In his footsteps: Father's Day inspiration

Sunday is Father’s Day. In early anticipation of this special occasion, here’s a story about how a father’s humanitarian efforts has inspired his daughters to follow in his footsteps.

When Sarah Hartman was 14, she took an unusual spring break. Unlike a lot of her friends, who were heading south or hitting amusement parks with their families, Sarah and her father went to Cambodia to help secure housing for a young woman who lost her leg in a landmine accident. Sarah’s father, Lester Hartman MD, serves on the Board of Directors for Children’s Hospital Boston’s Pediatric Physicians Organization, and for years had been actively involved in a global effort to ban and unearth landmines across the globe. He wanted his daughter to understand the nature of his work abroad, so in 2005 he invited her to accompany him to Cambodia, in what some might call a very extreme version of ‘Take your daughter to work day.’ Sarah accepted her father’s invitation, and the experience stirred deep emotions in the young girl.

“My mother and father have always taught us about how people live in other parts of the world, so I thought I had a good idea of what to expect when I got to Cambodia,” remembers Sarah. “But being there made everything seem much more real. Seeing how this woman lived, in poverty and without her leg, but still managing to maintain a positive attitude, it was all very inspiring.”

Richardson, Pascal, Jothson (three young men Lester and Holly sponsor to attend school), Lester Hartman and Sarah in Juampas a few days after the earthquake. Both Pascal and Jothson were in Port-au-Prince during the quake. Pascal's school collapsed, and he had to dig his way out.

When Sarah and her father returned to the States, she had a new appreciation for life, as well as desire to help others. She soon began accompanying her father on trips to Haiti; where he had been working at a medical clinic run by the humanitarian group Haitian Organization Program for Education and Health (HOPEH.) “Sarah loved meeting new people and having all these experience so far from her own,” Dr. Hartman says. “It spurred an interest in social justice in her that’s she’s held on to all these years.”

Hartman first got involved with HOPEH in 2003, when he joined family members that were helping the group build a much-needed medical clinic in the town of Juampas. After working with the organization for a number of years, a stirring speech by HOPEH’s founder, Marline Olivier, inspired Hartman’s wife Holly to get involved, and she now serves on the group’s board of directors as treasurer. (“When it comes to recruiting, Marline was far more convincing than I was,” jokes Hartman.)

In 2006, Lester and Holly (along with Sarah and their youngest daughter Laura) began traveling as a family unit to Juampas, to assist in HOPEH’s mission of providing the people of Haiti with the tools and environment that will allow them to be self-sustaining and teach others to do the same.

“Our families’ involvement with the people of Haiti just happened naturally, but we’ve really fallen in love with the island its people,” Hartman says. “Once you get there and meet the people you realize how wonderful a place it is. And when you see the hardships many of the Haitian people endure, it really changes your perspective about what’s important in life.”

It’s a sentiment shared by his daughters, both of whom have been volunteering and doing missionary work in Haiti for over five years now.

Members of Juampas gathered for a meeting about the Hartman girl's research outside of the HOPEH clinic

“From a relatively early age our dad wanted us to see first hand what other parts of the world were like and what people who lived there had to deal with on a daily basis,” says Sarah. “He set a real example for me in wanting to reach out to help people and learn more about global health in the process.”

Recently, the Hartman girls were in Juampas for three weeks, collecting data to find out what services the local people felt could improve their lives, as well as record nutritional information, so HOPEH can have a better idea of how to serve the Juampas population. It was the first time the girls had done HOPEH work without their parents, but Sarah says her father’s influence was always with her.

“My dad laid the foundation for my interest in working with the Haitian people, but this last trip was a far more independent experience for me,” she says. “It was wonderful. I felt like I was much more immersed in the culture than ever before.”

Lester and Sarah on her first trip to Haiti
Now a junior at Tufts University, Sarah is considering medical school, or possibly a career in public health. Regardless of which path she takes, she’s says the strong values and respect for all people she learned from her father will continue to guide her decisions.



“I’m just happy I was raised in a household where this type of travel was possible and an emphasis on caring was an everyday part of life,” she says. “As I start to think about my future, it really makes me appreciate everything my dad has done in the past.”