Linda Sheppard helped start a nonprofit to promote education in Guatemala and introduced inner-city children to the fun of fishing through a ministry in Portland, Ore. But no place has sparked her passion for social change more than Haiti.
In addition to adopting five of her 14 children from Haiti, the Walden PhD in Psychology student has made more than 30 trips to the country, where her efforts have included bringing medical teams and supplies to the country and distributing hygiene packs to clinic patients. Many of these humanitarian aid trips were made with her husband or at least one of her children.
So when she entered Walden’s 2012 Scholars of Change competition at the encouragement of her children, Linda made a promise to them: If she won, the entire family would come with her to Haiti for three months as she did field research for her doctoral study examining birth parents’ perspectives on international adoptions from Haiti to the United States.
Linda did win, and the plan to just do field research in Haiti quickly changed when she learned the clinic she’d previously helped needed her. Now, her children had a proposal for their parents: Why not go to Haiti and simply stay there? Soon the Sheppards and all of their children who weren’t attending college headed off to Haiti from Florida, with one-way tickets in hand.
“Haiti has incredible need, and I wanted to help implement long-term change in the country,” says Linda, who with her family now lives in a place with battery powered electricity and running water. She continues her doctoral studies and adoption attachment therapy practice via spotty Internet access. Linda notes, “The most important knowledge I’ve acquired is how to persevere through the many challenges of life while completing my education.” Among other challenges, Linda is helping oversee medical operations for the health clinic in the village of Gromathe, a short 12 miles but nearly two-hour drive from the capitol of Port-au-Prince.
She encourages anyone else interested in making an impact internationally to be persistent. Most of all, she stresses the importance of understanding a country or community before seeking change. Linda says, “Sometimes we move forward with good intentions but lack the education or understanding to implement effective programs or services with the population. We may go in blindly, trying to promote social change without really understanding the needs.”
For those ready to get directly involved in bringing about change internationally, Linda advises starting with a narrow focus. She says, “Once you work cross-culturally, you may have a better ability to serve a wider range of individuals.”
Linda’s knowledge of Haiti continues to deepen, and she plans to apply the research skills she’s developed through her Walden education to better understand the impact of her work there.
“My work in Haiti has shown me the incredible need for more education within nonprofits as well as further research into how best to serve the needs of the people,” says Linda, whose long-term goal is to continue to promote positive social change through research, writing, and education. “At the clinic, we can see on the surface what we’ve been able to do, but we don’t have documentation of how much of a difference we’re making. We want to understand what we can do to improve the clinic to make a bigger difference in the long term.”
Linda adds, “Sometimes the service isn’t about what you’ve done in-country but what you have changed within yourself.”