Certain experiences are life changing. For the Cichon family, a chain of those experiences started four years ago when Dr. Val Cichon went on a medical mission trip to Haiti with a group from Health4Haiti out of Pueblo. Fast forward to January 2013 and the Cichon family had five members serving on missions in Haiti, including St. Mary’s High School senior Beth Cichon.
While it was Beth’s first trip to Haiti, and the week there certainly impacted her in some unexpected ways, none of the family members came back unchanged. Beth said experiencing life in the US and Haiti like experiencing two completely different worlds.
“Compared to how we live here, they live on such a minimal amount,” Cichon said. “When I came back it felt like I was in sort of a daze. It felt like Haiti was the real way of life. Our concerns here are more shallow.”
What Beth found was that the Haitians are very patient people, coming back day after day to see a doctor or receive a procedure. And that all the waiting resulted in hardly any complaining. She said they are also intelligent people who value education, even if it means that students gather around a street light to study. Those observations have changed her life in the US.
“I was not much of complainer before but now I’m more aware of complaining,” Beth said, “I’ll hear people complaining about petty things and I wonder, ‘Why is this important?’ And I’ve definitely become more patient. In the US it’s the little things that we’re so concerned about.”
One of the special parts of the trip was that Beth had the opportunity to work directly with her dad and grandfather. Her father, Dr. John Cichon, made his third trip to Haiti this year, while her grandfather, Dr. Val Cichon, made his fourth trip. Both men are ear, nose, and throat doctors. John said the trip was a special time for the family.
“It was a chance for me to see Beth in a more grown-up setting,” he said. “She did a lot of things she’d never done before. We put her to work transporting patients, changing dressings, even organizing the stock room. And she stepped up and did it all, working long hours. It was really special for me to see what Beth is made out of; to see her character.”
But one of the things John treasured most about the trip was that Beth got to see her grandfather at work.
“She got to be in the operating room with her grandfather and assist him as a scrub nurse,” he said. “I hope that spending that time with her grandfather is something that stays with her forever.”
In addition to working directly with the doctors, Beth’s group distributed vitamins and did talks about vaccines and diseases like malaria.
“A lot of people in Haiti think they are better prepared for illness than they are,” Beth said. “It felt good to be of service to the doctors.”
The week before Beth and her dad and grandfather arrived in Haiti, Beth’s two older sisters, Kathy and Danielle, also spent a week working there. John said the experience has changed them as well.
Kathy is now planning to go to Rwanda on a project with Notre Dame, where she is currently a junior. And after going to Haiti with her dad in 2012, Danielle, who is now a freshman in college, decided to go into nursing.
It might seem strange that a week can have such an impact on a life. But John said a week in Haiti seems like much longer. With so much to do and so many people to help, he said you quickly become invested in the people and the work. That makes it hard to leave when the week is up.
“It’s hard to break away at the end of the week because you feel like so much is being left undone,” he said. “There is always someone else there that you could be helping.”
John said the experience of working in Haiti is hard to understand if you haven’t been there. Since returning, he said he and Beth have had many conversations about their experiences since returning.
“We’ve talked a lot about what we experienced and what we are expected to do in this life,” John said. “When you get back you think it about Haiti a lot for the first week. We’ve talked a long time about adjusting back to American life after Haiti.”
The adjustment was harder for Beth than anyone thought it would be as her thoughts often drifted back to Haiti and the people there.
“When you are there you spend a lot of time in thought,” she said. “You really reflect on what is necessary for living and what is worthy of attention. You learn that there are things outside of the life you know here. It shows you there is more to the world than what you’ve seen.”
A day spent at a Haitian orphanage allowed Beth to work directly with children, which she found gratifying and may impact her plans for the future. That experience led to thoughts of a career working with children, such as being a pediatric nurse. While the medical profession is a family business, Beth’s dad’s advice to her was to keep her options open.
“My dad said that engineers are just as important as doctors and that I shouldn’t discount anything at this point,” Beth said. “I’m going to Notre Dame, which sets me up well for medicine or architecture or engineering.”
By Amy G. Partain, Communications Associate
St. Mary's High School
Below: Beth Cichon, a SMHS senior, poses with children from the Haitian orphanage, where she worked during a medical mission trip in January. (Photo courtesy of the Cichon family.)