Madeleine Hage is a college student with dreams of becoming a physician. That is not so unusual. What is unusual is that she, on purpose, travels to areas affected by terrible catastrophes — areas most people avoid.
Madeleine doesn’t go to these places to sightsee, however. She goes to deliver much needed help to those affected by earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters as a volunteer for Headwaters Relief Organization, a non-profit which provides aid both in the US and internationally.
Now she has taken things a step further by writing a simple book for children about how to survive earthquakes. We asked Madeleine a few questions about it and a few other topics. Here is what this great teen role model has to say:
Tell us about “When Haiti Shakes”
When Haiti Shakes is an educational book about earthquakes. It explains what an earthquake is and how to respond when they occur. It has side-by-side English and Creole text so that it can be helpful to everyone in Haiti.
Aya Kone, a high school student in Germany contributed many of the drawings for the book. From the age of 8, Kone has been a volunteer for Headwaters Relief Organization. Dennis Lo, Kelsey King, and Jocelyn Schmitt, a teacher and two former students of Minneapolis College of Art and Design contributed illustrations and provided coloration to the drawings.
The book was bound in material that can withstand the heat and humidity of the Haitian climate.
Why did you choose Haiti specifically?
I was interning with Headwaters during the summer of 2013 when I was approached about writing a book about earthquakes. I was told that the director of one of the schools in Haiti which Headwaters sponsors had said that when the earthquake struck, no one knew what was happening. He said that no one knew what to do, everyone was scared, and people were running into buildings when they should stayed outside. Everyone was panicking.
He asked us to try to get some sort of educational material about earthquakes so that people could better understand what had happened. I instantly agreed to work on the project since I saw how valuable it could be for people in Haiti.
You have volunteered with the Headwaters Relief Organization since you were 10 years old. How have your experiences with them changed your life?
In general, volunteering with Headwaters has given me the opportunity to go to many disaster areas and see the destruction that hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods can cause. It was really life-changing to see how powerful natural disasters can be, and it made me realize how lucky I was that I hadn’t been affected by such a destructive force before. People who are victims of the disasters often lose everything they have, and seeing that helped me gain some perspective at a young age.
What advice would you give to teens who also want to volunteer?
I would say that you should volunteer with an organization that does work that is meaningful to you, and you should try to be consistent with what organization you volunteer with. If you’re passionate about the work you do, it is so much easier to stick with it.
Volunteering is also a great way to meet people and make connections that will help you out in the future. I’ve been able to work very closely with Headwaters for the past 10 years, and I’ve gotten job opportunities and many other opportunities because of my consistent participation with the organization.
What has been the toughest thing you have had to deal with while doing disaster relief?
The toughest part about helping disaster victims is seeing how much they have lost. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose my home and all of my belongings. It’s really easy to go into communities that have lost everything and feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done and the amount of help that people need.
My first Headwaters experience was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I remember after my first day volunteering in the 9th ward, I went back to the hotel and cried because I felt so bad for the people that I had met. It was definitely hard to put on a tough face and not break down every time someone told me their story.
And the most rewarding?
Since I couldn’t help with much of the cleanup or rebuilding work when I was really young, I would spend my time playing with kids from the area to help distract them from the horrible things that their families were going through. It became something of a tradition for me to play with the kids, and so I still do it on every volunteer trip I go on. It’s really rewarding to see the kids smile and have fun despite everything that they’re going through.
In October of 2012 I went to New Orleans after Hurricane Isaac and played with kids from the community one day after we had finished our work for the day. I ended up having a dance off with a bunch of 9-year-old boys, and they were way better dancers than I was — it was so embarrassing but it was also a ton of fun.
What has been the most surprising/interesting thing you learned from doing your volunteer work or your travels? It can be anything!
I think the most interesting thing that I’ve learned is that play time is universal. It doesn’t matter what religious, socioeconomic, or ethnic background a kid comes from, playing is always going to be fun and always going to bring a smile to a child’s face.
When you are not busy saving the world, what are you up to? : )
I’m usually studying! I am a pre-med student at Emory University in Atlanta and I’m double-majoring in Biology and Latin. I spend a lot of time coordinating blood drives for Emory, and I’m very involved with my sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
What’s next for you?
More volunteering and hopefully medical school! I hope to become a physician and ideally, I’d like to work with underprivileged populations, either in the United States or abroad.
Anything else we should know?
I’d also like to say that I am so proud of how everything turned out. This book was a huge collaborative effort. So many people came together and used their talents to make something that turned out beautifully. I couldn’t be happier with the result, and I think it can really help make a difference for children in Haiti.
The book is being used to help educate them in case another earthquake strikes. Now they’ll know what to do!
Could you send us a selfie of you wherever you are at right now? You can smile, throw up a peace sign, stick out your tongue…whatever. We like to keep it real!
Right now, I’m at my internship with Headwaters Relief Organization where I’ll be working until I go back to school in August. This is a selfie of me at work with the When Haiti Shakes book!