Upper Iowa University students (from left) Rachel Nelson from Waukon, Iowa, and Chiaki Maeda from Tokyo, Japan, enjoy the company of children at an orphanage in Haiti.
FAYETTE, Iowa (July 22, 2013) – Upper Iowa University student Amanda Smith summed up their recent May term service learning trip to Haiti best, "There is just way too much going on in my head, and no amount of words could make anyone understand what this trip did for me." The Moline, Ill., native and 12 other UIU students traveled with Dr. Eric Eller, UIU associate professor of international business, and Dr. Brian McQueen, assistant professor of sociology, on a seven-day trip studying the culture of Haiti.
Upper Iowa University offers the optional May term travel abroad experience to provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture to learn and to serve humanity through a variety of service learning projects. In addition to the trip to Haiti, eight UIU students also traveled to Guatemala on a service learning May term trip.
Working closely with Partners In Development (PID), a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of the world's poorest of the poor, UIU students and faculty assisted in the construction of concrete duplexes, which will provide a first-ever home with walls for some living in Canaan, a tent city 20 miles from Blanchard, Haiti. All of the families living in the tent city were displaced by the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. There is no running water in Canaan, and food is scarce in many parts of the country.
In Canaan, the UIU team worked diligently hauling boulders with wheelbarrows and employing a bucket-brigade system to get cement to the foundation layers. "We worked harder than anyone expected and finished all the work PID had planned for our whole trip," said Danneille Easton, student from Henderson, Iowa. "The team work was just amazing."
While the UIU students, worked, a group of Haitian children watched from the fence. "The kids lined the fence watching us all day and they started begging for food and water, but we weren't allowed to give them anything because it would give them the wrong idea about Americans," said Easton. "It was really hard on us to hear from our guide that children are taught at a very young age to beg for such things." For one student it was especially hard. She could speak French, which is similar to the Haitian language of creole. The children tried communicating through her to the UIU group, and it was heartbreaking for the students to have to turn them down.
"PID has to be the one to hand out food and other items," said Eller. "PID's mission is to help the Haitians become self-reliant and to make it so that they do not have to beg for anything."
The two Haitian children that Eller and his wife, Dr. Katrina Farren-Eller, UIU assistant professor of English, sponsor through PID live in Canaan. Eller visited Anya, 4, in her family's tent with a couple of students. Eller brought clothing, extra food and school supplies for the little girl and her family. Eller also brought items for the other child they sponsor, Venia, 5, who survived after being buried in the rubble of a building for three days following the earthquake. Her family thought she was dead, but she survived and is still dealing with those injuries. The Ellers also sponsor a senior citizen, Fritz, 65, who hadn't eaten for days when they first met him. Because of their sponsorship, he now lives in a room in a two-bedroom house and receives care.
During their recent visit, the Upper Iowa students walked to an orphanage that is home to children with mental and physical disabilities. The children loved meeting the college students and swarmed them for hugs and quality time. "I was caught up by the children and they sat on my lap," said Chiaki Maeda from Tokyo, Japan. "They looked to enjoy spending time with me, so it was okay. I felt sad, though, because they don't get to experience this kind of attention every day."
The children continued to make an impact on Upper Iowa students throughout the trip. Smith bonded with a little boy in a green shirt she calls "T," and was sad to say goodbye to him. "As we were driving away in the truck, a pack of kids was following us and I spotted T. He looked right at me and waved," she said. "Of all the things I saw and experienced in Haiti, T was by far the most memorable.
"It amazes me how these kids can come from such conditions but still find the strength to smile every day and be normal kids. Another situation I witnessed included five little girls. It was the day we ate spaghetti for lunch, and we had a lot left over. Maxim (the UIU group's construction supervisor) gave a box to a girl that was about 12-years-old, and told her to share with the four other girls that were with her. The five girls did share, but they decided to share even more and gave bites to a couple of girls walking by. I would never have expected something like that to happen. It showed me just how close this community is and how even the young kids understand just what their neighbors are going through."
One of the days, Easton worked at a PID clinic cleaning shelves and bagging pills. "I worked on a couple bottles of aspirin and a bottle of 500 pills used for parasites. Rachael (Nelson, a UIU RN-BSN student from Waukon, Iowa) said they used about 150 of them this day alone," she said.
"With one per baggie and 500 plus pills – it made for an all-day job. I calculated that one of the bottles I had bagged would only last about three days at the rate the clinic was handing them out. When thinking about that, I can't help but be a little depressed how much it takes to keep a clinic like this running."
Easton and a few other students had the opportunity to talk with a few of the Haitian translators. All of them worked hard to get jobs with PID, and are anxious to learn new words and other aspects of American culture. "Most of them dream of attending college in the United States, and then bringing back needed skills to their Haitian communities," said Easton. "I admire that most about the Haitians. Most of them really love their country and want to help not only themselves, but their communities too."
This was the fourth consecutive year for the UIU May term trip to Haiti and is held in conjunction with classroom time where students studied the people, politics, economics and religion of the country. Upon their return, each student writes a paper chronicling their personal experiences. While working with PID the students gain first-hand knowledge on working in disaster and hunger relief efforts, as well as learn about the culture through immersion and interaction.
To see more photos from the Upper Iowa University May term course trip to Haiti, check out http://www.flickr.com/photos/96949008@N05/.
Other UIU students on the trip were Amy Doeppke of Elkader, Iowa; Kayla Brincks from Lawler, Iowa; Rosa Espinoza from Lecheria, Venezuela; Erin Friedley from Monona, Iowa; Michael Hoeper from Waverly, Iowa; Heather Scroggins from Hawkeye, Iowa; Kate Weston from Newton, Iowa; Hiroko Tsuru from Fukuoka, Japan; and Alena Banks from Chicago, Ill.
Heather Scroggins from Hawkeye, Iowa, holds a child at the orphanage Upper Iowa students visited during their May term service learning trip to Haiti.
Rosa Espinoza (far right) from Lecheria, Venezuela, plays with children in Canaan, a tent city outside of Blanchard, Haiti.
UIU's 2013 May term group pauses briefly from work to pose for a group picture.
About Upper Iowa University Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs and leadership development opportunities to some 6,200 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and self-paced degree program. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.
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