When she was only 15 years old, alumna Tiffany Kuehner ’03 faced an transformational moment.
In high school, Kuehner was active in community service and was especially passionate about women’s rights. Community work runs in her family, as her grandmother founded the nonprofit organization Hope For Haiti
that seeks to improve the quality of life for Haitians. After years of waiting, Kuehner finally got the chance to go to Haiti with her grandmother during her sophomore year at Lawrenceville. Even though she was very experienced with service, she notes that her previous work was “nothing to the extent of poverty in Haiti.”
Kuehner says, “The moment for me was when I went to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity ‘Home of the Dying’ that was located in one of the poorest areas of Haiti. This home is run by Mother Teresa’s sisters, and they accept anyone who has nowhere to go, no questions asked. It’s basically like a hospice.”
She continues, “So that day I walked in with my grandmother to support these sisters, and there were two women who were considered not able to live the rest of the day. So the sisters asked my grandmother to be with one woman and me to be with the other.”
At only fifteen years old, Kuehner says she was sitting next to this woman trying to do whatever she could do to make the woman a little more comfortable, while recognizing that she was extremely ill.
Kuehner mentions that she had so many questions circulating in her head, such as why this woman was here, where this woman’s family was, why she was by herself, and why Kuehner, herself, was the one sitting there that day. First of all, Kuehner notes, the woman looked thirty years old but had the body of a twelve year old.
“It just felt like there was so much inequality, and it was so unfair. And I truly started asking the question of why this would happen. And it really was only the fact of where you were born and the resources your family had. Anyone could have been in this woman’s position,” Kuehner notes.
“So I sat there, and that woman really did pass that day,” Kuehner says. “It was a very powerful moment.” Even though Kuehner was very young, it lit a fire in her that this was not right — it was unjust that people’s outcomes were based on where they lived and their economic status.
“I left there not speaking for a while — I was internalizing a lot of thoughts and writing them down. When I came back to Lawrenceville, I presented to my peers about my experience and then started bringing groups down to Haiti,” Kuehner says.
Kuehner adds that this event propelled her to pursue women’s studies and international development in college. Then, she worked in Haiti for twelve years before recently moving back to the U.S. to work for another nonprofit organization called Book Trust,
where she has continued her mission of helping others. This organization strives to inspire kids from low-income families to love reading by providing a book each month of the school year for the children to choose for free. Kuehner says, “once you can read, you have the world at your fingertips.”
In retrospect, Kuehner states that she will always remember that time, that woman, and that moment in Haiti.
“I don’t know her name and I don’t know her history, but she will always be a very important person in my life,” Kuehner rehashes. She says that this experience gave her a purpose in life: to make the world a little more equal, to spread awareness, and to inspire people to action.We'd love to share your story with other Lawrentians. Email us here with your news or activities and we will be in touch.