Bus accidents were common in the southern Haitian town where Safira Amazan was raised. But the one that happened when she was 15 changed her life.
Nearly 70 people had crammed themselves into the bus before the wreck. At least 40 of them died. The survivors were severely injured—broken hips, broken arms and legs—and many had to wait weeks at the hospital before being seen by the one doctor available.
“These were serious things that needed to be seen right away,” Amazan says. “So I said, ‘Oh my God, I should really think of pursuing medicine.’ Then I thought, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do that in Haiti?’”
Amazan says that the one medical school back home is extremely difficult to get into. While a brilliant student, she was unable to compete at that level, and her family was struggling. Amazan lived with her godmother for several years after her family fled Port-au-Prince during the anti-Aristide coup in 1991 and before they received enough humanitarian aid to build their own two-room concrete house in the small town of Les Cayes. After moving in, she often ate at school because there was little money for food. Financial donations paid for her school uniform.
Three years ago, a humanitarian aid worker persuaded Amazan to apply to a Massachusetts high school that offered a scholarship and room and board. Counselors at the school encouraged her to repeat her senior year—to help her English and give colleges more information during the admissions process—and helped her fill out applications.
Amazan was accepted to seven of the nine places she applied. She chose Rochester over a full scholarship at Mount Holyoke College near her new home because of the University’s research opportunities and volunteer organizations. She is adjusting to life on her own, and even now, a few years after leaving her native land, to the amenities she has at her fingertips. Like indoor showers and sink faucets. She used to bathe in the river behind her house and get water from a well.
“The only thing I had at home was myself,” she says. “That was the only thing.”
But she’s going to return there after earning her medical degree. The memories of that horrific bus accident several years ago leave her no choice.
“I always wanted to be a doctor, and I cannot see myself having the opportunity to do it and not going back to Haiti,” she says. “I haven’t seen a place that needs me more.”