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updated: 3/20/2011 8:46 AM

Haitian work helps suburban teen find path

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  • Josiah Ballantine, 18, of Elk Grove Village ponders the fate of five students still entombed under rubble at the university school in Port-au-Prince.

       Josiah Ballantine, 18, of Elk Grove Village ponders the fate of five students still entombed under rubble at the university school in Port-au-Prince.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Josiah Ballantine, 18, of Elk Grove Village takes the blood pressure of a Haitian man at the Friends of the Children of Haiti clinic in Cyvadier, Haiti.

       Josiah Ballantine, 18, of Elk Grove Village takes the blood pressure of a Haitian man at the Friends of the Children of Haiti clinic in Cyvadier, Haiti.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- He stands on a piece of concrete rubble in front of what was Port-au-Prince's university school. It is a solemn place. What was once a concrete wall pierces the sky. A laptop computer with a broken screen lies in the rubble near an empty briefcase and a single brown shoe.

It is now a place where kids play and women hang their laundry.

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Josiah Ballantine, 18, of Elk Grove Village pauses, his hand under his chin, thinking about the five students entombed in the rubble below his feet.

It is a year to the day since the area was hit by the powerful earthquake that destroyed this building and all the surrounding buildings, burying many of Haiti's hopes for its future.

Ballantine, who attends Harper College in Palatine, is in Haiti helping his mom, Lisa Ballantine, with her mission to bring FilterPure water filters to Haitians who have no sources of clean water.

"It is sad that they will never come home, their family members will never find them," he says of the students.

A fresh bouquet of green and yellow flowers sits in the middle of the wreckage, a stark contrast to the blinding white concrete rubble, undoubtedly put there to commemorate the anniversary of the earthquake that killed a loved one.

Six months ago Ballantine also was in Haiti with his mom, but he viewed all the damage and destruction from afar. This time, it was under his feet.

"Hard to imagine that anything could cause this type of damage. Looks like a bomb went off." People back home, he says, can barely imagine this type of horror. You have to see it to believe it.

"No one in the suburbs can imagine this type of poverty. Makes me laugh when I think what people complain about."

People come from all over Haiti to Port-au-Prince looking for jobs, but there are no jobs. People are begging, fighting for their lives and their next meal.

It's an education that Ballantine takes to heart, learning compassion that will serve him well in his ambition to be a doctor.

Josiah got most of his education from schools in the Dominican Republic, where his family moved for the first time in 2000, when he was 7.

His family returned to the suburbs, living in Wayne, then moved back to the Dominican Republic in 2006 while commuting regularly to a home in Elk Grove Village.

He finished his high school education in the Dominican Republic in 2010. He and his younger sister, Tobi, who now attends Wheaton Academy, were the only Americans in the all-Dominican school in the small town of Las Matas de Farfan in the San Juan Province.

"It was a little intimidating at first," he says. Yet, "growing up in the Dominican made me more of who I am today than Wayne, Ill."

Growing up Dominican gave Ballantine, fluent in Spanish, the chance for medical experience far beyond what he'd see in the U.S. At only 17, he signed up with Medical Missions International as a certified nurse assistant and translator, sometimes assisting with surgeries.

On this trip, he's working with the Friends of the Children of Haiti in Cyvadier, south of Port-au-Prince, near the factory his mother founded in Jacmel for making water filters. The clinic was founded by Dick and Barb Hammond of Peoria, who've lived in Haiti for the past two decades.

Josiah's work includes counting pills and taking the blood pressure readings of Haitians who traveled for miles from the most remote areas of the country. They arrive with ailments such as diabetes and hypertension, wearing their best clothes for a meeting with visiting medical teams from America.

Josiah was playing video games with a friends in his home near Jarabacoa in the Dominican Republic when the earthquake hit, shaking the house to its foundation.

"I thought the house was going to collapse," he said.

Later, TV reports began to reveal the magnitude of the disaster.

Josiah didn't know it yet, but the earthquake would shape his outlook and his aspiration to be doctor, putting him on an intersecting path with the ailing men and women who would come to the Cyvadier clinic a year later and find themselves, at least for a time, in his hands.

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