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Beyond the Office: Hourihan helps serve the needy in Haiti

Ed Hourihan Jr. holds a Haitian child  in a rural mountain village three hours outside of Jérémie, Haiti. Courtesy Ed Hourihan Jr.

Ed Hourihan Jr. holds a Haitian child in a rural mountain village three hours outside of Jérémie, Haiti. Courtesy Ed Hourihan Jr.

Edward P. Hourihan Jr. is preparing for his eighth volunteer trip to Haiti this May, while his father, Ed Hourihan Sr., has recently returned from one of his nearly two dozen trips to Haiti as a volunteer for the Haitian Health Foundation.

Hourihan Sr. is on the HHF board and is close friends with Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, a Connecticut orthodontist who began offering dental care in one of the world’s most impoverished countries in the early 1980s, founding HHF in 1982. Lowney’s wife and children have made this mission their life’s work, with daughter Marilyn now the executive director of HHF.

Although Lowney started his efforts in Port-au-Prince and other areas of Haiti where Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity was established, Mother Teresa requested that Lowney move his small group’s outreach to the rural city of Jérémie.

Lowney’s commitment to improving lives one at a time in the brutally impoverished rural mountains of Jérémie in Haiti is the cornerstone of the HHF, and the Hourihans heartily believe in this effort.

Hourihan Jr., partner at Bond Schoeneck & King PLLC, began visiting Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the city of Port-au-Prince, and sent Jérémie reeling from the onslaught of displaced persons.

“Unlike Port-au-Prince, the town of Jérémie was not directly affected by the earthquake,” Hourihan explained. “But Jérémie had to absorb tens of thousands of displaced Haitians, in a region where malnutrition takes children’s lives and there is no economy. There are no jobs because of the unstable government.”

HHF

The HHF now serves 250,000 a year, providing health clinic services, dental care, housing, and education.

In Jérémie, HHF established a dental clinic, which grew into a health clinic, which now includes the Center of Hope, a facility for pre-natal and post-natal care, along with a sterile environment for births.

Four times a year, HHF, which has headquarters in Connecticut, ships containers to Jérémie packed with food, text books, clothing and even building materials.

With the donations and regular volunteer visits, improvements are being made in housing, nourishment, education and health care. Haitian health agents are trained in basic wellness practices and go from village to village to provide immunizations and basic health check-ups. These rural areas now have rudimentary health records for people who had nothing.

Life expectancy was only age 50 a decade ago. Now, with improved infant mortality statistics, the life expectancy is 62.

Dental care generally involves pulling rotten teeth and teaching better hygiene and nutrition.

Over the past 30 years, Lowney and his family have created a stable organization that saves lives and has brought hope to the poorest of the poor.

“I love being associated with such a selflessly caring community of devoted volunteers,” Hourihan added.

The lay of the land

There are 104 rural mountain villages within the reach of the HFF initiative.

Agriculture is limited due to the mountainous terrain and lack of effective tools, seeds and know-how.

Jérémie’s housing is patchwork cardboard, rusted tin and thatch.

The village itself is about a 12-hour drive from Port-au-Prince over poorly maintained mountain roadways. Most volunteers take a one hour plane ride into the village, where they are housed in dormatories above the health clinic.

“Haiti has some electricity and some running water, but many areas go without,” Hourihan said. “For those who do have these utilities, service is often unreliable.”

Personal experience

Chloe Strippoli, second from left, and Maeve Hourihan, far right, pose with two native Haitians who were selling handmade charcoal for kitchen fires. Courtesy Ed Hourihan Jr.

Chloe Strippoli, second from left, and Maeve Hourihan, far right, pose with two native Haitians who were selling handmade charcoal for kitchen fires. Courtesy Ed Hourihan Jr.

“They are a friendly, happy people,” Hourihan noted. “Very giving, very grateful. I see dignity in all — they have pride, they just need more opportunity.”

Hourihan has participated in an assortment of initiatives in Haiti, including working as a dental hygienist. He has gone on ventures to deliver goats to rural villages and he has spent time with kids in orphanages.

The immense poverty generates an emotionally stressed environment, probably best described by a visit to the orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order).

“There might be 50 babies and toddlers, and two women kept constantly busy with feeding and changing diapers,” Hourihan said. “We go in and hold babies and play. They crave human contact and you can see the delight in their eyes.”

HHF facilitates child wellness visits, and volunteers can help weigh the babies, and record basic health information. Hourihan and other volunteers in the HHF program often bring toys and basic supplies to hand out.

“I usually bring them candy, toothbrushes, ornamental jewelry and soccer balls,” Hourihan said.

Last year, Hourihan included his daughter Maeve, 17, and his niece, Chloe Strippoli of New Jersey on a week-long trip to Jérémie.

“My daughter and niece were put to work and jumped right in,” Hourihan shared. “Initially they were overwhelmed by the disarray, the poverty, dirt and the smells, but they saw that they could help and they did. They helped at the dental outposts in remote villages, helping in the orphanages and, above all, bearing witness to what they saw and bringing awareness back to their hometown.”

Maeve’s school, Our Lady of Mercy, has designated HHF as its beneficiary for Mission Month in March.

“These types of experiences are heartfelt and something they will never forget,” Hourihan said. “The girls saw a side of humanity that many rarely see up close. I hope it inspires them throughout their lives.”

Back in Rochester

Hourihan is the managing partner of the Rochester office of Bond Schoeneck & King PLLC, and has seen the local office grow from five attorneys in 2008 to more than 25 today.

He is a litigation attorney, who handles a broad array of business and commercial disputes in both state and federal courts, and who has lectured and published articles on a variety of topics, including trial practice, business law, construction law and subrogation law.

In 2012, he was recognized as one of the “Leaders in Law” by The Daily Record.

Hourihan’s wife, Bridget, is a native Rochesterian who brought Hourihan to Rochester in the early 1990s — he was born in Masena, but his family moved to eastern Connecticut when he was young. She teaches English as a Second Language at Monroe Community College. She is headed to Haiti in 2014, and they both plan to take their other children in the year to come.

They have three children: Maeve, Matthew, 15, and William, 11.

As a family, they have traveled to Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Germany and France.

In the spirit of learning about other cultures, the Hourihans have also had people from different countries live at their home.