Dental hygienist goes to Haiti to help orphans, finds a life calling

Tuesday June 18, 2013

PUTNEY -- When Julie Winchester first went to Haiti, back in 2007, she wanted to open up her 14-year-old daughter's world. But then it became more of a life calling.

"The connections that have happened since have been crazy," said Winchester, who will be returning to Haiti on Aug. 5.

Winchester grew up in Halifax with her grandparents raising her. She currently resides in Putney and works as a dental hygienist at BGH Dental in Greenfield, Mass.

The opportunity to help in Haiti was presented to her through the Monadnock Bible Conference based out of Jaffrey, N.H., a church that she is a member of. Winchester has met hundreds of orphans in Haiti as a result.

She told the Reformer that she's been able to make a huge connection with the orphans because she was given up by her parents at the age of two. The hardships of her personal childhood have come to mean more now that she can share her experience.

When Winchester traveled to Haiti in 2007, she went to assist with constructing a new orphanage and fell in love with the country, which 68 percent of its population is under the age of 15. It is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

"It's a country of kids," said Winchester.

Since then, she's continued to go and set up a temporary dental clinic in the orphanage during every visit. Winchester cleans all their teeth and makes sure they don't have any cavities.

In August, she will return to Haiti and perform check-ups on the orphans. She travels eight hours north of Port au Prince into the mountains where the orphanage Redeemer's Child is located. There are 38 orphans in that particular orphanage.

This time around, there will be professional cameramen to document her trip.

"They're shooting my story," Winchester said.

The film will include the story of her childhood as well as the relationship she has formed with the orphans in Haiti. It will also promote a child sponsorship program.

As a child, Winchester was sponsored by a family that paid for her entire education from first to 12th grade.

Currently, Winchester's family has sponsored five children in Haiti and she sees two of them every time she returns.

"It's a piece of our family that I'm reunited with every time I go back," Winchester said. "It's hard to trust an organization or something like that but it's $25 a month to sponsor a child in Haiti through the Monadnock Bible Conference."

The Monadnock Bible Conference has been sending volunteers to Haiti for 30 years. Originally, the group wanted to bring camps to orphans in Haiti but when they saw the living conditions, they were inspired to do much more than that.

Winchester has gone to Haiti a total of 9 times. In addition to her daughter going, she's also brought along her husband, her son and her other daughter. Each went on separate trips.

In November 2012, Winchester's son, Garrett, who is a freshmen at Brattleboro Union High School, went to Haiti to assist with construction efforts. He will be returning again in August with his mother.

Winchester not only sets up a dental clinic during her visits. She also distributes food to hungry families.

The food includes pasta, rice and clean gallons of water. It will reach between 300 and 400 people. Each bag that the volunteers distribute will feed a family of four for two days.

One of her fondest memories in Haiti has been actually speaking to the orphans.

"Two years ago, I was able to share my personal story with the orphans at the orphanage," said Winchester. "There are several who have similar stories as me. In Haiti, the orphans are society's throwaways. Even though we're giving up time and money to spend with the orphans, it means the world to them. They know what we're sacrificing."

She believes that by sharing her story, the orphans may be able to attach a deeper meaning to their suffering. Like her, they may be able to inspire others in the future by being able to share their struggles.

"I was able to share with them that no matter what the hardships were, that it was all worth it, so I could share a similar story with each one of them," said Winchester.

She will be in Haiti with a team of 18 to 20 people from Aug. 5 to 14.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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