White Rock’s Laura Mawhinney tends to a patient during a relief trip to Haiti in 2010.

White Rock’s Laura Mawhinney tends to a patient during a relief trip to Haiti in 2010.

Finding joy in the bleakest of settings

White Rock nurse adds local connection to Haiti support

Gripping her warm Starbucks cup, Laura Mawhinney stepped off the plane and entered an entirely different scene than the one she left in sunny Miami.

Despite the short flight, it was as if the White Rock native had entered another world.

Only one word came to mind when Mawhinney, 36, described stepping out of the plane in earthquake-ravaged Haiti in 2010: Chaos.

“You feel like you’ve just entered into a dream. I can’t even properly articulate what it looks like there. It’s like a bomb went off. Worst of all, I’m afraid if you go back in 10 years, it will be the same,” Mawhinney said.

Sitting in her newly opened thrift store – proceeds from which will benefit Haiti relief – it is hard at first to imagine the blonde, bubbly woman in the trenches of a post-disaster country. Even family and friends were skeptical when they heard her plans to go to Haiti in 2010.

“Everyone thought I was crazy. But I saw it on television and I’ve never felt a pull to go anywhere in my life like that. I became obsessed and I would watch it on television every night. Watching them, I knew I could help,” Mawhinney said.

A former nurse, Mawhinney began scouring ways she could lend her medical skills to the relief. Despite finding a group that would help her come to Haiti, Mawhinney admits she knew that she was meant for more than what was initially planned.

“I knew in my heart I wasn’t going to team up with that group, but I did it so my parents would say ‘OK, you’re going somewhere safe,’” she said. “But I had this idea in my head that I was going to work under the UN, and work in a medical tent.”

While preparing for the flight from Miami to Haiti, Mawhinney’s fellow passengers turned out to be two doctors heading to work at a medical tent – an opportunity she knew she had to seize.

She quickly made her move and sat down beside the doctor, explaining her story and her desire to work alongside doctors as a nurse. Despite initial reservations, the doctors eventually agreed to bring Mawhinney – and her friend and fellow nurse, Aaron, with whom she had connected with online –along with them.

“Before I knew it, we were being ushered into their van and then the crazy part happened. My friend, Sarah, who was the co-ordinator of relief efforts at the time, told us that two people had pulled out at the last minute, and of the 36,000 people in this tent city, we were the only nurses,” Mawhinney said. “I got goosebumps.”

Immediately, Mawhinney was thrown into a world full of disease, pain and death. Each day would bring another story of someone who had lost everything, with little hope of getting anything back.

Yet, despite all that had happened, Mawhinney found there was still a light that shone from the people of Haiti.

“They have so much resilience. They find joy in the bleakest of circumstances. While I was there, I saw a wedding. A wedding in the midst of all the chaos. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

One girl in particular struck a chord for Mawhinney.

Everyday, the little girl, who was no older than 11, came by to visit Mawhinney, who would stock her up with medical supplies for her foot, which was nearly severed after the roof of her house collapsed on her while she was eating breakfast.

On Mawhinney’s last day, she offered the girl adult vitamins for her parents, not knowing that both had perished in the earthquake.

“I hadn’t cried at all, but when I offered the vitamins and she told me both her mother and father had died when the roof collapsed, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. She was the only one who had survived and she had been stuck there for five or six days, with the bodies of her mother, father and grandfather buried around her,” Mawhinney said. “But she was telling me this so calmly and I had to stop because I didn’t want to make it worse for her.

“When we were saying goodbye, she told me she wanted to be a nurse like me, so I gave her my stethoscope.”

• • •

Once she had returned from her trip, Mawhinney found it difficult to make the transition back to a normal life in White Rock, all the while knowing there was still work to be done.

Finally, months after her return, after a series of setbacks, Mawhinney reached her breaking point. Going to the beach by her home, she stepped out onto the sand and experienced a moment of clarity.

“I’m standing there, and everyone always talks about God’s audible voice, but I never understood that, but then I felt the strongest peace come over me and say, ‘That’s OK, because you’re going to open a thrift store,’” Mawhinney said.

Soon after making the announcement to family and friends of her goal, Mawhinney began setting the wheels in motion for her latest endeavour, Project Aftershock, a thrift store benefitting the people of Haiti.

Within a week of her decision, Mawhinney had found a location and donations began pouring in. Even finding the spot for the store was fate, Mawhinney explained.

“I was speaking to the owner of this store on the waterfront by my house and she told me that she was leaving. I called and got the place and the landlord gave me two weeks free rent and then people just starting bring in clothing, my friends started painting and I was visited by this guy – who I call my night angel – who offered to do all the signage and the awning for free.

“Just for it all to fall into place, I know that God’s in it. I’ve never had anything work like that. He never said it was going to be easy, but He’ll provide you with the resources you need,” Mawhinney said.

The store held its grand opening Jan. 5, with Mawhinney’s parents at the helm while she was in Haiti.

Now that she’s back, Mawhinney is once again beginning the process of preparing for her next trip. Partial proceeds from items sold at the store will benefit Haitians in need.

While she admits her next trip is a few months away, Mawhinney is sending out the call to the public for donations, including basic medicines, clothes and medical supplies, such as gauze and bandaids.

“Basic things like Polysporin can save a person’s life,” she said.

“I’m just one person, but I am lucky enough to see the medicine go from my bag to being handed out to the people who need it. That’s a gift.”

Project Aftershock is located at 15545 Marine Dr. For more information on Mawhinney or Project Aftershock, go to www.projectaftershock.org or call 604-536-7283.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Chief Constable Norm Lipinski, Surrey Police Service. (Submitted photo)
Surrey Police Service to begin public consultation late June, early July

Community input, chief constable says, ‘will occur’

Surrey RCMP reunited three stolen puppies with their mom. (RCMP handout)
Puppies stolen from South Surrey home located, reunited with mom

Surrey RCMP said they found the stolen puppies on April 16

Welcome to your park sign marks the spot where 84th Avenue will continue east from King George Boulevard 
to 140th Street as part of a $13 million road project. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Road Rage: Opposition mounts anew to Surrey’s plan for 84 Ave. at south end of Bear Creek Park

Same place, same project, same fight as Surrey prepares once again to connect 84th Avenue between King George and 140th Street in Newton

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

John Wekking, Merritt Road Report - Facebook
 Coquihalla Road Report
Wildfire sparks off Coquihalla in Merritt

The wildfire is located near the Dollarama off of Highway 5

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read