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Shortly after the devastating January 2010 earthquake hit near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Dr. Jack Allison ‘63 was contacted by the CEO of the Greater Caribbean Energy and Environment Foundation (GCEEF) and asked to assist in providing medical care there. During his week-long stay in Haiti, Allison’s team treated hundreds of patients in make-shift clinics, with very little to no supplies as well as experienced incidents of rioting and corruption. Allison explained that he is indebted to The Greater Caribbean Energy & Environment Foundation for sponsoring his group’s mission to Haiti and very supportive of their work: “GCEEF has been intimately involved in helping to develop Haiti for nearly 30 years, and they are committed to rebuilding Haiti over the long haul, providing ongoing medical care, public health, food, clean water, education, shelter, micro-finance, and other important machinations.”
In addition to providing emergency medical and surgical care, Allison has been also been commissioned by the CGEEF to write 3 songs. The idea to commission these songs came from Allison’s past success in using music to create social change as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi the 1960s. Because of the rampant deforestation throughout the Haiti and the fact that vast numbers of Haitians are still living outside, drowning due to flash floods is a real threat and, therefore, the focus of Allison’s first song, which is called “Don’t Sleep in the Gulley.” The other two songs deal with issues of sanitation and disease and encourage people to wash their hands with soap and to put garbage in its place. To hear “Don’t Sleep in the Gulley,” which is sung in both Creole and English and is being broadcasted on 25 radio stations throughout Haiti, click here.
Dr. Allison received his Associate of the Arts degree from Warren Wilson in 1963, his B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1966, and earned a Master of Public Health degree from the UNC School of Public Health in 1971, then graduated from the School of Medicine at the UNC-Chapel Hill in 1975. Along with being the Chair/ Medical Director of Emergency Medicine programs in Charleston, South Carolina, and at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, Allison also founded the Department of Emergency Medicine at ECU-SOM in 1980.
From 1991 through 1995, Dr. Allison was honored as the Sterling Distinguished Professor and Chair, and has served as the President of the American College of Emergency Physicians nationally. Along with being a member of a number of organizations (such as the American College of Preventative Medicine, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the Residency Review Committee for Emergency Medicine) Allison was the one of the Founding Presidents for both the International Federation for Emergency Medicine and the Association of Academic Chairs of Emergency Medicine. Not only has Dr. Allison served as an oral examiner (and Senior Examiner for the last ten years) for the American Board of Emergency Medicine for 20 years, Dr. Allison has authored more than 280 articles.
Allison’s musical talents were to some degree developed at Warren Wilson, where he also took pre-med classes. He played in the pep band and one day was trying to hum a march in order to remember it. The band director at the time, John Connet, who was also the choir director, heard it and said “if you can hum that march you can sing in the choir and I need a tenor.” Connet gave him free voice lessons for two-years, for which he is forever grateful. About Warren Wilson, Allison explained, “The College opened my eyes to different cultures. Here I was a redneck kid from Florida and I’d never me met people from anywhere else but at Warren Wilson I met friends students from Kenya, Fiji, Madagascar and Thailand and I realized how we were all the same. Finally, I was presented with the concept of service and giving back.”
After completing his bachelor’s but before beginning his master’s degree, Allison volunteered with the U.S. Peace Corps for three years in Malawi, Central Africa and today he remains fluent in Chichewa, a variant of Swahili. For his volunteer position Allison worked mostly at an Under Five Baby Clinic, where he did all immunizations, and provided real basic public health education, like washing hands. The idea for Allison’s first song came while he was taking a bath. He lived in a one room hut and hadn’t had a real bath in three months and had gone down to a resort with some friends. Allison recounts that day: “So I was lying there, very happy to be enjoying a bath and I started humming the words I had created a poster for my Under Five Baby Clinic to myself. Those words were, ‘brush your flies from your babies’ eyes to prevent disease.” So I was humming this, and I jumped out of the bath and hurried to put cloths on and went running down to the beach to get a cassette recorder from a friend to record my song. Then I re- recorded the song with a group of Africans and it was an immediate success.’”
In all Allsion created 17 songs, all of which had a message. The most popular of the songs was Ufa wa Mtedza, which was the #1 song in Malawi from 1967 to 1969. This song encouraged mothers to pound peanuts into the maize porridge they gave their babies and to feed them three times a day instead of only one time, which was the local tradition at the time. There was one radio station in Malawi, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, and they played it all the time. A record company from Holland, Phillips, pressed records and wanted to check out the market in Malawi. They did a run of 10,000 45-records, which sold out in three days. In addition, a private television company did an hour-long documentary of volunteers in Malawi and included Allison. Finally, Allison was asked to do numerous jingles for the radio. From all of these he received royalties, but as a volunteer he could not keep the money. Allison decided to set up a small foundation. “Basically I sent out a letter to all the volunteers in the country and asked how I should spend the money,” explained Allison. “For example, a volunteer who lived east from me, said she needed funds for building an extra room onto the existing library. Whatever the other Peace Corps volunteers did, I asked that they spend the money for something useful and to send back the extra money along with a picture of what they did. In that way we could keep track of the money going in and out and it worked beautifully.”
Another amazing experience Allison had in Malawi was touring with around with Colgate Palmolive for five months to promote health. He toured rural villages in the entire country putting on performances at four schools a day before and then doing an evening show for the families. “I would be introduced by the village chief and sing seven or eight songs. Then we would pick people out of the audience and ask them basic health questions and lead them to the correct answer, in an act using a paper mache puppet. By the end of the tour 20,000 people had seen Allison’s show. In 1994, almost twenty-five years later, and because people still remembered Allison’s music, he was called back to Malawi and worked through Project Hope to do AIDS awareness, AIDS education and AIDS prevention work. He was able to raise $30,000 for the cause and was shocked that everywhere he went, people not only remembered him, but also would sing his songs to him.
Allison has had an impressive and varied 30-year career in academic emergency medicine. Although he has recently retired from clinical medicine, he continues to serve as Professor of Emergency Medical Care for the College of Health & Human Sciences at Western Carolina University. Among other things Allison continues to be involved with relief efforts in Haiti and is a member of the Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church and College Chapel. Since 1967 he has raised $150,000.00 with his music, and he & his wife, Sue Wilson, have given away all of these monies to various charitable organizations.