Where the Road Ends, Volunteers Carry the Load

  • Health worker Dorçelan Offre carries an amplifier in Haiti.

    Dorçelan Offre, 27, carries an amplifier to make important health announcements in his isolated community high up in the mountains of Artibonite Department, Haiti. (All photos: The Carter Center)

  • Offre willingly walks for hours at a time across the roadless mountains of Haiti.

    Offre willingly walks for hours at a time across the roadless mountains of Haiti to help free his country of mosquito-borne diseases malaria and lymphatic filariasis.

Dedicated service is common among community volunteers and health workers with whom The Carter Center partners, but Dorçelan Offre takes it to another level.

Offre (pronounced "Off"), 27, will do whatever it takes to help fight malaria in his native rural Haiti, even if it means going far beyond the end of the road.

"Today I will walk almost five hours to retrieve blood samples from the team in the field," he says. The specimens, which will be tested for indications of malaria, will be handed off to him by an equally committed volunteer who has walked a similar distance from the opposite direction. Neither one knows what the other looks like, and they don’t have cellphone service in the high country where they trek.

"It is done by faith," Offre says. "I will just watch for someone carrying a box of blood samples, and that person will look for someone who looks like he’s on his way to meet someone."

Hispaniola – the shared home of Haiti and the Dominican Republic – is the only island in the Caribbean region that remains endemic for malaria. The Carter Center launched the Hispaniola Initiative in 2008 to facilitate the efforts of both countries’ ministries of health to eliminate malaria and lymphatic filariasis, both of which are spread by mosquitoes. The binational initiative has assisted the ministries by fostering cooperation, providing technical assistance, and helping to integrate activities between their respective programs. In recognition of their success, the Pan American Health Association named Haiti and the Dominican Republic jointly among its 2017 Malaria Champions of the Americas.

In addition to transporting blood samples, Offre promotes community engagement and mobilization aimed at educating the public and encouraging healthful behaviors. He carries a small amplifier on a shoulder strap to make sure crowds can hear his deep, soft voice.

Offre cares passionately about his neglected community. Where he lives, high in the rock-strewn hills of Haiti’s Artibonite Department, community leaders drew neighbors together a few years ago to build a rough road, using nothing but stones from their fields and simple tools like hoes and shovels.

"Before the road, it was hard to live here," Offre says. "My parents sent me to Verrettes [the nearest city, more than 10 miles away] to go to school. If I wanted to visit home on the weekend, I had to walk the whole way — mostly uphill — and I was just a child."

Before automotive access, hillside residents had to bring in building materials on their backs to reach homesites.

"Building the road allowed people to build better houses," Offre observes. Moreover, the road allowed the construction of a school that serves several communities. In roadless hill country, education and income are sparse and medicine is scarce. With no road, people who got seriously sick or injured would die before getting anywhere near a hospital.

The Carter Center, Offre, and many others are determined to change all that.

"When I see what the places beyond the end of the road are like, it motivates me to think of the things I would do for people if I were ever elected to office," Offre says earnestly. "I have seen what can happen when a community works together to solve a problem, whether it's building a road, eliminating a disease, or whatever it may be. I want to meet with everyone in the community, to teach them how to avoid malaria, how to keep mosquitoes away. People working together can do anything."

Learn more about the Center's Hispaniola Program »