It’s easy to sing the praises of a student like Megan Lesperance ’14. Along with being a chamber singer, the senior biology major from Schenectady, N.Y. conducts research with Assistant Professor of Biology Adam Mason, Ph.D., serves as Student Senate treasurer, tutors, and works in the Office of Alumni Relations.
Still, one of this aspiring doctor’s favorite collegiate experiences occurred far away from the friendly confines of the Siena campus. Lesperance spent three weeks teaching English and providing basic medical care to students at St. Gabriel’s Junior/Senior High School in the rural Haitian town of Fontaine.
There’s no infrastructure in this town. Basically the only glimmer of hope is this school,” Lesperance said. St. Gabriel’s was started by Pierre-Louis Joizil, one of three Haitian men who finished their degrees at Siena after their university was destroyed by an earthquake in 2010. Lesperance said that 140 students attend the school that goes up to the 10th grade.
“It was such an honor for me to teach them because they’re so hungry for education that it makes it easy to just want to be with them for nine, ten hours at a time teaching them English,” Lesperance said.
Lesperance also learned that treating the most basic medical problems, such as hunger, headaches and leg burns, was a big deal to her students.
“They started calling me ‘Doctor Megan’ instead of ‘Teacher Megan’,” Lesperance said. “I really only gave them some Neosporin and a Band-Aid and they were calling me ‘Doctor Megan’ because it’s more than what they’ve ever had.”
Since her trip, Lesperance has decided to pursue family medicine or general practice. Along with finding a career focus, the future physician learned one important lesson.
“Your patients come first,” Lesperance said, adding that when she was in Haiti, her students came first.
While the trip was life-changing, Lesperance had to get special permission to go. Participation in medical service trips abroad had been reserved for students in the Siena College/Albany Medical College (AMC) joint acceptance program – until now.
As part of its $50 million comprehensive campaign, Siena is launching the Global Medical Volunteers Program, which will give traditional pre-med students like Lesperance the chance to spend time developing their medical skills in areas of the world that need their help the most.
“It’s great that this kind of program will extend that opportunity to other non-AMC pre-med students who just are really looking to get involved in a service opportunity abroad,” Lesperance said.
Lesperance plans to continue helping students in Haiti. When she returns in January to serve and share Siena’s Franciscan sprit. In the process, she’ll ensure that the education of a lifetime becomes a lifeline for people who know that it’s the key to landing good jobs and supporting their families.