Hope for Haiti: Students eager for role in changing country
By Kami L. Rice
As Haiti considers how to build a new and stronger country in place of what was lost in January's devastating earthquake, one source of hope is its young adult citizens studying in the United States. Many are gaining knowledge and skills that will help them lead their communities in Haiti.
Currently, 1,100 Haitian students are in the United States on academic student visas, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson. We spoke with three who are eager to invest in their homeland when they complete their studies. All spoke of hope for change in their country and believe education is key as Haitians rebuild.
|Boys pass the time outdoors at the Methodist Children's Home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
|Photo Credit: UMNS/Mike DuBose.
A heart for Haiti
Since January, Zachary Fevilien, 30, has been living in Joplin, Mo., with the family sponsoring his education. A first-semester nursing student at Crowder College in Neosho, Mo., he attends Joplin's First United Methodist Church and helps run sound for services. In Haiti, Fevilien managed an orphanage in Port-au-Prince and worked with street children. I love working with street kids, taking them off the street, giving them a new life and giving them hope, he says.
He sees children as Haiti's future. My role is to continue to try to convince the kids in such a good way [that] they can be part of changing Haiti. Fevilien speculates that 80 to 90 percent of people who leave Haiti don't return because life is so hard there. They find better opportunities elsewhere.
|Courtesy Crowder College
It is important to teach children to love their country and contribute good ideas for changing lives, he says. Haiti is such a beautiful country. You have to have a heart for Haiti. Once you have a heart for it, you can't leave the country.
Fevilien misses Haiti very much but knows he is in the United States for a reason: I can go back and help more people than before. He wants to return to the orphanage and help expand it.
When you get an education and go back to Haiti, you have a lot of opportunity, he says, noting that employers in Haiti know an education from the United States is different from an education there. Haiti will change if there are people that are thinking of Haiti. If everyone is trying to leave Haiti and never come back, Haiti will never change.
He also believes that ultimately only God can change the country. Citing some Haitians' practice of voodoo, Fevilien says the country's hope lies in being committed to Jesus.
Education will improve decisions
When the earthquake struck Haiti, officials at Huntingdon College, a United Methodist-affiliated school in Montgomery, Ala., asked senior Jacques Lamour, 24, how the college could help. Lamour, from Cap Haitien in northern Haiti, came to the United States in 2006 and is studying biochemistry at Huntingdon. He plans to enroll in medical school after graduation this spring.
"Having Jacques here helped us to put a face to Haiti and made it more personal for us," said the Rev. Brian Smith, college chaplain and director of community service, noting that students were eager to help. In addition to prayer services, students hosted a Haiti Relief Yard Sale and collected donations in yellow buckets around campus. At Lamour's suggestion, all funds went to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Lamour says the earthquake can be a turning point for Haiti: Now might be the time to have people really take the country to a different path and do things differently. He adds that while Haitians need and appreciate outside help, it's also true the responsibility is ours.
Envisioning a role beyond a medical one when he returns to Haiti, Lamour also dreams of supporting Haiti's education needs. I don't know how it's going to happen, but if people were educated, these problems wouldn't happen. Better-educated citizens would be more careful about who they put in power, he says, leading to a better government.
Preparing for God's call
Though Julie Fleurinor, 35, has lived in the United States since age 7, she has visited Haiti frequently and has family there. Working on a dual master's degree in divinity and social work at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., Fleurinor is eager to return to Haiti and hopes her bishop will offer her a role there.
|Photo Credit: Su Ofe/Huntingdon College
I want to make sure I have all the skills I need when God calls me back to Haiti, she says.
Fleurinor finds hope in the fact that there are people like me around that believe God can do a new thing [in Haiti]. She sees God moving people's hearts to help Haiti but thinks Haitians must take ownership of the rebuilding.
Through her counseling coursework, Fleurinor has come to understand and heal from her shame over her country's track record. Haiti before the earthquake wasn't too far from what it is after the earthquake, she says. For Haitians, the tragedy made public a nasty family secret. The world's eyes were opened to the country's poor literacy rate, political corruption and entrenched poverty.
|Courtesy Julie Fleurinor
I think God wants to heal the Haitians abroad, Fleurinor said, so they can get past the hurt and shame that keep them away from Haiti.
As Lamour explained, Haiti can't develop if it doesnt have educated people to lead the way.
Kami L. Rice, freelance writer, Nashville, Tenn.
UMCOR on the ground in Haiti and Chile
Within hours of the first tremors, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) began responding to survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haitiand of the Feb. 27 earthquake in Chile.
UMCOR provided an emergency grant of $10,000 to the Methodist Church of Chile to assess needs and provide emergency relief. It continues to work in Chile with the Methodist Social Ministry and ecumenical partners. Last fall, UMCOR trained members of the Chilean church in disaster preparedness and emergency response training.
In Haiti, the humanitarian relief arm of the General Board of Global Ministries reopened its office in Port-au-Prince in mid-February. Staff have met regularly with the Methodist Church of Haiti, the United Nations and other partners to continue to develop and implement the agency's relief and recovery strategy, said Melissa Crutchfield, international disaster response executive.
On April 13, UMCOR's directors approved plans for the three-year, $10.4 million "Helping Haiti Rebuild" project. It will focus on providing housing, rebuilding schools and increasing access to community-based services, including psychological care, water and nutrition, and improving livelihoods.
"Helping Haiti Rebuild" is designed to assist at least 30,000 people. Work will begin in Port-au-Prince, Tabarre and Croix-des-Bouquets, where local authorities, the Haitian Methodist Church and the international aid community have identified locations of need.
More than 3,000 individuals have registered to volunteer for work team assignments that will be coordinated through GBGM's mission volunteers office.
As of mid-April, United Methodists had given $17.8 million through UMCOR to aid Haiti's recovery. Make gifts online at www.umcor.org. Mail checks payable to UMCOR to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Indicate Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325, on the memo line.
Contribute to aid Chilean quake survivors the same way. Designate those gifts for UMCOR Advance #3021178, Chile Emergency.
--Adapted from reports by United Methodist News
Service and information at www.umcor.org.