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Haiti bound

Alum survives deadly quake and sets sights on relief efforts.

After the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, most people who lived through it are trying to get out and return home. Kara Telesmanick '02, who was working there, got out and safely returned home to New Bedford, Mass., last week. But she can't wait to go back to Haiti to help with the massive relief efforts.

Telesmanick had been working as a program manager with the Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti in Leogane, a coastal town 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Her house was destroyed.

The Boston Globe interviewed her and wrote a story about her experience during the earthquake. "The people I live with and care about are there. It's where I live, and I need to go back and help my neighbors and everyone who's suffering right now. I think I can be of some use,'' she told the Globe.

In an e-mail sent via Facebook, where many of her friends have been expressing gratitude that she made it out OK, Telesmanick personally relayed to us what happened.

"I was actually in Port-au-Prince having lunch after a meeting when the earthquake happened," she said. "We were in an outside cafe and ran to the parking lot when the ground started shaking. I couldn't make it home to Leogane, so we stayed in Port-au-Prince and helped out at a makeshift clinic at a MSF administration building until about 4 a.m.

"After, we rested in a courtyard of a hotel near the clinic before heading to Leogane the next morning. We made it back, and I was reunited with my boyfriend. I spent that day helping where I could and checking on people I cared about. We slept that night in a field by the hospital along with several other Haitian families. The Americans with me decided they wanted to try to make it to Port-au-Prince the next morning to attempt to get a flight to the USA. It was absolute torture for me to leave behind everyone I care so much about, but I know I needed to take care of myself and talk to my family before I could be really useful in relief efforts. We were not able to get on a flight on Thursday and went to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. They were able to get us on a military evacuation flight out early on Friday morning. I'm now resting, eating and catching up on sleep, but am anxious to get back!"

The Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti started in 1998 to address the malnutrition, which is responsible for about 60 percent of all deaths in Haiti, according to the organization's Web site.

Telesmanick, a biology major at Wheaton, began working there in 2007, after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bangladesh at a development center for unemployed youth. While in Bangladesh, she also developed a training curriculum for health clinic workers to improve the treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

Wheaton's emphasis on study abroad was one of the reasons she chose to come here to college.

"My junior year abroad in Paris was formative and had a major impact on my decision to join the Peace Corps after graduating," she said. "During the three years I worked in Bangladesh my eyes were opened to the world of public health, and I decided to go back to get my master's degree in public health in developing countries at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine."

All of her experiences have come into play in her job in Haiti. The organization that she now works with is collaborating with Save the Children USA and other local Leogane organizations to help in the aftermath. "The big hospital in Leogane, Hopital Ste. Croix, is still standing and a structural engineer says it's sturdy, so I'm hoping this building can help in an emergency response," she said.