In 2017, several Missouri State students traveled to Haiti over spring break, with the goal of fitting Haitian students for glasses. In that week, they screened around 400 students and fitted about 85 of them.
Leading the charge was Lucy Beeler. She’d graduated from MSU with a cell and molecular biology degree and was already familiar with the vision program implemented on the trip. For Beeler, this trip to Haiti wouldn’t be a one-time experience volunteering abroad.
For the Womxn of Distinction award winner, it marked the beginning.
On her first Haiti trip, Beeler was a senior taking a service learning credit. As a part of the credit, she was taught about MSU’s vision program and learned about the trip they would be taking.
“I always really liked traveling, but just being in that kind of environment, I knew that was the kind of thing I wanted to do,” Beeler said.
Lora Hobbs, a religious studies professor, is in charge of the Haiti trip each year. She’s organized service learning opportunities in the past in other areas, but the vision program was new for her.
When it was time to leave, the staff member who would be leading the vision testing in Haiti couldn’t go. The trip wasn’t canceled; instead, the responsibility fell onto the next person most knowledgeable about the program — Beeler.
“It didn’t take long to see that Lucy is an organizer,” Hobbs said.
While the trip was underway, Beeler took notes of everything — what went well, what they should have done differently — so that when the trip in 2018 took place, they would be more prepared. Thanks to Beeler’s efforts alongside the rest of the team, Hobbs said the 2018 trip went even more smoothly.
“We have provided eyesight to a lot of kids and Haitian school staff,” Hobbs said. “That could not have happened without Lucy.”
Since the trip in 2017, Beeler helped lead the trip in 2018 and planned to do the same in 2019, but had to cancel due to political unrest in the country. In addition, she volunteered in Tanzania for two months because she had a semester-long break and felt she needed to be doing something.
“I was already interested in public health, and that kind of helped me realize that I also liked international health and helping those who may not have as much as we do,” Beeler said.
While volunteering independently from MSU in Tanzania, Beeler focused mainly on a women’s empowerment project. Every day during the week she worked with Pippi House, which houses women in need. Beeler’s role was helping their business, teaching English, teaching computer skills, working a garden and with whatever else they needed.
There was no set schedule to follow — Beeler and other volunteers figured it out as they went.
“Other places aren’t as efficient as we are in the U.S.,” Beeler said. “In Tanzania, they have this saying, called ‘Pole pole,’ which means ‘Slowly, slowly.’ The culture is just so different.”
Because of this and many other cultural differences, Beeler said she made a point to ensure they were working in the context of the Tanzanian culture.
“The infrastructure isn’t there how it is in the U.S.,” Beeler said. “That’s a big reason why I’m interested in public health because I want to go over and not put my culture on them, but I want to try to help them help themselves.”
Aside from the experience itself, Beeler brought a piece of Tanzania home with her. In Arusha, the city she stayed in, she adopted a rescued puppy and named him Rushi. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions of flying a stressed puppy on a plane for 17 hours, Beeler said it was worth it.
Beeler worked closely with senior cell and molecular biology major Hayley Kendrick in 2018 to make the Haiti trip as efficient as possible, and the two prepared for another trip in 2019 until it was cancelled.
Since the trip is just once a year, Hobbs said she almost doesn’t want Beeler and Kendrick to leave because of how helpful they’ve been.
Currently, Beeler is studying for her master’s degree and is working as a graduate assistant. As soon as she earns her master’s degree, she will join the Peace Corps to continue her volunteer work.
Beeler said that while not everybody will be willing to spend months of their time volunteering abroad, it’s still important to stay educated about the rest of the world and what’s happening in it.
“Learning about other places and other people, it can help you better understand your own and where you live,” Beeler said.