued)

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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen

Homepage and top photo by Joanie Tobin, Tufts University Photo. Haiti photos courtesy of Marjorie Brisard.

This story originally ran on July 2, 2007.