During spring break in March 2012, Dominican students will travel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for a service-learning opportunity. This is the first time the university has organized a trip to Haiti, and it was spurred on by the tragic earthquake that devastated the nation two years ago.
The worst earthquake in the region in more than 200 years struck Jan. 12, 2010, leveling most of Port-au-Prince and, according to the Haitian government, killing more than 300,000 people. More than a million residents lost their homes, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians still live in displacement camps.
“Right after the earthquake, Dominican University organized an exploratory trip with the intention of forming partnerships with organizations in Haiti,” MaDonna Thelen, director of Service Learning, said.
She and another faculty member traveled to Haiti to uncover various service learning opportunities, and they managed to establish partnerships with three major organizations there.
“Wings of Hope is a home for severely disabled children,” Thelen said. “The children need help getting dressed; they need to be fed. The students will be helping with that.”
Dominican also has partnered with the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, which provides shelter for boys living on the streets, and with Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying, which shelters and cares for babies who are terminally ill, suffering from tuberculosis or diagnosed with HIV.
“These kids’ families are too poor to take proper care of them,” Thelen said. “Haiti is the poorest country in Southern Hemisphere, and it’s the 20th poorest in the world.”
Dominican has partnered with Matthew 25 House, which will provide student accommodations. A flyer about the trip, provided by Thelen, states that “Matthew 25 House is a safe environment where we will stay. They will provide us with good meals, filtered water and transportation. Accommodations are simple, but adequate.”
All students who plan to study abroad must attend orientation sessions where they are thoroughly prepared for the trip by reading books and studying the nation to which they are traveling. Students traveling to Haiti will be taught how to handle some of the extreme situations and tragic sights that they will be faced with.
“The students need to be well prepared because nobody here has had to live through anything close to what they’re living through,” Thelen said.
The earthquake wasn’t the only thing to hit Haiti in 2010. Six months after the quake, a cholera epidemic erupted, killing thousands more Haitians.
Addressing any lingering concerns about the epidemic, Thelen said, “Cholera is a disease of the poor.” She said students will only drink bottled water and will not go near areas where there is standing water that might be contaminated.
Rather than discouraging students from traveling to Haiti, the recent suffering there has drawn students that want to make a difference.
Thelen said 12 students registered to go on the trip right away.
The maximum number of students allowed to travel abroad in a group is 15. The last day to register was Nov. 21, but Thelen said she is willing to extend the deadline and make exceptions for students still interested.
– Kinga Kasprzyk, Staff Writer