Her work started with one rural clinic, now her organization serves 55,000 patients
Nannette Canniff was in her 40s, a housewife and mother of ten living in the projects of Quincy, Mass. when she traveled to Haiti for the first time. Her life changed forever. She raised money for that first trip through a charity walk for hunger, and when she landed in Haiti she was overwhelmed by extreme poverty she witnessed. So she did something about it.
Canniff cofounded the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation along with Quincy based Reverend Jerry Osterman. SBHF started out small in the isolated, rural town of Fond-des-Blancs in Haiti’s southern peninsula. Now Canniff retires as President and CEO of a non-governmental organization that serves more than 55,000 patients a year through a hospital and network of mobile clinics in rural Haiti.
SBHF builds schools, provides tuition for hundreds of students, vaccinates thousands of children and oversees a roster of community development programs aimed at empowering local people and building communities.
“Our philosophy from the very beginning has been to work with and include the community in everything we do. Nothing is done without their approval. The people really and truly feel as if the hospital is their hospital,” Canniff said.
Although the work hasn’t been without its challenges, it was nothing a former housewife and mother to ten couldn’t handle. Canniff worked through political coups, an earthquake, hurricanes, army passport checks at gunpoint and severe bouts of dengue fever. “I never got discouraged – ever,” Canniff said.
Haiti is a much different country now than when Canniff first arrived. She remembers waving goodbye to her family before her Haiti trips, her family who wouldn’t hear from her again until she landed back in the U.S. several weeks later. Haiti offered little to no communication with the outside world during Canniff’s first decade of work. Today, when she heads to Fond-des-Blancs, Canniff checks-in with the U.S. office by hitting a few buttons on her Blackberry.
After three decades, Canniff is now stepping down to spend more time with her family. Conor Shapiro, the 30-year-old executive director of SBHF, will take her place after seven years experience working on the ground in Haiti.
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