Norwich dentist recognized for work in Haiti

Dr. Jeremiah Lowney works with a child in Haiti/ContributedNORWICH – The dust has settled in Haiti. The media frenzy is over. Relief workers are packing their bags.

But Connecticut orthodontist Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, Jr. isn’t going anywhere. He’s the founder of the Haitian Health Foundation – a non-profit organization that has been in Haiti for almost three decades.

On Jan. 29 he was awarded for his work by the International College of Dentists who presented Lowney with the 2010 District One Distinguished Service Award.

“Not only is Dr. Lowney inspirational in his philanthropic work, but he is a respected member of the Connecticut dental community,” said Dr. Bruce Tandy, president of the Connecticut State Dental Association.

The people of Haiti captured Lowney’s heart in 1982 when he took an exploratory trip to Port-au-Prince to see what he could do to help the impoverished country. There, he met a religious order associated with Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The sisters were able to translate for him, and with their help Lowney was able to spend a week extracting teeth.

“I was so taken with the sisters and with the poor that I decided to go back three months later. I’ve gone every three months for the past 28 years,” he said. “I have a lot of stamps in my passport.”

He got to know Mother Teresa herself and explained that it was her idea for Lowney to take his work to Jeremie, a town 140 miles outside of Port-au-Prince that had no healthcare available.

There he built his first outpatient clinic – a 27,000-square-foot facility that now provides healthcare to more than 100 mountain villages in rural Haiti.

The Haitian Health Foundation also operates the Center of Hope, which works with malnourished children and at-risk pregnant women. The foundation is able to provide meals and clothing to many residents, operates a K-7 school and funds more than 1,700 students through its education program.

Another program Lowney is proud of is the foundation’s Happy House program. The program, he explained, builds homes for the community that are made of cement, with a tole roof, windows, and doors.

“People are living in homes we wouldn’t even put our animals in,” he said. “We’re replacing these with a nice, cement block house with a little porch and a latrine out back. We’re giving people hope for a better future.”

These homes are funded by donors and cost between $600-1,000 to build.

Lowney, who is now semi-retired, said there’s something about Haiti that keeps drawing him back there.

“Jeremie is contagious. You have to be there, work with them to understand that phenomenon. What the people of Haiti lack the most is hope. The worst poverty is the poverty of not having an imagination that tomorrow can be better than today,” Lowney said.

Dr. Christine Benoit, District 1 regent for the International College of Dentists, said Lowney’s work is life-saving and said he’s most deserving of the distinguished service award.

“This guy is like a saint,” she said. “He’s really an exemplary person.”

In January the Connecticut State Dental Association donated $5,000 to the Haitian Health Foundation and the The Connecticut State Dental Foundation and the Connecticut Dental Political Action Committee also recognized Lowney’s efforts by contributing $10,000 and $5,000 respectively. The International College of Dentists Foundation also gave Lowney a $ 5000 grant to provide dental care  in Jeremie, Haiti.

In the past he has been honored as the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, Knighted by Pope John II, and named the recipient of countless humanitarian awards. He is a Knight of Malta and a Knight of St. Gregory and in May will receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Mitchell College during the commencement ceremony, where he will address the graduating class.

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