Rachel Prusynski returns to Haiti

By The Beacon | September 30, 2010 9:00pm


A Haitian student will receive a UP scholarship in Molly Hightower’s honor

Rachel Prusynski (left) will return to Haiti briefly in December to continue working as a physical therapist with orphans. (Photo Courtesy of Rachel Prusynski)

By Enid Spitz, Staff Writer -- spitz13@up.edu

After surviving the earthquake that devastated Haiti nearly a year ago, 2009 UP alumna Rachel Prusynski vowed to give back in return for her second chance at life. She's living out that promise as she returns to Haiti this year with two goals and a strong sense of hope.

Prusynski will work with orphans and help with relief efforts. She's also finalizing her plan to bring a Haitian student to UP on a full scholarship.

On Jan. 12, Prusynski and UP classmate Molly Hightower were trapped in a building that collapsed when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti. Prusynski and Hightower were volunteering at an orphanage run by Friends of the Orphans. After the quake, as many as 200,000 people were reported dead, including Molly Hightower.

When she returns to Haiti for a few weeks with friends in December, Prusynski will continue her work as a physical therapist with orphans. Her trip coincides with the one-year anniversary of the quake and Hightower's death.

"We'll take a tour to see the destruction and progress…if there is any," Prusynski said, "And we'll go to the site of the building that collapsed. It'll be hard, but I'm kind of convincing myself that it's real."

Many organizations are still struggling to provide relief to Haiti as it recovers from the earthquake's damage. Prusynski herself has set up an initiative called "Haiti: Heal, Help, Hope" to raise awareness and funds, 100 percent of which go to Friends of the Orphans. The organization is helping to house the many displaced and marginalized children affected by the disaster in Haiti.

"It's painful. No one wants to think about the suffering," Prusynski said. "I'm pretty convinced that any progress will be pretty hidden, and I'm preparing emotionally for that."

In addition to her relief efforts, Prusynski will also take time in Haiti to meet potential recipients of a newly created scholarship to the University of Portland.

In Molly Hightower's honor, Prusynski worked with the University and a donor to fund a Haitian student's full undergraduate education at UP. This is the second scholarship honoring Hightower. Elle Hoxworth, a senior, recently received the Molly Hightower Endowment Scholarship, a product of last years' senior class gift.

"UP has been fabulous," Prusynski said.

With the application fee waived and preliminary acceptance granted, she is now working to find the perfect recipient.

"The hard part is finding someone who has the potential for success," Prusynski said. "I've been working with two potential applicants."

If Prusynski finds a recipient, he or she would start school at UP as early as next fall. After taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) to prove competency in English, the student would be officially enrolled at UP.

With a literacy rate under 60 percent in Haiti and much of the nation still living in tent cities, Prusynski is trying to fulfill the country's need for strong leaders. She intends for the Haitian student to receive a practical degree at UP and then return home, better suited to aid his or her country.

"They need to rebuild the country and make that change from within," Prusynski said. "The stipulation with (UP) is for (the Haitian student) to return to Haiti."

In spite of any geographical. cultural or financial challenges, Prusynski hopes to make the scholarship a sustainable project, educating Haitian students for years to come. "I want people at UP to know someone from Haiti is coming," Prusynski said.

To donate: http://www.friendsoftheorphans.org/helpinghaiti.