CMU in Haiti forges bonds over spring break
While many Carnegie Mellon students traveled to the Caribbean over spring break in search of beaches, concerts, and frozen margaritas, 10 Carnegie Mellon students made their first trip to Haiti with a more service-oriented goal.
CMU in Haiti, the nascent student organization that sponsored the trip, raised $6,000 for various charities in Haiti — one of the world’s poorest countries — which they distributed during their visit. They supported Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Pétion-Villois (SOPUDEP), a Haitian grassroots organization which runs a school, a microfinance program called Fam SOPUDEP an Aksyon (FASA), and a group to empower women called Mouvements des Jeunes Unis pour le Développement des Bobin, Pétion-Villois (MOJUB).
This trip is CMU in Haiti’s first to the country; co-founders electrical and computer engineering and business administration double major Ian Glasner and professional writing major Laura Scherb founded the organization in 2013 as an effort to not only take an annual spring break trip, but also to establish and maintain a relationship with their counterparts in Haiti. Glasner was inspired by his high school experience at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, Calif., where he was a member of the outreach and philanthropy organization Solidarity in Haiti. Los Altos High School recently became an official sister school of SOPUDEP after Solidarity in Haiti’s annual trips to Haiti connected the two schools.
Glasner hopes that CMU in Haiti will stand out among the myriad of other student organizations that take spring break trips to impoverished countries or domestic places in need, including Global Medical Brigades (GMB) and Global Public Health Brigades (GPHB), which both traveled to Honduras this year; Orphanage Outreach, which traveled to the Dominican Republic; and Habitat for Humanity, which traveled to Macon, Ga.
All of these organizations do service work, from providing medication and public health infrastructure in the case of GMB and GPHB, respectively, to building homes for those in need, like Habitat for Humanity, or volunteering at orphanages like Orphanage Outreach.
CMU in Haiti also focuses on service, with additional goals that involve forming relationships with the Haitian people the students interact with and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like SOPUDEP.
Glasner and Scherb hope to establish a similar relationship between Carnegie Mellon and the Haitian organizations they worked with this past spring break. CMU in Haiti, Glasner said, is distinguished not by the service they do — although it is an important part of their initiative — but by the connections they are making with Haitian organizations and Haitian citizens.
“It was an incredible trip,” said Connie Yang, a first-year mathematical sciences major. “I went in knowing only some facts from the newspapers, like the level of poverty [in Haiti]. But there I learned about the people — they were so nice and genuine.”
Glasner said that their work is as much about helping Haitians as it is about teaching students at Carnegie Mellon. “Its about creating lifelong philanthropists — people who will be more knowledgeable,” said Glasner, who is also currently student body vice president. Glasner has himself shown long-term dedication to Haiti; he has now traveled on three similar charitable trips to the nation.
CMU in Haiti emerged from “The Uses and Abuses of Haiti,” a seminar taught by Michael West, a professor in the department of modern languages at Carnegie Mellon.
Glasner raised money for Haiti in high school with the Haiti Solidarity Club and spoke in the seminar about his experiences.
Together with Scherb, he launched the club to address the urgent needs about which they had learned.
The club has three main purposes: first, to raise money before the trip; this fundraising directly benefits the schools and organizations in Haiti; second, for the students to learn about Haitian culture and ways of life during the trip and forge connections with the Haitian people; and third, for the students to raise awareness about Haiti after the trip.
According to Yang, many of the NGOs working in Haiti suffer from the same types of corruption which have effectively crippled the Haitian government. To avoid this corruption, CMU in Haiti partnered with Rea Dol, a woman who has received international recognition for her grassroots efforts within Haiti.
Dol founded SOPUDEP in the 1990s to help some of Haiti’s most impoverished residents through a number of ancillary organizations such as the SOPUDEP school and FASA; the need for her programs has intensified since a 2010 earthquake devastated much of Haiti.
The students visited a refugee camp that continues to house Haitians affected by the earthquake.
“The leader of the refugee camp gave an impassioned speech ‘that the people of Haiti do not want to be given fish. They want to learn to fish.’ Their spirit, given those bad conditions ... is really amazing,” said Yang.