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Laura Wallace, 19

Volunteer, Olive Tree Projects

Edmonton, Alta.

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When Laura Wallace was enrolled in Grade 10 at Parkland Immanuel Christian School in Edmonton, she wrote an assignment on slavery in Haiti (she got an A). She likely didn't think then that two years later, in 2010, she would be living just outside of Jacmel, Haiti, and volunteering her time and nursing talents to keep children alive in a maternity centre run by Olive Tree Projects, an organization established by her sister, Sarah, 26.

Impact

"Olive Tree provides a safe, clean place for labour and delivery, and we offer prenatal, delivery, and post-delivery care. We can reduce maternal mortality and help keep children with their families. We have about 40 clients and they range from 16 to 35 years of age."

Motivating factor

"My older sister, Sarah, who is 26 years old, moved to Haiti four years ago and set up Olive Tree Projects. She transformed a house into a maternity centre. Sarah's stories intrigued me. I wanted to meet the people and see the places she always talked about. Plus, when Sarah was in the Philippines in midwifery school, I visited her and really enjoyed living in a different culture."

Picture success

"The day that the maternity centre is run by Haitian women. We work to strengthen their knowledge and skills so that this can happen."

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Donations

"With a donation of $150, we can provide prenatal care [which includes examinations, vitamins, treatments for infections and education]delivery, and post-delivery care. We tell clients what it costs and encourage them to pay what they can and when they can. One client last year gave Sarah a chicken and some avocados as her pay and a thank you."

What discourages you?

"People who aren't willing to help themselves. There were cases in Haiti when we tried to educate women on things like what foods are good to feed their children and what aren't, but they wouldn't change their habits and we had to watch their kids suffer."

Describe yourself

"I feel like a pretty ordinary university student, well nursing student, at least. I love learning about the body and how it functions, bacteria, disease and how to treat people."

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Personal hero

"My sister Sarah is so creative and comes up with so many amazing ideas and plans. When she says she's going to do something, she means it. I remember last year Sarah was talking about wanting to start a lab and last week I find out it is all set up and running!"

Any doubts?

"I was worried that the organization wouldn't be approved by the Canadian government and given charity status just because it was taking a really long time to complete the process."

What keeps you going?

"My family has been a huge support for me. I ask them for help all the time for every little thing and they always give it to me, including editing my papers and supporting me financially."

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Aha! moment

"I have learned how much culture influences the way you dress, cook, your humour, your beliefs and values. I learned how to build friendships even with the language barrier. By the time I left Haiti, I could speak Creole fairly well, but communicating was still difficult. I have learned that language is so much more than just words."

What's next?

"To graduate in 2013 from Grant MacEwan College with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and work in a Canadian hospital to gain experience. I want to return to Haiti, but I also want to explore other countries."



This interview has been condensed and edited.

Farah Mohamed is the President & CEO of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for the Action Figure to Livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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