It was the Haitian earthquake of 2010 that brought James Blanc and Pedro Jean-Baptiste to the University of Kentucky.
The magnitude 7.0 earthquake killed at least 46,000 people and injured at least 220,000 more, with 1.5 million left homeless.
Blanc and Jean-Baptiste lived in Ouanaminthe City, a city in Haiti's northeast corner with about 100,000 residents and no running water, when the devastating earthquake summoned a surge of international help, including vast numbers of medical professionals.
The two became translators for a group of Lexington orthopedic surgeons who were there to repair some horrendous injuries — bones not simply broken, but crushed or poking through the skin.
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The physicians' group became close to the two young translators and decided to form a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Kentucky Haiti Partnership, to bring the two young men to UK.
Blanc, 20, and Jean-Baptiste, 21, started classes at UK last week as biology majors.
The two men plan to get medical degrees over the next 10 years and then return to Haiti to practice medicine.
"They saw the best way they could help us is to give our families something," Jean-Baptiste said of the Kentucky Haiti Partnership. "It is our education."
Ouanaminthe City has a couple of doctors, but no surgeons, Blanc said.
"The plan is going back to this clinic and providing help for these people," he said.
Micah Fielden, president of UK's Student Government Association and a mentor to the Haitians, said that having them on campus "is where we rise into our calling to educate the world."
Sending money only helps for a short time, Fielden said, but sending back two physicians could help for decades to come.
"It's something where you change somebody's life," he said. "You didn't just give them a shirt."
The oldest of five children, Blanc lived with his grandmother after his mother died. His father works in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.
"The only way I could succeed in this life was my education," Blanc said.
Jean-Baptiste comes from a family of seven children, of which he is the youngest. One of his most vivid memories is his father telling him that he might not get to go to school because the family didn't have enough money.
Jean-Baptiste got a scholarship, which was worth $110 — the cost of a year in high school. Average income in the area is about $400 annually.
Now, the Kentucky Haiti Partnership estimates that each young man will need $300,000 to finance their college and medical school educations, plus travel and living expenses.
Pat Duff, an anesthetist who was with the group that first befriended the Haitian students, said the group hopes to attract donations to bring more Haitian students to Kentucky in the future.
"Pedro is going to be president in 30 years, and here's your surgeon general," Duff said, gesturing to Blanc.
After the medical group met Blanc and Jean-Baptiste, they couldn't ignore either of the young men's potential or the need for education to improve life in their hometown, Duff said.
The two now work in UK's office of admissions and recruitment as they take fall semester classes. They are not homesick, Blanc said; after all, they have been to the United States three times before.
"We know why we are here," he said.
So far, they're smitten with the foods of their new country. Jean-Baptiste likes mashed potatoes, fried chicken, fried fish and Subway, while Blanc likes fried chicken, pizza and Qdoba.
The two first arrived in Kentucky in January.
"It was the first time they had seen snow," Duff said.