Sachiko Ozawa, 27, is experiencing life as a college student for the second time, studying medicine to become a physician to help Haitians, whom she considers less-fortunate.

Medical student Sachiko Ozawa handles laboratory equipment at Yamanashi Medical University.

Ozawa’s interest in Haiti began when she was doing volunteer work in Florida in September 1994 while studying sociology at Keio University in Tokyo.

She met some Haitians who arrived in Florida after fleeing their country in boats. The children among them told her the United States “is a lot better than Haiti” and that they preferred not to go back to their country.

Ozawa reckoned that it was odd that the children did not speak favorably of their country, which at the time was in chaos following the collapse of military rule.

After returning to Tokyo, she contacted the Haitian Embassy and met the ambassador, who was about to make a return visit to Haiti. He suggested she visit the country.

She did so with a friend, and the two founded the volunteer organization Friends of Haiti. After seven years, the group has expanded to about 60 members.

The group has sold postcards bearing the works of a Haitian artist, and used the proceeds to buy 200 secondhand sewing machines that were shipped to the Caribbean island nation.

They also set up a library in an elementary school on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, in 1998.

The student also held an exhibition of photographs of Haiti taken by Fuminori Sato, a Japanese cameraman living in the U.S.

Ozawa’s voluntary activities are almost unknown in Haiti, as she does not make them public. “I just want to be their friend,” she said.

When visiting Haiti in the spring, Ozawa saw a woman in a town working the pedal of a sewing machine. Ozawa was touched, as it was probably one of the sewing machines her group had sent.

“I ran into the thing that I was so enthusiastic about and found someone else pleased to have it,” she said. “The world would be much better off if many people found their own way to do something for Haiti.”

As of 1999, Haiti had a population of 7.8 million with a gross national product of $460 per capita and a literacy rate of 45 percent. The average life expectancy is 54 and the mortality rate for people aged 5 and under is 12.9 percent.

Ozawa is a senior at Yamanashi Medical University, where she sits in her regular seat in the second row through lectures that usually last until evenings.

After graduating, she plans to assist Haitians in the medical field. “I want to hang in there in Haiti for at least a few years,” she said.

Ozawa frequently traveled in Japan alone since her high school days. Her father was often away on company assignments and her mother allowed her to do what she liked.

Ozawa recalls her first trip to Haiti with a friend. Upon arrival, they were surrounded outside the airport and a man ran off with their luggage.

Ozawa chased the man, only to find him waiting for her in front of a car to take them to Port-au-Prince. She discovered the man was unemployed and was carrying their luggage to earn some money.

She also realized that the man could have earned more if he had disappeared with her bags, and she concluded that Haitians were trying to live decent lives and were keen to work.

Wondering whether she could be of any help to the people of Haiti ultimately led to the friendship society being founded.

A turning point then came when Ozawa’s mother was hospitalized. She recalled patients dying from malnutrition in a Haitian hospital and decided to become a doctor.

Two years later, she graduated from Keio University and passed the examination for admission to Yamanashi Medical University.

A photograph of Ozawa surrounded by Haitian children hangs on the wall of her room, taken when she visited two years ago. Ozawa looks at this when she gets tired of studying.

“Oh, I want to go to Haiti,” she says to herself.

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