FAYETTE, Iowa (April 12, 2013) – Right now, 13 Upper Iowa University students are preparing to travel to the Caribbean in May. The students aren't planning a vacation; they are sitting in their modern classroom, cramming in everything they can about life in one of the poorest nations, Haiti. They are learning its history, politics, culinary fare and current living conditions in preparation for what they will experience during a service learning trip to Haiti during the UIU May term.
Dr. Eric Eller, UIU associate professor of international business and co-leader for the May term course, said what students learn in the classroom may help them process what they will encounter; however, nothing can compare to the actual experience of Haiti itself.
The service learning course is not an easy three credits. The students are expected to write a paper reflecting on their experiences and learning upon their return to campus. While that doesn't sound like a monumental task, it's the change within each person that makes this a difficult and oftentimes, soul-searching opportunity. During the week-long trip, the students are expected to journal and participate in nightly discussions to dialogue about their feelings and the events of the day.
"It's transformative," added Dr. Brian McQueen, UIU assistant professor of sociology. This is McQueen's second year co-leading the course and Eller's fourth.
Eller, McQueen and the students will volunteer with Partners In Development (PID) building homes for people still living in tent camps since the devastating earthquake of 2010.
Eller initially traveled to the country just four months after the earthquake killed 316,000 people and affected three million more. He became acquainted with PID as a way to involve Upper Iowa students and faculty in relief efforts in Haiti, Eller said. PID was founded in 1990 and works to transform communities to be self-sufficient through child sponsorships, small business loans, housing opportunities and medical care. PID is located in Blanchard, a district of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
In 2010, the first group from Upper Iowa saw the devastation first-hand as much of the rubble had yet to be cleared away. In 2011, when Eller returned with a new group of students, they performed manual labor – hauling cement, making bricks and digging a foundation. Upon their return to campus, photos and student essays were compiled into a book, To Haiti with Love. All proceeds of this self-published book support children in the PID Child Sponsorship program.
In May 2012, the UIU group made cement blocks by hand, transported cement in buckets and performed other hard manual labor for PID. Four UIU students utilized their nursing certifications and degrees by working in the PID clinic.
Over the course of the years, Eller said they have seen progress. Much of the rubble has been cleared away. During the May 2012 trip, he said it was great to see houses worked on by Upper Iowa students and faculty in previous years that are now finished and have people living in them. PID has been a force behind the construction of many of the homes in Blanchard. With help from groups like the Upper Iowa crew, PID is working hard to make life better for the displaced and poverty-stricken residents of the community.
A big component of PID is the child sponsorship program. This program, where a child can be sponsored for $30 per month until they reach the age of 18, really struck a chord with many in the University community. Currently, students and faculty sponsor 25 needy children and their families. Sponsorship allows a child to attend school, gives the family access to free health care, allows the parents to enroll in PID's business classes to receive microloans, and puts the family on a waiting list for a new home.
One UIU student, Amy Doeppke of Elkader, Iowa, is traveling to Haiti for the second year in a row. She is currently working on a grant to fund a special project in the country. Other students traveling to Haiti in 2013 include Kayla Brincks from Lawler, Iowa; Rosa Espinoza from Lecheria, Venezuela; Erin Friedley from Monona, Iowa; Michael Hoeper from Waverly, Iowa; Rachael Nelson from Waukon, Iowa; Heather Scroggins from Hawkeye, Iowa; Amanda Smith from Moline, Ill.; Kate Weston from Newton, Iowa; Hiroko Tsuru from Fukuoka, Japan; Chiaki Maeda from Tokyo, Japan; Alena Banks from Chicago, Ill.; and Dannielle Easton from Henderson, Iowa.
About Upper Iowa University Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs and leadership development opportunities to some 6,200 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and independent study. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.
Monica Bayer Heaton
Associate Vice President for Communication and Marketing