Taking Classroom Lessons across International Borders
The Haiti Service Learning Initiative began as a collaboration between staff, faculty, students, and Project Medishare in 2011. Project Medishare works with the people of Haiti to give them quality healthcare and development services. Together, Marc Veletzos, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Brian Suehs-Vassel, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, and Kevin Melanson Clinical Instructor and Assistant Athletic Trainer in the Department of Health Sciences, worked to provide for various needs to the community in Haiti.
On the civil engineering front, advised by Veletzos, the students worked to provide the town with clean water, while the athletic training students, advised by Melanson, worked to provide healthcare and education to the people of Haiti. “We were able to help improve the quality of many of their lives, by providing therapy, exercises, medical supplies and clean water to help alleviate some of their daily suffering,” said senior Fiona Coleman. “The community was extremely grateful for the support and helping hands!” she explained.
Students observed the lifestyles of the Haitian people and reflected upon their own lives. Coleman stated, “Although their life conditions are very hard and resources are limited, many were so genuinely happy and full of life. They thank God every day when they wake up and take everything as a blessing. The people we met were so trusting, loving, and welcoming. They have this incredible glow on their faces and spark in their eyes.” She also commented on how the Haitian people have helped her and the group. “Their strong faith strengthened mine, and everyone else’s who we went with on the trip. It’s encouraged me to simplify my life and want to continue to share what gifts, education, time and resources I have…as every small step is like a life changing miracle to them,” Coleman added.
Merrimack has developed goals in a three-step system to focus their efforts and maintain ongoing and sustainable results in Haiti. The first is to study and observe, to understand and assess the main problems occurring in Haiti. The second is to develop programs and projects that work towards solving those needs. Finally, the ultimate goal is working with the Haitian people and Project Medishare to implement their ideas. “The skills we utilize in Haiti are exactly what we are taught in the Athletic Training Program at Merrimack and it is truly amazing to be able to put those skills to use in the real world to help others,” said senior Julia Barry.
Many students show interest in supporting this trip on more than one occasion. “That is what keeps me going back to Haiti, to see the people I have met, and helped along the way, hopefully improving.” said Barry. “It is a pure joy to see those we have helped in the past return to us again and say that our rehabilitation exercises have helped them immensely. That is the best feedback we could ask for, and it shows us that what we are doing is working and benefitting people.”