Photo courtesy of Zips for Haiti
Rather than spending their winter breaks relaxing, a group of 25 University of Akron students ventured abroad on a service trip to Ouanaminthe, Haiti and visited a school called Institution Univers (IU) from Jan. 10-17.
The study abroad program, part of a Leadership Experience Project, occurred for the first time last December. The program allows students to spend a week engaging in service projects, developing leadership skills, and experiencing the culture of the country. The Institute for Leadership Advancement in the College of Business Administration supports the program.
Rachel Salberg, a senior pre-exercise science major, spearheaded the planning for the program, along with the co-student leaders Mike Robinson and Zeke Isaac and the advisor Kevin Smith.
During the trip, the participants taught Haitian students a variety of subjects including English, art, college experience, and career sessions.
Outside of the classrooms, UA students assembled 30 bed frames and an indoor basketball hoop. They also donated soccer balls, volleyballs, and basketballs.
According to Smith, the main goal of the program is for students to develop leadership skills through global immersion as they experience “two very different countries, two very different cultures, currencies, languages, and ways of life.”
Visiting local landmarks, students hiked up a mountain to visit called La Citadelle, an old fortress used by the Haitians after they gained their independence from France at the beginning of the 19th century. Students also visited Fort-Liberté, a fort where the French once defended the island.
In addition, the students toured the village, visiting schools, orphanages, nursing homes, markets, stores, banks, and the homes of the locals.
“Haiti has forever changed how I approach day-to-day activities,” said Julie Vondra, reflecting on her time in Haiti. “Experiencing real poverty has given me fervor to fully immerse myself in becoming the best person I can be and to take every opportunity that comes my way.”
This year, another Haiti program is scheduled for May 23-30 and plans are underway for an additional trip in December or January.
In addition, Zips for Haiti, which formed following the first trip last year, is a student-run nonprofit organization dedicated toward the benefit of Haitian schools.
The group has raised $4,000 from fundraisers and coffee sales this year. One of the major goals is to fund a 4-year scholarship for Haitian student to study at the University of Akron.
As interest for the program rises, Zips for Haiti’s membership continues to grow. The student organization will hold its first meeting of the semester on Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. in the Student Union, Room 335. For more information visit zipsforhaiti.org.