Promise Made, Promise Kept
Improving access to affordable healthcare in Jamaica.
In many regions around the world, people are excluded from healthcare because they can’t afford it. In Jamaica, lack of access to health services is compounded by a shortage of skilled healthcare professionals due in large part to a high rate of trained doctors and nurses leaving to work in other countries.
It’s a reality Lillie Johnson knows all too well. A trained nurse, midwife and teacher, Lillie left her native Jamaica in 1960. But she promised to return one day to provide more affordable and accessible healthcare. And she fulfilled her vow in 1989 when she returned as a Cuso International volunteer.
After leaving Jamaica, Lillie worked in England and Scotland before settling in Canada. She became the first black director of public health in Ontario, started the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario and was a founding member of the Jamaican Canadian Association.
After retiring, Lillie returned to Jamaica as a Cuso International diaspora volunteer, working on two different assignments over a ten-year period. In her last four years as a volunteer, Lillie helped open and run a medical clinic, with the support of a church group and a doctor named Louis Grant. Lillie worked closely with local Jamaicans to establish the clinic, which now offers prevention, treatment and emergency care, as well as immunization, prenatal care and parent support for people in Jamaica who previously were excluded from such services because of poverty.
“Everybody told me that these people would never come to the clinic,” she says, “but I respected them, I listened to them and made them feel that they were responsible for their own health and that this challenge was theirs to take on — and they took it on.”
Despite her enthusiasm and ‘don’t stop’ attitude, even Lillie was surprised at how successful the clinic became. “The clinic grew until, when I was leaving, we had served over 10,000 patients,” says Lillie. Promise made. Promise kept.
Now back in Canada, Lillie coaches new Cuso International volunteers who are about to leave on a placement.