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Transformation Through Service Learning



I have been back in the U.S. for five days now since returning from Grand Goave after my 17th trip (I think!) into Haiti. I have the honor of providing professional development training to day and evening staff at Brit’s Home four times per year and I lead a service learning group of students/faculty from Becker College (Worcester, MA) annually. As you might imagine, each trip is the same in many ways (heavy traffic, piles of trash in the streets with pigs foraging through for enticing tidbits, women selling their produce and wares in the marketplaces under difficult conditions, and the occasional – or not so occasional – vehicle accident).


At the same time, each trip is unique, especially when I have students with me as each person adds his or her own personality and contribution to the group. It is always uplifting to experience Haiti through the eyes of nascent students and the assumptions, perceptions, and personal values they bring to a week of service learning. This past trip was especially a new experience as we, in addition to helping build a home for a lovely family of seven on the mountain, we were immersed in to the culture of Haiti. We visited museums and Haiti/Yunus social business sites in Port-au-Prince, toured hospitals and clinics where we left with tears in our eyes and no answers to the question: “Why does it have to be like this for some people?” We observed a ceremony at a voodoo temple where the group learned there was nothing to be frightened about, and we took a “Friday drive” to Port Salud at the southwestern tip of the island. On the way, we stopped at a beach to watch fishermen haul in their nets filled with fish, shrimp, and crabs. We asked to take some photos, we asked questions, and we had the privilege to just be with ordinary people doing ordinary things.


And, of course, there is always time to frolic in the warm sea water and play in the sand with 66 children at the beach, to dance and sing with them, to read books, to hold and to comfort. We visited different market places, different churches, and different schools to compare and contrast all that we observed.


As many of you already know, Haiti is a place that pulls at you and doesn’t let go. We are often ready to leave Haiti and go back to our families and the comforts of home but, if you are like me, you can’t wait to go back. Most of the time I take notice of how my students are reflecting upon and processing their experience – especially if it is their first time coming face to face with extreme poverty. I know that Haiti, and our time spent at Brit’s Home, is a perfect way to develop and to enhance intercultural competencies and sensitivities, to learn how to navigate a world that is unequal in a socially responsible manner, and to demonstrate the ability to perceive any given event (and there are certainly many in Haiti!) from more than one cultural viewpoint. If you want to experience personal transformation, just go to Haiti or to any other developing nation.


And so I find that I must also take some quiet time to discover how I am continually transformed over and over again by my time in Haiti. I often think back to how I never had a desire to volunteer in Haiti, even before the earthquake in 2010. I was busy serving in Ghana, South Korea, and for several years in China – never thinking about Haiti. But then I learned about the Britney Gengel story while here at Becker and, from that moment on, my life changed. God led me to share in a family’s grief eventually leading to faith, hope, and abiding love.


I have often shared in sermons, and with students, that I was led to a place that was not on my horizon; to a place that has molded me into a better person – to a place at Brit’s Home where the entire staff is my family. I am grateful for all they have taught me over the years and how they have given me unconditional love and grace, transforming me over and over. As we always discover, we receive much more than we give. That is my reality when I am in Haiti.