Earlier this week, staffer Rosann Jager reported from the ground on the construction of our most recent Haitian school, which was built with the help of our youth service students. Every year, a select number of students from buildOn’s afterschool programs around the United States are granted the opportunity to help construct a school in a remote village overseas. During the trip, they live with a “host family” right in the village, pick up the local language, absorb the regional culture, and incalculably broaden their realm of possibility. Many of the students who participate in these ventures have never been outside of their urban neighborhoods, and many are inspired by the beauty and resilience of the people they encounter abroad to commit themselves to serving their communities after returning home.
Student Courtney M. Winterbauer had never been outside of the US before, and noted the simplicity of the lifestyle that she and her fellow students were exposed to. “We took with us the bare necessities of toiletries, a few changes of clothes, malaria meds, 2-liter water bottles, sunscreen, shoes, flashlights and gifts to our host families in our backpacks and duffel bags,” she wrote in an article for the Alameda Journal. “It was all we needed. Bucket-bathing first thing in the morning made me appreciate not only running water from an actual shower head but water in general. You can sufficiently bathe in a bucket or less of water.”
This has been the first time that our students have traveled to this country, which not so long ago swelled with tragedy in the face of natural disaster. Luckily, buildOn has had a presence in Haiti for nearly a decade, and we were able to partner with local NGOs such as Hope For Haiti to provide urgent support during the earthquake. In the hard days and months that passed, we never lost sight of our mission to bring education to the nation’s most impoverished inhabitants. All of the schools we’ve built in Haiti remain intact and in use.
This spirit of resilience left a strong mark on many of the students who participated in the trip. “My favorite memory of Haiti was seeing everyone motivated to build a school in their community,” noted Jorge Gomez. “An old man showed up almost everyday and he would carry buckets of cement back and forward all day long. Another man with only one arm worked hard to make bricks. It motivated me a lot to try to work as hard as I could every day.”
Jamie Pelusi, a coordinator on the trip, echoed this. “It was great to see little kids, elderly people…everyone come out to contribute to the worksite. It was amazing to watch. A few people who had to be in their late 70s or 80s just got pick axes and worked all day. I can’t even imagine someone in the US doing that…just being so thankful and willing to participate.”[pullquote]Each planned and unplanned moment embraced on the trip brought us closer to the Haitians.[/pullquote]
Winterbauer further comments that the culture’s richness paired with the dedication of the Haitian people helped to make the trip truly special. “During work, a RaRa Carnival parade of Haitian women and drummers [who] carried buckets of sand to make cement with on their heads took a friendly break for traditional dancing to music.” The hard work of Haitians is a kind of celebration, a way of seeing the world optimistically. Winterbauer took this to heart, adding: “Each planned and unplanned moment embraced on the trip brought us closer to Haitians, who we are as individuals and what we value in our personal lives.”