Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Brittany Joy Hilker of Partner Haiti Is Helping To Change Our World

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It will take time.

Birthing a vision is like being pregnant. There is a time where the vision is first conceived; you are dreaming and planning and you think it should happen like, tomorrow! But it takes time to cultivate, to grow, and to nourish. It will change and morph into what it’s supposed to be. And one day, when it’s time, you will see the vision become reality. Patience is the key. Patience while dreaming, preparing and planning will give birth to a more beautiful vision than you can imagine.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Joy Hilker.

Brittany Joy Hilker, MSW, has spent her life working on behalf of the Haitian people. After living in Haiti full-time for 13 years, she founded Partner Haiti, a 501c3 non-profit organization that is working to eradicate childhood malnutrition and provide health care to the people living in rural Haiti. She is a mother to 3 Haitian children, and spends her days advocating for children and families in the most remote areas in Haiti to have access to life saving medical care.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In 2008, during grad school for social work, I visited Haiti on a short, 4-day trip. That trip changed my life forever, and I knew I was meant to work and live in Haiti. In 2009 I moved there full-time, not knowing exactly what I’d be doing or how I would be contributing, but I knew I loved the people and I wanted to help. I moved to a children’s home, where we took care of orphaned and abandoned children. Soon after being there, I noticed malnutrition everywhere around me. Mothers and fathers would bring in their children for help because they couldn’t feed them or afford medical care. I started a small malnutrition program with local nurses where we would give malnutrition supplements and medicine. Forming malnutrition programs became my passion, and eventually, I opened up a center for malnourished children and their families where they could come be treated by a doctor and medical staff. I helped health workers with follow-up programs to assist families when the children got back home.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

11 years ago while walking in the rural village I worked in, I came across a little girl named Jessica. She was so malnourished that she was barely hanging on to life. I helped her and her mother get on a motorcycle to make the risky 3-hour trip down the mountain to get to a hospital. We weren’t sure if Jessica would survive the trip, but there was no other option. Jessica made it through that day. She continued to heal at the malnutrition center I helped oversee in a small, remote fishing village in Southern Haiti. I quickly became friends with Jessica’s mother, and visited them often, even after Jessica went home. Her mother ran her household with strength, as her husband worked in the capital, trying to make a little money to send home each month. The mother had a small carrot garden, and every week she would pick produce from her garden, wrap it up on top of her head, and make the 10 hour hike to sell her carrots in the market in a bigger city. She would oftentimes only bring home $2 from that trip, but at least it was something. I remember a few years later coming back to visit that same little village and when Jessica’s mother got word that I was there, she ran out to meet me with a bundle of carrots she wanted to bring me as a gift. Years went by, and I lost touch with this family as I moved to different parts of the country to help start new programs. This year, Jessica came to my mind and I wondered how she was. I asked a health worker to go to her home to see if they were still living there, and see how they were. There are no street signs, so I gave the directions from memory: “Go up the mountain path about an hour, take a right at the unfinished brick building, walk about 30 more minutes, then turn left at the corner path where the carrot garden is. Follow the cactus fence all the way down until you get to a small wooden home, then ask for Jessica.” They found the home! Jessica was there, and so were her mother and siblings! Jessica was now 15 years old, alive and well! I asked our nurse to enroll her in our sponsorship program, so we started sending Jessica to school and providing her family with a food donation each month. It helps to supplement the hard work her mother does each day for their family. Sometimes in this work it can feel like we are saving children from malnutrition, just to send them back into the severe poverty they were already living in and wonder if it makes a long term difference. But Jessica’s story reminds me that helping ONE child is always worth it! Treating Jessica for malnutrition, even though she did return to a home where food was scarce and it was full of hardships, dug her out of the pit of malnutrition and set her on even ground. Jessica’s story reminds me that we don’t have to solve every single problem in a child’s life to make a difference. Our focus is malnutrition. We helped get her out of a life of malnutrition, developed a relationship with her family, and those things right there have made a lasting impact on a whole family for generations to come!

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I moved to Haiti when I was 24 years old, I didn’t know much about the culture. Everything I learned was by trial and error. A lot of this learning came from some embarrassing moments. I remember specifically visiting a home with one of our nurses. The very humble home had just one room for a family with several children. There was a table in the middle of it with a very small amount of food. When I arrived the parents offered me the one plate of food on their table, a fresh caught fish with the head still on it! As a well meaning American, I politely declined, knowing they needed the food more than I did. I thought I was being nice. Later the nurse I came with pulled me aside to explain to me how rude that was that I refused their food. It looked as if I thought I was better than them. That was never my intention at all! But good intentions don’t translate through cultural differences, and I learned that day that I would have to put off my ways of doing things and learn from them and adapt in order to show them respect and friendship. I never refused another meal again! It has put me in some fun situations, as I’ve had to eat many things that I would have never considered to be edible! I’ve been served cat, goat brain, turtle, fish eyes, shark and probably a few other questionable things. But I will never forget that moment of offending someone because I was doing what my culture taught me was right. Living in Haiti for 13 years was an adventure, and most of what I learned was by making mistakes!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Partner Haiti is saving the lives of thousands of children in rural Haiti. We not only treat the malnourished child, but we come along side of the family, who is usually suffering from extreme poverty. We give livestock to the families who come through our programs as a means for families to support themselves. Giving a family a goat or a sheep is providing them with a small business where they can breed and sell livestock in order to support their children. Our nurses and doctor run a small clinic in the mountains of a rural village in Haiti. There is no hospital around for hours, and usually this small clinic is their only hope. Our nurses are available 24/7 with medication, oxygen and an ambulance to take them to further help if necessary.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Mariline was a 5 year old little girl who was dying of malnutrition in October. She had Kwashiorkor malnutrition, a protein deficiency and was swollen all over her body, with her ribs protruding from her skin. She was just days away from death. Marieline’s father brought her to our clinic in rural Haiti, where our nurses were able to provide life saving care. We then called a Helicopter ambulance service who transported her across the country to a bigger hospital. While she was away we paid her hospital bills and supported the family at home with food donations. She came back a month later, well on her way to health. Mareline remains in our outpatient program where she comes once a week to see a nurse and receive her malnutrition treatment, food, and medicine. Her family was also given a sheep that is getting ready to have kids that the family can raise and sell for income. We have enrolled Marieline in our sponsorship program so she can be sent to school once she is healthy, and receive free medical care as she grows up.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. CARE! Caring about this very real issue of childhood malnutrition is the first step toward bringing change.

2. SEE! If you could see these children face to face, there is no way you wouldn’t help. But since it’s so far removed from our everyday lives, it is easy to shut our eyes and ears to this very real issue affecting millions of children. I encourage people to SEE it! Follow @partnerhaiti and others like us on social media and see the very real faces of these children and feel their suffering.

3. GIVE. Not everyone can go. Not everyone is a nurse or a doctor on the front lines who can help with their hands, but every person has something to give. Find a reputable organization working directly with these children and families and give! It truly changes lives!

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is having vision and purpose, but being willing to get it accomplished by serving, learning, and being humble.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. It will take time.

Birthing a vision is like being pregnant. There is a time where the vision is first conceived; you are dreaming and planning and you think it should happen like, tomorrow! But it takes time to cultivate, to grow, and to nourish. It will change and morph into what it’s supposed to be. And one day, when it’s time, you will see the vision become reality. Patience is the key. Patience while dreaming, preparing and planning will give birth to a more beautiful vision than you can imagine.

2. You will have setbacks.

No good idea can happen without its setbacks. Don’t let them derail you! Learn from them! Let every single setback thrust you into learning how to make it better next time.

3. You will see more lives changed than you ever imagined.

I started this work because I wanted to change one life. I would have never imagined this work would allow me to see thousands of lives changed!

4. You won’t do this alone.

You will need people along the way; don’t be afraid to reach out and bring them in! Some people will be with you for a day, some several months, and some for the long haul. Each person is special and unique in their own way, and fits into your story in a different way. You can’t and won’t do this alone.

5. Focus on the one in front of you.

Someone actually DID tell me this, and it’s the best advice I have ever received. Danita Estrella Watts, CEO of Danita’s Children, once told me, “you can’t fix every problem you see in Haiti, but focus on the one that’s in front of you at this moment.” That was the best advice I have ever gotten in this line of work People ask me all the time how to change Haiti, but the fact is, I can’t change Haiti, but I CAN change the life that is in front of me.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I would choose is one to end childhood malnutrition in Haiti. There are already great organizations working on this very issue in Haiti: Partner Haiti, Danita’s Children, Middle Ground, Footprints of the Son, The Real Hope for Haiti, and Potter and Clay Ministries, just to name a few! These organizations need financial help to expand their reach and help end childhood malnutrition in Haiti!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In the Bible, in Matthew 25:40 Jesus has a quote where he says “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me.” I try to make this quote is my life motto. If I were to see God himself struggling, would I not help? If I look at each of my fellow human beings as if they were made in the very image of God, I am sure to do everything in my power to help them.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Honestly, I have already met the people I believe to be the greatest heroes in the world, and that is the Haitian doctors and nurses that I work with every day. But in the US, I would like to meet Sheila Davis, CEO of Partners in Health, who is working to provide quality health care in Haiti. I have personally seen their work and admire their model they use in working with the Haitian people. I would love to sit down and learn from her, get advice, and see how Partners in Health could partner with us at Partner Haiti to bring quality health care to the very remote areas in Haiti.

How can our readers further follow your work online? is our website, subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on social media @partnerhaiti . Follow, share, tag, give! We post real life stories of things happening in Haiti that you can follow along with and get involved with.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Brittany Joy Hilker of Partner Haiti Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.