Lessons on Activism from Haiti

By: Morgan Denny, DPT

“Say yes more often.”

I found these exact words written on a tongue depressor in my friend, Aron’s, flat in Wellington, New Zealand. It was buried in one of those drawers that houses everything, and yet nothing at the same time. I believe it had been assigned

Physical therapists volunteer to provide treatment to a patients in Haiti.

to him at a party long ago; he made it his motto, his agenda…that fortune cookie (or at least its innards) that he actually thought might hold some worthwhile wisdom. It became his practice to say yes more, to things that would make him uncomfortable and things he wouldn’t normally consider ”his style”because he believed that it would help him grow.


My partner, Justin, and I founded and run an organization called STAND: The Haiti Project. STAND (Sustainable Therapy And New Development) takes large groups of medical volunteers to our clinic in northern Haiti and treats around 1,800 patients three to four times per year. Our volunteers are primarily physical therapists, but we also take general medical practitioners, prosthetists and orthotists.

The people of northern Haiti have little to no access to medical care. When we are in town, patients come in with fractures, dislocations, chronic pain, infections, wounds, neurological conditions…the list goes on and on. We provide care to this population because we’ve found that we can dramatically improve people’s lives and function by decreasing their pain and allowing them to move more freely and ably within their community. In Haiti, movement is life!

When giving presentations or speaking at conferences, people often ask me: why Haiti? Why not Zimbabwe or Venezuela?

While there are a plethora of good reasons that it should be Haiti…the real answer is that I said YES to an opportunity and have not yet changed my answer.

Before becoming involved in Haiti, I was looking for that thing, that purpose Sure, my life was full of adventure and fun and people, but I wanted a focus. It seemed there were so many just causes, so many things I cared about giving back to or building in society. I was struggling to find my reason for being, something beyond my J-O-B!

Many of us are so hesitant to commit because we’re just not sure this is “the thing”, that one element we want to put our energy towards. We’re only interested in the project that can make the most difference, that thing that we are convinced we were meant to do…though we couldn’t identify “it” in a lineup with other fugitives. Don’t get me wrong, I have been that person, the one in limbo because you think that one day your great life purpose will simply dawn on you.

But what happens while you’re waiting for the right thing? Nothing. Just a whole lot of thumb twiddling…and maybe some hacky-sack if you’re lucky.

So say yes! When I committed to my first trip to Haiti, my mental commitment was layered into those two weeks and no more. But after working in Haiti, after seeing the extent of a difference I could make with my skills, there is no way I could ever say no again! Over the years, that one simple YES has grown and grown. Now, instead of being a random band of foreigners who land in town twice a year, we are a consistent medical presence that the community relies on. We have become the Kevin Bacon of northern Haiti: seven degrees of separation or less between anyone and our clinic 😉

Morgan with a one of the many children that come in for treatment.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all happy stories, ponies and butterflies frolicking into the sunset hand-in-hand. It’s hard work with no shortage of obstacles. There are days I want to change my answer, to stop saying YES. But then I remember how lucky I am to simply have a choice, to be able to say yes or no, and how completely changed for the better so many lives are in Haiti because we are there. Then, there’s only one right answer.

I found my thing, my purpose, that really big good I can do and be in the world. But I never could have picked it out of a lineup. I had NO IDEA during my first trip to Haiti that it would become my second home, my international Cheers Bar!

So say YES more often, because the stagnation that comes with inaction, particularly due to indecision, will eat your soul and benefit the world around you 0%.

Say YES to opportunity! Particularly when it can help others. Say YES to changing the world for the better, to standing up for what is right!

It is better to do a good small thing many times over than to wait your whole life for the best big thing that may never come.