In December 2014, a group of fifteen students from The University of Akron traveled to Ouanaminthe, Haiti and visited a school called Institution Univers (IU).
Zeke Isaac, who is originally from Haiti, created the project for his Honors Thesis with the help of Kevin Smith from the Institute of Leadership and Dr. Maria Adamowicz-Hariasz, head of the French section in the Department of Modern Languages.
During the study abroad trip, the students developed leadership skills, participated in service, and were immersed in Haitian culture. They purchased and assembled five benches for the school grounds and bought supplies to paint many portions of the school. In addition, they taught English club at the school.
Meeting the Haitian people and visiting historical sites, the students were able experience Haiti’s culture firsthand. For instance, the students hiked up a mountain to visit the Citadel, a large old military fortress. This attraction is one of the tallest spots in Haiti with a scenic view of the coastline and the town.
The students gained priceless immersion experiences during their travels. Isaac organized a volleyball game with the Haitian people against the students. One day, the students split up into small groups with the children, who showed them around the city and taught them about Haitian culture. While they interacted with the local people, some students were able to speak to the Haitians in their native language: French.
When the students returned from their travels, they wanted to further help the Haitian people. They founded a student organization called “Zips for Haiti” and are working toward helping the students of Institution Univers (IU) and the people of Haiti through fundraising efforts.
The organization is raising money for biannual service trips to Haiti and working toward helping the students of Institution Univers (IU) and the people of Ouanaminthe, Haiti.
In the future, the organization wishes to establish an endowment scholarship at UA for Haitian students to complete their collegiate education in America.
As a fundraiser, the organization is selling Alltech Fair Trade Cafe Citadelle coffee. The coffee sells for $12 per 12 oz. bag. Alltech receives $8 for its projects at Haitian schools and Zips for Haiti is granted $4 that goes toward fundraising efforts. Four types of coffee are being sold: Original Ground, Original Whole Bean, French Vanilla Ground, and Espresso Roast.
Zips for Haiti is also working in conjunction with local organizations and businesses including: COCINA, Great Harvest Bakery of Stow, and Christ Community Chapel of Hudson.
For their first event, Zips for Haiti is hosting a Spaghetti Dinner on April 28th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Christ Community Chapel. Tickets are $10 for presale, $12 at the door, and $5 with a Student ID. Those interested in attending this event can contact Rachel Selberg at [email protected]
In the process of starting the organization, Zips for Haiti has recently created a website and is present on Facebook and Twitter.
Plans are underway for another trip to Haiti in January 2016 and Zips for Haiti is hoping to bring more students.
The trip to Haiti and the creation of the Zips for Haiti organization has changed the lives of these students in a powerful way.
“The people who participated in the trip have learned a lot, not only about themselves but about the world surrounding them,” Isaac said. “And, it has impacted my life, as well, as just a simple college kid having the opportunity to study in the United States. Right now, to see that there is something I can do to help my country—to help another student come to school just like I did—is one of the greatest things. I just can’t wait to see what this organization can do in the future.”