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Image: Mike Kane

Half a year into graduate school, Rachel Prusynski was on vacation when her life changed. One minute she was visiting a college friend who worked for a children’s charity in Port-au-Prince; the next she was semiconscious, buried under rubble. 

It was January 12, 2010, the day of Haiti’s catastrophic 7.0 earthquake; Rachel was staying with college friend Molly Hightower, who’d triple majored at the University of Portland before joining Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, a Latin American and Caribbean children’s welfare organization. Haitian strangers quickly dug Rachel out; Molly died in the pancaked building.

Though NPH had been Molly’s cause, it soon became Rachel’s. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, she raised money for NPH USA’s Northwest arm while she finished physical therapy school at the University of Puget Sound, then turned her circle of college buddies into NPH USA Northwest’s Associate Board. It plans fundraisers to support NPH children’s homes in nine countries and has become a model within the organization; regional director Ross Egge attributes the group’s success to “Rachel’s impact and ability to rally people around a cause.” When two U of P scholarships were created in Molly’s name, Rachel took the two Haitian recipients into her home on school breaks. 

Rachel graduated to NPH USA’s regional board and still returns to Haiti every year, teaching physical therapy workshops at the NPH hospital and visiting Molly’s old coworkers, but she knows her best contribution is financial support. During the earthquake, she says, “It’s all the Haitians that found each other.” Since 2010, NPH has only grown in Haiti, now serving an increased volume of patients at its rehab centers, hospital, and children’s home. “Let them do it,” says Rachel of the people who pulled her from the rubble. “They know what they’re doing.”

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