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Haiti – One Year Later
Twenty-three Alfred State College students sacrificed the first several weeks of their summer to travel to Haiti and offer assistance to that struggling country. These students returned to Christianville, the same locale that Alfred State students had visited the year before. Christianville is located only several miles from the epicenter of the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. About 75% of the buildings in this area were either damaged beyond repair or collapsed completely. Alfred State has partnered with Christianville to help rebuild the much-needed medical facilities that were destroyed by the 2010 earthquake.
We were heartened this year to see continuing progress and improvements in Haiti. Christianville continues to offer medical services in temporary quarters housed in some school buildings that survived the earthquake. However, the new medical complex is beginning to take shape - looking more like buildings than piles of block and rebar. Some new school buildings have been erected on the Christianville site and life is slowly returning to normal for the Haitian people.
Alfred State work teams were again composed of students from the building trades, nursing, and agriculture and veterinary technology disciplines. Although the main purpose of the work in Haiti continues to be construction, the nursing and ag/vet tech students were able to do some work in their areas of specialization. Nursing students helped Dr. Jim and Sandy Wilkins, expatriate directors of the medical mission at Christianville, provide care to the many Haitians that depend on the medical services at Christianville. They were able to apply what they have learned at Alfred State in a very hands-on fashion in Haiti and they benefited from seeing some conditions that are unique to both an impoverished population and a population that lives in a tropical climate. Ag/vet tech students also utilized their skills to provide care for livestock in the Christianville area. Veterinary services are not very accessible to Haitian farmers, so the skills of these students were much appreciated.
Building trades students became teachers as they molded their classmates from other disciplines into efficient block-laying teams. We worked side-by-side with a Haitian crew of about 20 workers and block walls rose skyward during our weeks in Haiti. We were also able to interact with the United Nations troops in Haiti, and our work became a very multicultural affair. The UN has provided a lot of heavy equipment for the rebuilding effort in Haiti, and during our time at Christianville, the UN was excavating and moving dirt at our building site. Our students rubbed shoulders with Korean and Sri Lankan soldiers who were working alongside us at the site.
The highlight of the experience in Haiti was again the opportunity the Alfred State students had to immerse themselves in Haitian culture. Our students did things that they may never do again. They chewed sugar out of raw sugar cane, drank milk from coconuts that hung from the tree minutes before, hunted tarantulas after dark, and swam in the warm Caribbean Sea. They learned words and phrases in Haitian Creole, communicated without language when necessary, laughed and played with the Haitian children, and baked under the sun with the Haitian work crew. They learned that they could stretch their comfort zone and experience things that will enrich their lives. Above all, they put feet to the Alfred State motto “hit the ground running” as they spent themselves helping the Haitian people.
Written by Douglas Pierson, DVM, assistant professor, Agriculture and Veterinary Technology Department, Alfred State College