buildOn student Jean Laurena from Central High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, was born in Haiti. After joining buildOn in high school and discovering his passion for helping others through service, Jean was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime—to go back to Haiti on Trek with buildOn and help build a school in a rural village.
I was born in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. I moved to Connecticut in 2008, but I lived in Haiti until I was eight years old.
Moving to Bridgeport was so strange. It was so cold, and I’m from a place where it’s hot all year round. I didn’t expect to see snow or any type of cold weather—and then boom! It was cold, it was snowing, I didn’t know anyone in the area, and everything looked so strange. It was difficult at first because I didn’t speak English. The first couple months were hard. But I started to learn the language, and I started talking to more people, and that really helped.
Growing up in Haiti, people didn’t have a lot. Not everyone went to school, so not everybody had the privilege to learn. I didn’t have many things growing up. I probably only had two pairs of shorts and a couple of shirts. Water was limited. There wasn’t any electricity. Plus, there was violence around. Because of all that, I like giving back to people. I know what it’s like to not have a lot, and I know people are appreciative when you give them help. It means a lot to them. That’s it. That’s why I love doing buildOn.
I know what it’s like to not have a lot, and I know people are appreciative when you give them help. It means a lot to them. That’s it. That’s why I love doing buildOn.
Above: With more than 200 hours of service, Jean (far right) has become a leader within buildOn at Central High School.
I started doing buildOn my sophomore year. I’m a senior now, and I’m an intern for buildOn. I’ve done so many different projects with buildOn—we’ve mentored and tutored young children, we’ve served meals to the homeless and given them clothes for the winter, and last summer, I got to do something that meant a lot to me. I went on Trek with buildOn to help build a school in Haiti.
Going back to Haiti, to build a school in the country where I was born, meant so much to me because I got to do an amazing thing for my country.
This was my first time going back to Haiti since I moved to Bridgeport when I was eight. It was a very emotional trip for me. Not only did I get to go back to my home country, but I went with what I would describe as my family. Going back to Haiti, to build a school in the country where I was born, meant so much to me because I got to do an amazing thing for my country. Not only did I get to build a school, but I also got to know a little more about the community and the people.
The most emotional part of the trip for me was living with a host family and getting to know my three host siblings. Even though they were kids and old enough to go to school, they weren’t in school at that time. It was really amazing to know that the school we were building wasn’t going to be private—it was going to be for them. Everyone in the community in Haiti, they just wanted their kids to have access to an education. It was hard to leave at the end of Trek. It being my home country, and having built a bond with my host family—it was really emotional to leave.
Above: Jean (far left) poses for a picture with other buildOn students from Connecticut while on Trek in Haiti.
I know what it is like to have an education and also what it is like not to have an education. In Haiti most schools are private, so not everybody gets an education. Let’s say that you’re raised by a farmer, if you don’t go to school, you won’t know that there are other opportunities out there. I have an education because my parents wanted a better life for me. And buildOn is making sure everyone has a fair chance at education.
I have an education because my parents wanted a better life for me. And buildOn is making sure everyone has a fair chance at education.
I feel so good now because we got the pictures back and we saw how the school looked and I saw my brothers and sisters there, going to school and they were learning. I know that their lives are better now. I am really excited for them and for the rest of the community. I love that we did that. I’m proud of what we did. We helped to change their lives.
Below: Students in Haiti stand outside the school that Jean helped to build along with other buildOn students and community members.