What Jacqui Ranson experienced during a 2013 mission trip to Haiti was life-changing, and not just for her family, but for a family she met there, too.
“Everything that I felt had been important to me up until that point, really it wasn’t,” Ranson said.
Ranson, 40, a nurse practitioner, was the only medical professional in the group during that first trip to Digue Matheux, Haiti.
The village’s closest hospital is about 45 minutes away by vehicle, and hours away by foot. The need for medical care Ranson found there astounded her.
“Literally, people would walk for hours, for miles out of the mountain to bring me babies at 6 in the morning,” Ranson said. “I would wake up and have babies waiting for me.”
But she wasn’t alone. She had help from a 19-year-old Haitian man named Marc Henry William, who was assigned to be her translator. Haitians mostly speak Creole or French.
William spent long days working with Ranson as she did outreach in the village. They only separated at night when Mark Henry would go back to his village.
Ranson came back to West Virginia, but she couldn’t stop thinking about William. She told her husband she wanted to give the teenager a chance at a better life.
“[I said] he’s so smart and obviously intelligent but he needs an opportunity. He needs a chance at life because right now he has no chance at life,” Ranson said. “There’s no jobs. There’s nowhere to work. And so, of course my husband thought I had completely lost my mind.”
Eight weeks later, Ranson, her husband, Mark, and their sons, Zaden and Garrett, were back in Haiti to meet William and his family.
“Everyone fell in love with Marc Henry,” she said.
Since then, William’s family and Ranson’s family have melded into one. William, 23, now lives at the Ranson’s South Charleston home while he attends classes at BridgeValley Community and Technical College.
Getting into the United States typically isn’t an easy task. Thousands of people go to the Haitian embassy everyday but are denied visas, Ranson said. The day he got his, William left his village at 4 a.m. to be one of the first people at the office in Port-au-Prince. Before getting his visa, William was quizzed on his French, Haitian Creole and English. In Haiti, only the more educated people can speak French and Creole, Ranson said. William credits his education to his mother, who made he and his siblings go to school.
“If you are able to get an education in Haiti, it’s really like your golden ticket to life,” Ranson said. “And because of his mom, Marc Henry is able to have this opportunity, to be in America.”
This summer, the Ransons also have welcomed William’s mother, Azulie Marie Raymond or “Madame Maxo,” as she is known in her home country. Madame Maxo has been staying with the family while she gets medical care here.
Madame Maxo, 49, has eight children ranging in age from 28 to 8, including William. She’s also a mother figure to many others in her village.
“We describe her as just the living embodiment of Mother Teresa, really, to that village,” Ranson said. “When someone is sick, when a child is sick, when an adult is sick, they always know where they can go and they go to Madame Maxo.”
The woman typically isn’t a complainer, Ranson said. She normally would get up very early in the morning and work until late at night. So when she started feeling ill enough to stop working earlier this year, Ranson knew she had to do something to help her.
“So we sent her to four different places in Haiti to try to get health care and I just felt like we weren’t really getting anywhere,” she said.
While she’s been in the United States on a medical visa, Madame Maxo has been getting care from Ranson at Southern West Virginia Health Systems, and from some of Ranson’s friends and colleagues.
“I’ve had so many friends of mine who are specialists — ophthalmologists, cardiologists, gynecologists today... everybody has really stepped up to help us help her,” Ranson said. “So she’ll be going back once her work up is done.”
Madame Maxo had planned to be back in Haiti when one of her children started school in the first week of September, but she’ll stay, undergo a hysterectomy and be here until she heals, Ranson said.
William will graduate in December with a health care management degree from BridgeValley. His long-term goals are to go back to Haiti to help his village.
“My hope is to go back and hopefully work in a hospital,” he said.
If money were no object, Ranson said they would like to build a hospital in the village.
“[The people there] are just always sick,” William said. “There’s always something wrong with them. They just don’t go to the hospital because they can’t afford it.”
Last year, the Ransons started Heart of the Mountain mission, which serves the village of Digue Matheux. They also took over a school of 350 children.
Through fundraising efforts and financial contributors last year, the nonprofit built seven new bathrooms with flushing toilets and sinks with running water. Before then, the school children walked to a river to use the restroom.
They’ve also helped with improvements to Madame Maxo’s house, including adding an indoor kitchen.
“We told Marc Henry, we’re not going to bring you here to America and then forget about your family because that’s not how we are,” Ranson said.
Ranson said she and the mission wants to help provide the village with ways to sustain itself. She’s thought about a chicken farm or a block factory, where people could make the material they use to build homes in the village.
“They don’t want handouts,” Ranson said. “Although if I was starving, I would gladly have my hands open, and that’s OK, too....Long-term goals, the overall picture: the men want to work, the women want to work, the children are taught at a very young age to work.”