"I've never seen kids with so little act like they have so much, their happiness was inspiring," says Callie Mack, one of 15 members of the UA community who made a recent service and learning trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. "I know it's cliché to say the trip was life-changing, but I will always have a place for Haiti in my heart," adds Mack, a sophomore majoring in marketing management.
The December trip was part of a Leadership Experience Project supported by The Institute for Leadership Advancement in the College of Business Administration. The institute is made possible through the generous support of The J.M. Smucker Company. The project provided the UA students with an opportunity to hone their personal leadership skills via global immersion.
Rachel Salberg and her assistants have fun while painting.
Planning the trip was Zeke Isaac, a Haitian citizen who graduated from UA in December. An honors student, he earned a degree in international business. Accompanying the team were Kevin Smith, director of the institute, and Maj. Chad DeBos, an adjunct assistant professor of military science with ROTC.
The eight-day trip gave the students a study in contrasts – Haiti and the Dominican Republic are distinctive from one another in language, socio-economic demographics and culture. Most of their time was spent at Institution Univers in Ouanaminthe, Haiti. The nonprofit-supported school serves students from Pre-K through Grade 13, and adult learners in technical programs.
UA students arrived ready to work.
They purchased and assembled five benches for the school grounds, then bought supplies to paint many portions of the school. They also served as English language conversation partners for high school students studying for the TOEFL exam in preparation for pursuing a college degree in the United States.
The UA team during their stay in Haiti. Zeke Issac, center front in hat, planned the trip to his native country.
"One of the best parts of the trip was witnessing Zeke in his element at Institution Univers,” recalls Mack. “You can tell he is a hometown hero to many of the kids there."
The UA visitors had time in their schedule to visit historic sites and take part in cultural opportunities. They also toured examples of economic development, including a growing industrial park, micro-lending institutions and small start-up businesses such as day-markets, medical clinics and a new bakery.
Each day of the trip ended with a personal and team reflection period, as students linked their activities to their own lives.
"The Haiti trip stretched my perception of the world and positively changed my life,” says Michael Robinson, a junior majoring in biology. “It gave me a greater understanding and appreciation of Haitian culture, life and language in a time when most people in the U.S. have no real perception or idea of Haiti. Overall, this trip gave me a new perspective on how I see my world; a world where the U.S. way of life isn't the only way of living."
Robinson, who is taking French language classes, earned credits in French from the trip. Under the supervision of Dr. Maria Adamowicz-Hariasz, head of the French section in the Department of Modern Languages, Robinson conducted pre-trip research, kept a journal in Haiti and wrote an eight-page reflection paper in French after returning. (The same opportunity to earn credits from this type of experiential learning will be offered to future participants—see sidebar to right.)
Rachel Salberg, a junior majoring in exercise science/pre-physical therapy, said she left Haiti with a new perspective.
Josh Davis plays basketball with a new friend.
“This trip was about serving, improving ourselves, becoming more self-aware, and being exposed to a new culture,” says Salberg. “It did all of that and more. The impact that Haiti has made on me and my team, and the way it has pulled us together, is unreal. We were pushed past our comfort zones, but that's what it takes to get a new perspective on life.
“I knew this trip would change me, but I didn't realize how much,” adds Salberg. “Haiti is beautiful. The people are incredible, the landscape is unlike anything I've ever seen and the way of life is inspiring. People look at you, smile, and say "bonjour!" as you pass. Poverty is everywhere, but these are some of the happiest people I've ever met. I am so grateful for the connections I have made there, and there is a part of me that never left.”
NEXT TRIP: 2016
Since returning from their trip, the students have formed Zips for Haiti to help the students of Institution Univers and establish an endowed scholarship to enable Haitian students to attend college in the United States.
More than $4,000 has already been raised through the group’s ongoing fundraiser — selling Alltech Fair Trade Café Citadelle coffee for $12 for a 12-ounce bag, that is being used for the Zips for Haiti initiatives and Institution Univers.
A Spaghetti Dinner will be hosted as a fundraiser by Zips for Haiti on Tuesday, April 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Christ Community Chapel, 750 W. Streetsboro St., Hudson. Tickets are $10 for presale, $12 at the door and $5 for students with a Zip Card. To attend, contact Rachel Selberg at email@example.com.
To learn more about their fundraising efforts, visit Zips for Haiti online.
The next trip is planned for Jan. 10-17, 2016, right before Spring Semester 2016 begins. Interested individuals can contact Kevin Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the UA team were Jessie Bose, political science and accounting; Joshua Davis, accounting; Brandi Floor, international business; Cinara Foor, corporate finance, financial planning; Amanda Hardman, nursing; Julia Hatch, business administration; Callie Mack, marketing management; Brenna Mack, marketing management; Michael Robinson, biology; Rachel Salberg, exercise science/pre-physical therapy; and Matthew Waldsmith, computer science, along with new graduate Zeke Issac, Kevin Smith, Maj. Chad DeBos and his son Cody.