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Mar 312010
 

Brad Ratliff poses with a girl while in Haiti to offer medical assistance in January.

By Celine Klosterman

Education is the key to building a better Haiti, Brad Ratliff said.

So he’s working to fulfill a request to gather school supplies for children in the country, which was devastated by a Jan. 12 earthquake. He promoted the school supply drive Monday in Iowa City at Regina Catholic Education Center, where he graduated in 2005.

“All the research says the way to get people back on their feet is through education.” Financial donations alone won’t revive Haiti, he said. “We need to teach the kids.”

St. Mary and St. Wenceslaus parishes in Iowa City have been helping with Ratliff’s drive, which the DeWitt ambulance medic and Cedar Rapids resident launched after spending about 10 days offering medical aid in Haiti.

He’d just left his job as a paramedic in Iowa City when he heard about a request for health care workers in Haiti following the quake. So he called a representative of Team Rubicon, a group of medical professionals and former military members who work to quickly provide care after a natural disaster.

Ratliff said he was told working in Haiti would be “horrible.” But “I hated sitting by the sidelines and watching on TV as people were going through hell,” he said. “I wanted to make a difference.”

So the day after his phone call, he flew to Haiti on a one-way ticket. He arrived at a Jesuit novitiate in Port-au-Prince eight days after the earthquake, and treated patients whose maladies ranged from colds to major traumatic injuries.

After returning to Iowa, “I thought, I need to do something more.” About a week later, Ratliff took a call from Jesuit Brother Jim Boynton, who’d been the liaison in Haiti between Team Rubicon volunteers and patients. Br. Boynton is working to set up schools for displaced children and noted thousands of students would need classroom supplies. Could Ratliff help?

Ratliff said yes. He and two men he’d volunteered with in Haiti formed Mission of Choice, a Texas-based organization designed to fulfill educational and health care needs. Ratliff’s co-founders are working to obtain items such as desks, blackboards, chairs and medical supplies, while Ratliff is focusing on smaller materials including pencils, rulers and notebooks.

“It’s stuff we take for granted, but it’s going to touch a kid’s heart,” he said. He added last week that he hoped the drive would help let Regina students know “how lucky they are to get a great education.”

Ratliff noted shelter, food, clothing and medical care continue to remain major needs for residents of Haiti. But children shouldn’t remain unoccupied, he said. “We need to get kids back in school.”

Mission of Choice is awaiting Internal Revenue Service classification as a nonprofit organization. To donate supplies, contact Ratliff at ratliff.bradley@ gmail.com or (319) 325-5977.

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