A delegation from Howard University traveled to Haiti for Spring Break on a mission of service. Kerry-Ann Hamilton, media relations manager, is chronicling their travels. Here is her first post.
Almost 30 Howard University students are here on a weeklong mission as part of the university’s Alternative Spring Break program, an annual service mission in which hundreds of Howard students travel the nation to help in underserved communities.
However, this mission is like none in the 17-year history of the program, including the year we sent nearly 500 students to New Orleans in 2006 to help following Hurricane Katrina.
Haiti is still recovering from the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. The devastation is everywhere.
We flew in Saturday and spent the first 24 hours getting acquainted with the challenges and opportunities to help Haiti rebuild. We saw the beauty of Haiti – Caribbean, white sand beaches, azure seas and majestic mountain ranges. Later we would also see the ugly scar left by the quake, hundreds of buildings demolished and thousands still homeless, combined with pervasive poverty that already plagued the nation.
On Sunday morning, we sat in service in a nearby church as worshipers steadfastly sang hymns such as “Blessed Assurance.” Just before noon, the team visited the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, which was destroyed by the quake.
“One hundred and twenty people died,” a young man told me solemnly. “We had to bury them there.”
It was heartbreaking to learn that they did not receive a proper burial. I tiptoed around the rubble. It felt like a sacred place. A few minutes later, we passed the significantly damaged Haitian National Palace, home to the nation’s president. It looked the same as it did in the hours following the earthquake.
As we traveled east, we came across scores of tent cities. Blue or white tarp served as walls and roofs. They have been particularly violent places for women, many of whom have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted. We will be working with a group that assists them later in our trip.
There, residents are also exposed to the elements during heavy rain and floods.
Today was our first official “work day” in Haiti.
The group volunteered at the Ecole Bon Samaritan Orphanage and School. The school is in Archaie, a small town one hour west of Port-au-Prince. The school was built in 2004, and the orphanage followed in 2005. Today, the school has 150 students from ages 3 to 17, and the orphanage is home to 18 children, some of whom lost their parents to the earthquake.
The Howard volunteers took turns teaching English, mathematics and art, and they learned quite a bit of Creole in the process. Howard students and members of the delegation of Haitian descent helped to interpret and translate. It was a great morning. It was clear that the visitors from Howard intrigued the students. Nadia, 9, who is learning English, was excited to count and ask questions in English.
“What is your name?” she asked. “Where do you live?”
The other team spent the morning in 90-degree weather carrying concrete blocks, mixing cement and sifting sand as they built a perimeter around the orphanage. It currently has no protective barrier from the main highway.
In an interview with the head of school, Mirlande Alcene, 38, she emphasized the need to help children.
During recess, as the children played, I talked with the principal, who has been with the school since it opened. We stood on a small back porch as she spoke passionately about her hopes and dreams for the children. Our conversation was interrupted occasionally by laughing children and playful squeals. As she talked, at times she would tear up. I just listened, trying maintain my composure.
“We need help for the children,” she said. “We are happy to see foreigners come visit the country and to see the work that they are doing. We are asking the foreigners to always think of us here. …We like the dialogue, to talk to see where we can go and what we can do. We are very happy to see you.
“You bring us courage. Because of the state of our country, it is not everyone who would think to come. Your presence is God’s grace because our country is infected with sickness and we have not been able to find solutions. …We are asking for your prayers to help the country … the country that has been broken and does not have solution. …We are asking where it is going, when is this going to stop, and we think these children, they need help because they are growing and there are possibilities.
“I am asking you to think about them with me and to help so these children can grow in the way I would like them to grow. Please if you can, do this. God will bless you and elevate your work.”
We will spend the next two days with the Good Samaritan School. Stay tuned for more updates.
Follow College Inc. on Twitter .