Bakir Dzananovic, a doctor in training in Meridian, is leading a medical trip to Haiti this summer with a small group of fellow student-doctors.
Dzananovic’s ties to Haiti go back to 2015, when he first visited the country at age 20. The area was still suffering from the aftermath of an earthquake that took the lives of roughly 250,000 people five years prior.
During his three-day trip, Dzananovic noticed many of the children were the ones most affected.
“The children were the one who didn’t have anyone to protect them,” Dzananovic said. He described an orphanage he visited, where 25 children slept on a concrete floor in a 20-by-10-foot room with no electricity.
On his plane ride home, Dzananovic kept asking himself how he was fortunate enough to be born somewhere with shelter, electricity and all the resources he needed, while these children weren’t. Then he realized he was asking himself the wrong question.
“The right question was, ‘How can I help them?’” he said.
That question gave Dzananovic the momentum he needed to raise enough money with close friend Ibrahim Chaudhry to open an orphanage in Miragoâne, a commune on the west coast of Haiti.
The orphanage is the main focus of The Humanity Projects, the nonprofit Dzananovic and Chaudhry founded while they worked to open the orphanage in 2016.
On top of his responsibilities as president of the nonprofit, Dzananovic is starting his second year at the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine in Meridian in August.
Before he dives back into his studies, Dzananovic and a group of other ICOM student doctors will hold a two-day clinic at the orphanage and then in the nearby town. The group will give the children and residents free comprehensive checkups. The student-doctors will be accompanied by Dr. Rodney Bates, chairman of primary care at ICOM, a dentist and a student optometrist to provide participants with an eye exam and dental checkup.
“Most of (the residents) have never seen a doctor,” Dzananovic said.
The Humanity Projects will provide free transport to the nearest hospital for residents who need additional treatment, and will pay for their medical bills.
The trip will also give those student-doctors hands-on experience helping people that have “a greater need,” said Bates.
THE HUMANITY PROJECT
Since founding The Humanity Projects in 2016, Dzananovic has periodically gone down to check on the 35 children who live in the orphanage. Dzananovic has been to Haiti almost 10 times.
Dzananovic founded the nonprofit while he was finishing his undergraduate degree and has continued to serve as the president while in medical school. The nonprofit is 100% volunteer run, meaning not even Dzananovic gets a salary for the work he’s doing.
“I don’t know how long (being volunteer run) will last,” he said, noting that his staff consists of Chaudhry, who is the vice president, a board that helps him make major decisions, two financial directors, a marketing person and a team of about 40 other dedicated volunteers.
Dzananovic said it can be “tough, especially being a broke medical student,” but knowing that every dollar they raise goes to the orphanage makes it worth it.
THE MADINAH ORPHANAGE
A couple of months after Dzananovic’s first trip Haiti, he went back with Chaudhry. The two wanted to learn more about the culture and history of Haiti — giving them insight into how best they could help. That’s when they met Bilal Habashi, a resident of Miragoâne. He told them the children of Haiti were suffering the most. The 2010 earthquake left many of them without parents and access to clean water.
To help the two 20-somethings understand, Habashi gathered several of orphans in Miragoâne, so the two could talk with them. Dzananovic said at first he didn’t know what to ask, eventually settling for, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Instead of giving the answer Dzananovic was expecting — astronaut or ballerina — the orphan looked at Habashi with confusion.
“He said he wants food when he grows up,” Dzananovic said, quoting Habashi, who served as a translator for the conversation.
The child’s words were still on Dzananovic and Chaudhry’s mind when they got back the U.S. They reached out to everyone they knew, eventually raising the $19,500 they needed to open the Madinah Orphanage in September 2016. Later that year, they raised an additional $21,500 to open an academy for the children and hire seven paid teachers and staff members.
Providing the children with an education is important to Dzananovic and Chaudhry because they wanted to empower the children to grow and become successful.
“Now some of them want to be doctors, nurses and engineers,” Dzananovic said. “The best thing for empowerment is knowledge and education.”
Officials have reported that Haiti is still struggling to recover from the 2010 earthquake that displaced 1.5 million of the country’s 11 million residents. Many Haitians live in precarious conditions, with “limited access to essential services and livelihood opportunities,” according to a report published this year by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs .
Because of their already-precarious living situations, many Haitians are highly vulnerable to natural disasters, relying on assistance from other countries or nonprofits.
In 2018 Haiti was struggling with drought, causing problems in food security. Then it was struck by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake — killing 18 people, injuring 724 and damaging more than 29,260 houses, the report said.
Dzananovic said the lack of jobs and the poverty were the biggest problems the country suffered from. He said a lot of the country’s orphans have a living mother, but she couldn’t afford to feed them.
“There are a multitude of children who don’t have food,” he said.
Chronic poverty, natural disasters, forced displacement and a lack of access to essential services and infrastructure are only some of the problems Haiti suffers from, the report said. In 2019, there were about 1.5 million people in need in Haiti and $117.4 million of aid requested.
EDUCATING THE COMMUNITY
The Humanity Projects’ orphanage and school operates in a rented building. The nonprofit was able to raise enough money to buy land and build a facility, which they hope to move into this August. The new facility will give them enough room to house 50 children.
Down the road, Dzananovic said he wants to raise enough money to build a middle school large enough for Miragoâne’s more than 300 children to attend. According to The Humanity Projects’ website, the nonprofit is about 7% of the way to meeting its $300,000 goal.
By giving children an education, Dzananovic hopes they’ll have the tools they need to succeed.
“I just really want to empower those children with education so the next generation will be able to make a difference,” he said.
Dr. Gergana Deevska, the adviser for ICOM’s Muslim Student Association, said she was impressed with his ability and enthusiasm after hearing Dzananovic present to the group, of which he is a member.
“The other thing that impressed me was his willingness to help these poor communities,” she said.
Deevska said the trip to Haiti will allow the participating students to practice their clinical skills and help people.
“This is what they’re going to do for the rest of their life,” she said.