When media outlets from around the world were broadcasting from Haiti in Jan. 2010, Dr. Lisa Denny wasn’t listening to the reporters. She was listening to the people behind them.
The Barrington doctor and mother of three started learning Creole as an undergrad. She had been to the island nation six times since 1993 and knew the kind of impact a 7.0-magnitude earthquake would have on the nation.
She also knew the people behind the camera were shouting information to loved ones or thanking God they had survived — messages those covering the tragedy didn’t understand.
Those moments served as part of the inspiration behind “A Part of the World,” a short film released online earlier this month. It follows Dr. Denny for a week in Oct. 2011, her first visit to post-earthquake Haiti.
Keir Moreano, an independent filmmaker and Dr. Denny’s brother-in-law, produced the film.
“What spurred me was the idea that there was this person I know who had a different perspective on this whole thing than the traditional black and white,” Mr. Moreano said.
Dr. Denny’s first trip to Haiti lasted one month. She decided to make the trip as a way of strengthening her Creole, a language Dr. Denny first became interested in while working summer jobs in Boston mental hospitals.
Dr. Denny hadn’t started medical school yet but her Creole proved valuable. She spent time on United Nations missions translating for troops and dentists. She also spent time feeding children and holding babies.
Dr. Denny’s subsequent trips lasted between two weeks and one month, and as her medical training progressed, so did the nature of her volunteer efforts. Dr. Denny said her medical help varies on what’s needed. This last trip, for example, was mostly GYN care.
Here in Barrington, Dr. Denny runs a micro-practice where she serves entire families from newborns through centenarians. Dr. Denny sees a similar range of patients in Haiti, and while some ailments may be the same here and there, the effects couldn’t be more different.
She said a Haitian boy came to Dr. Denny after his mother died from asthma.
“It made me so sad she should die of something so easy to treat,” Dr. Denny said.
In the film, Dr. Denny states she didn’t always know she wanted to be a doctor but she always knew she wanted to be a champion for the under-served and stand up for underdogs.
“I don’t go to Haiti because I feel guilty that I’m privileged,” Dr. Denny states in the film. “I’m lucky. I know there are people dying of preventable things, folks without doctors.”
One unique aspect of Dr. Denny’s latest trip is that it marked her first journey with a group.
Family Health Ministries is based in North Carolina. The organization runs a school in Haiti and a program for screening and treating cervical cancer. Dr. Denny said it was the sustainability of these efforts that appealed to her.
“It feels really good to go volunteer but then you step back and ask ‘Did I really make a difference’?” she said.
“This is something permanent. It was there before the earthquake, it will be there after.”
Dr. Denny said the numerous non-governmental organizations and volunteers that go to Haiti offering medical relief and other assistance are helpful in some ways while harmful in others. The free medicine they provide isn’t being purchased from local pharmacies and the care they provide is taking away from practicing Haitian physicians.
Dr. Denny said the greatest impact of her efforts probably lies more in the money she spends on housing and food than the medical service she provides.
At home, Dr. Denny said not too many of her patients know about her volunteerism. It’s not something she talks about too often though she does want her children to grow up with a broader understanding of the world than what might be visible in Barrington.
Dr. Denny said she has conflicted feelings about the community. It’s a safe place with great schools and without much diversity. Dr. Denny said she wants to strike a balance between raising her children in a quiet, privileged community while gently exposing them to the reality in other parts of the world.
“I want my kids to grow up in a place that is safe and nurturing with a good education but I also don’t want my kids to think that the whole planet is like this,” she said.
As for the film, Dr. Denny said she anticipates talking more about Haiti then she has the past though the goal is to become more connected with people who are also interested in helping the country. Dr. Denny also said she hopes the film inspires other people to become interested in thoughtful volunteering or giving, even in their own community.
To see the film, search for “A Part of the World” on YouTube.
Keir Moreano’s first film debuted in 2005. “As the Call, So the Echo” followed his father, a surgeon, to a small Vietnamese village. The documentary had a short theatrical run in New York and was later available on Netflix. Mr. Moreano grew up in Seattle before attending film school in New York. While Mr. Moreano said he went to college ready to make movies about aliens and dinosaurs, his inspiration changed quickly. Mr. Moreano’s first day of film school was Sept. 11, 2011. After witnessing one of the nation’s most notorious tragedies first-hand, Mr. Moreano said his view shifted towards non-fiction. Mr. Moreano said he was interested in Dr. Denny’s story because it provided a different view of the situation in Haiti. Mr. Moreano also said the films just scrapes the surface of the Haiti story and hopefully it inspires others to go on their own “investigative journey.”