In memory of Warren Berggren

“Step by step, pa ze pa, Warren has quietly guided the work of the Colorado Haiti Project” -Don Snyder

We are very sorry to announce the death of Warren Berggren, MD on January 30, 2015. Warren, with his wife Gretchen Berggren, MD, lived in Haiti for more than two decades, developing a deep and abiding love for the Haitian people. Among many other things, Warren and Gretchen were known for their pioneering work to diminish the hold of tetanus in Haiti through assertive vaccination programs, and they were honored by their alma maters the University of Nebraska and the Harvard School of Public Health, among other institutions, for their lives of international service.

Warren was the recipient of the Colorado Haiti Project’s “Ted Lewis Award for Excellence” in 2012, when he was honored for the vision he brought to the next stage of development of the Colorado Haiti Project’s health initiatives. Due in large part to Warren’s sense of possibilities and relationship-building when he was a Colorado Haiti Project board member, we are now implementing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Haitian Ministry of Health, along with the Diocese of Haiti and a community council. It is fitting that at the time of Warren’s passing, there were Colorado Haiti Project US staff on their way to Petit Trou de Nippes to begin a year of intense focus on improvements in the health status of our Haitian community.

Please hold in prayer Warren, Gretchen, their daughters and their extended family, and all those who were so impacted by Warren’s life of service.

– – Sharon Caulfield

Gretchen has scheduled an additional Memorial Service June 6th where loved ones, friends and our CHP family will be able to share our many fond memories of Warren. Additional details including time and location will be posted as they come available.

A few words from Don Snyder about Warren:

As many of you know, the Ted Lewis Award of Excellence was created in 2010 to honor the memory and the extraordinary contributions to the work of the Colorado Haiti Project of Dr. Ted Lewis, one of the pioneers of the Colorado Haiti Project who passed away in March of 2009. This award is presented annually at our Evening for Haiti gala to a person who exemplifies the compassion, dedication, professionalism and faith which were the hallmarks of Ted’s work. This year, we are honored to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary contributions of Dr. Warren Berggren.

Now before I speak to Warren’s work with the Colorado Haiti Project, I feel the need to give you a little background. For this part of the story it is a bit difficult not to speak of both Drs. Warren and Gretchen Berggren, as their lifetime of work in the arena of global public health is so tightly bound to each other.

Warren & Gretchen began their professional careers, having graduated from the University of Nebraska medical school, as medical missionaries in the soon to be independent, Belgian Congo where they worked from 1959 to 1963. After returning to the US and completing graduate programs in public health at Harvard they moved to Deschapelles, Haiti in 1967 to initiate a community health program out of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital.

This became one of the world’s pioneering community health programs, which achieved and documented a dramatic reduction in the mortality of children under-five. The results of their work were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Berggren’s went on to direct a similar project in another area of rural Haiti based in Petit Goave from 1974 to 1978, a project which also achieved and demonstrated a major impact on under-five mortality.

Their work in reducing mortality from neonatal tetanus, in rehabilitating malnourished children, and in implementing a pioneering census-based program, laid the foundation for many similar programs around the world. This work also informed their later careers as faculty members at the Harvard School of Public Health, as the first child survival program directors for Save the Children, as Technical Advisors to World Relief, as consultants to numerous organizations, and as mentors to several hundred international health professionals working throughout the world, including some of today’s leaders in global health.

They have been previously honored by the Harvard School of Public Health, the University of Nebraska School of Medicine, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Haiti, the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, and the American Public Health Association, who honored them with its Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in International Health.

They have received many other accolades over the years, too numerous to mention here. But I wanted to share at least some of their background with you for 2 reasons; one, because they would never boast of such things being true to their modest Nebraska upbringing and 2, to give you an understanding of how fortunate the Colorado Haiti Project has been over the last 10 years to have had access to their knowledge of community health, of Haitian culture and of their understanding of a life of service . . . a life of simply doing God’s work.

I have had many opportunities to travel and work side-by-side with Warren in Haiti. For the last 8 years, Warren has been a mentor to many of us, and I include myself in that group. As Ted’s hand-picked successor to lead the Colorado Haiti Project, one of my first actions was to ask Warren to join me on the board. I needed him with me. At the time, I knew of some of Warren’s gifts . . . others were revealed over the years. Other than the people of Petit trou itself, there was one individual beyond all others, who informed my thinking about the work and role of the Colorado Haiti Project during the years I led the organization . . . that person was Warren.

Shortly after succumbing to my invitation, and I suspect Gretchen’s urging to join the board, Warren began to ask some basic questions. They often were simple enough sounding questions, but once asked, you realized they were far from simple.

For example, the Colorado Haiti Project had a habit at that time of talking about “the people we serve”. Warren asked, “Who are they? Where do they live? How many children does the typical family in this region have? Is the father present? How many women of child bearing age live in the area? Who are the local leaders?” I think you get the idea . . .

I couldn’t give him the answers he was looking for . . . he wanted specifics . . . and certainly, if we were serious about expanding the scope of our work to the broader community these were questions for which we needed answers . . . these and so many more. But how I asked, do we get at this information.

Warren, with a lifetime of experience advised that we first needed to spend time in the community, we needed to go slowly, we needed to be patient, we needed to build relationships, we needed to build trust with the people we hoped to partner with . . . only then he counseled could we begin to ask these and other questions. He led us to an understanding that if the Colorado Haiti Project was serious about engaging the full population of this community it would take time, it would take being present and it would take a lot of hard work.

Initially, we started to get the answer to some of Warren’s most basic questions by going through the registrations at St. Paul’s school. We found that children who attended the school were coming from places we had never heard of . . . places like Gran Ravin, Nan Bobo, Micho, St Therese, Raymond, Oso and Kadlon to name a few. So as a first step we asked students from these places if we could accompany them on their walk home. In time and after many, many miles of walking, we began to determine the boundaries of the region we serve. More importantly, we began to build relationships in places both near and far from the gates of St. Paul’s. Under Warren’s guidance and training, representatives from each of these newfound communities were trained in some basic census taking. Dousman, dousman, pa ze pa . . . slowly, slowly, step by step we started to collect valuable information, form relationships and build the trust that would be required to move toward a more meaningful partnership with our Haitian brothers and sisters.

On one very memorable trip which was focused on identifying local community leaders, I remember Warren advising that Dr. Mellon, had given him a very useful clue about identifying who is the social leader in a Haitian village . . . He would ask, “If a donkey dies in the spring (the local water source) who in this village could get enough of you together to drag the donkey out of the spring and bury it?”

When Warren told me this, I thought, are you kidding? But after translating the question into kreyol, I set out as Warren instructed. To my surprise, in village after village, it was a question taken very seriously, and soon people were going from hut to hut to talk with their neighbors and come to consensus. We came away with a list of local leaders that continues to be incredibly useful to our work in the region.

Warren, time and time again has challenged the Colorado Haiti Project to be specific, to be clear about our goals, clear about how we go about achieving those goals and clear as to how we measure success. We continue our efforts to live up to Warren’s challenges. Warren reminds us that you can care about the world, you can be a compassionate partner to those in need, and still be a good scholar.

Step by step, pa ze pa, Warren has quietly guided the work of the Colorado Haiti Project in ways even he is unaware of. In ways, beyond teaching local matrons or midwives in sterile techniques for cutting an umbilical cord, in ways beyond identifying and educating a group of 34 women who volunteer their time to learn and then train others in their communities on topics ranging from basic hygiene to the importance of vaccinating their children, from understanding the importance of clean water to identifying the warning signs of eclampsia during pregnancy and the subsequent need to access a clinic or hospital to improve the chances of survival for both mother and child. Warren has selflessly shared his expertise and his heart with a community in Haiti that fondly calls him Dokte Warren or in some cases, ti gran moun (little old man) and with a community here in Colorado, that simply calls him Warren.

Wynn Walent