How did you get started with mission work?
Mission work and service have always been an important activity within my family. My grandparents were very involved in serving the poor within their community and even took a trip to Haiti in their younger years. Their service to the poor had an impact on my aunts, uncles, cousins, and myself. I was called to mission work long before my aunt and uncle founded the mission and non-profit, Healing Haiti, which I am now networked into. My diary entries, dating back to middle school, speak of traveling to poor countries and planting seeds. These entries weren't revisited until after my first short term mission trip to Haiti, and it was after that point in my life that I was reminded of what I had been called to do. Serve. Work alongside the poor.
What kind of schooling did you go through?
To become a Registered Dietitian, I had to complete a 4 year, DPD accredited program. (For more on schools and becoming an RD, check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website: http://www.eatright.org/BecomeanRDorDTR/). I am one of those "feelings" kind of people, and knew the College of Saint Benedict was the school of choice for me when I stepped on the campus for a tour my junior year of high school. After filling out applications for three different colleges, I decided to only send in one... College of Saint Benedict. I was accepted, thankfully, and started on a journey full of wonderful educational and hands-on experiences/ opportunities. I am a bit of an overachiever, and decided to also pick-up a second major in psychology during my freshman year of college. I spent those 4 years in classes, labs, and endless studying to complete the two majors by May 2011. I even had to pick up a couple online summer classes... and develop a love for a morning brew of coffee. It was all worth it, as I now realize how much psychology is involved with my nutrition mission work.
To finish the steps towards becoming an RD, I had to complete an accredited Dietetic Internship that provided a minimum of 1200 hours of supervised practice in various sites that an RD works. During my senior year of college, I applied for two internship programs in the Minnesota area, and was matched with my top program choice: The University of Minnesota and The Emily Program Dietetic Internship. It was the first year of the internship program, and the first internship in the nation to provide training and practice in eating disorder specific nutrition therapy. My internship included other experiences beyond eating disorders, which helped enhance my skills/training in all possible areas a dietitian works. I spent a significant portion of the internship doing clinical nutrition, community, and food service/management nutrition. It was an amazing internship with outstanding preceptors, directors, and experiences. There is no doubt, my educational experience at St. Bens, and my training through my internship have greatly prepared me for being an RD in Haiti.
Following the graduation from my internship, I was ready to take my dietetics boards. The boards is a standardized test that determines my ability to practice as a dietitian. For several weeks following my internship, I studied like crazy (..studying everything from food safety to micronutrients to lab values....) and took my boards right before leaving on one of my Haiti adventures. I passed the boards the first time (thankfully) and immediately started the process of getting the RD behind my name on everything..emails, business cards... and was off to Haiti!
Being an RD is more than just going to school, completing an internship, and taking a fancy test... to keep my status as an RD, I am required to obtain continuing education credits. The fun part about being a professional in the nutrition and health sector is that we continually have to keep on learning and shifting our frame of practice/recommendations to fit with evidence-based science. If you aspire to to be an RD, I highly suggest that you enjoy learning new things!!
How did you decided on this career?
My career path stems directly from my personal struggle with an eating disorder. From a very young age, I was intrigued by health and nutrition. Unfortunately, my relationship with food and the body were skewed for many years and led to destructive behaviors. It was after a severe bout of my eating disorder that I decided I wanted to learn more about food, the body, and the brain so that I could better understand the relationship between these three factors to help myself recover... and someday help others recover too. Throughout college, I was set on being a professional in eating disorder therapy. I volunteered with a non-profit eating disorder organization and conducted my own research study, all which have provided me with more comprehensive understandings of eating disorders, and the exceptional opportunity to enhance skills in marketing, fundraising, event planning, research, and public speaking. My career path took a minor shift after my first short term mission trip to Haiti...serving in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere helping people obtain well-balanced dietary intakes through local, sustainable, and cost-effective means. All my experiences with eating disorders, surprisingly, have given me unique insight, perspective, and skills for working with third world nutrition.
What is a typical day like for you in Haiti?
Honestly, there is no typical day. The structure of my day is based upon the current need at that time. My work as a missionary extends beyond just meal planning and educating. My role as an RD is always shifting based on the needs of the kids, the kitchen, and the staff. I function as an all-around dietitian in Haiti.. researching, education, counseling, and engaging in food service, clinical, and public health work. Some days, I function in roles not pertaining to nutrition-related work; the operations accountant, a life coach (helping people problem solve, organize, plan ahead), a mentor, and a babysitter. Every now and then, we have unexpected emergency situations that require immediate attention... which is something that makes for more untypical days. So basically, I plan my day on a day-by-day agenda.
What do you eat in Haiti?
I eat a lot of food grown and produced in Haiti. I try to make it to the local market in our community once or twice a week to buy produce from the vendors. Some of my favorite foods in Haiti include soursop (corsol), squash, yam (which they call sweet potatoes), mangos, pineapple, bananas, carrots, callaloo, eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, green peppers, beets, beans, millet, bulgur... I eat all kinds of produce. I find that eating foods from the local market is a lot less expensive than going to the grocery store to buy packaged and/or imported foods. (And it helps to support the people in our community).
How do I get involved?
If you are interested in being a missionary or volunteering in a third world country, I suggest you start with a short term mission trip. A short mission trip can provide you with a broad introduction to the country and the many different cultural barriers that impact service work. It can also give you perspective on the diverse problems people in third world countries face.
Mission work, especially long term mission work, comes with a lot of internal and external sacrifices, battles, challenges, demands, and obstacles. It is important that you have a good level of understanding of what to expect (or not expect) before diving in... and I highly recommend you know some good, self-care practices too! You will need them!!
If you don't see a question that you would like answered, please leave a comment below and I will try to answer it!