By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Volunteers from the Diocese of Davenport and elsewhere in the U.S. traveled to Grand-Bois, Haiti, recently to work on teacher education and economic development through ServeHAITI. The group also brought supplies for Haitians to make rosaries as part of a rosary project supported by Father William Kneemiller, a priest of the Davenport Diocese.
Liz McDermott, trip coordinator for ServeHAITI, said groups spent anywhere from one to three weeks in Haiti during June and July. Among those spending three weeks in Haiti were volunteers who worked with Haitian teachers from 20 schools on different teaching methods. McDermott said next year 20 new schools will start the three-year program.
Katelyn McNamara, who teaches sophomore English at Assumption High School in Davenport, made her second trip to Haiti to participate in the teacher training program. “They can take what they learned from us to their classrooms.”
Although the U.S. teachers do not speak Creole or French and the Haitian teachers speak limited English, they manage to teach and learn through hands-on activities. “They are very eager to learn,” McNamara observed. She noted that the Haitian teachers are very interested in math. “We gave them base blocks to teach numbers.” Before receiving the blocks, the Haitian teachers used leaves, rocks or other items to illustrate math concepts.
McNamara said that during classroom visits she was able to see how Haitian teachers rigged up charts and other educational materials in rooms without full walls or roofs. Sometimes the school is also the church. She would like to help establish schools in Grand-Bois with walls, roofs and windows so that students and teachers have a better learning environment. “Education is so important for the future of their country. I want to help create a culture of learning.” ServeHAITI’s education program is “pivotal for the future of Haiti – to make their lives better,” she added.
Abby Peeters of Davenport made her fifth trip to Grand-Bois and stayed from the end of May through mid-July.“This summer I was working to complete my bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Iowa, doing a practicum placement at the clinic.”
She shadowed ServeHAITI’s full-time social worker, Jean Louis, and observed the community health workers that Louis oversees. They made home visits and assessments and met with several community members to discuss issues such as clean water, childhood malnutrition and refugees from the Dominican Republic. Peeters also assisted with teacher training, giving brief art lessons each week.
In the past she has helped ServeHAITI wherever needed.
“On my first trip to Grand-Bois I was 17 and had just graduated high school, and this year I was there as a 21 year-old college graduate. When I went that first summer, I had honestly expected it to be a one-time thing that would be a good experience before I left for college. As soon as I left Grand-Bois, I realized I could not imagine a day in my life when I did not go back to Haiti. There’s a vibrant spirit that lives in all those in the mountains of Grand-Bois and a true, raw passion for life. Days are long and challenging but they are met with dignity and faith beyond my measure or comprehension. There are profound, critical human needs that still need to be met in the areas of access to clean water, food security and malnutrition, industry, and education,” she said. “There is still a lot of work that ServeHAITI and its dedicated volunteers are trying to accomplish.”
ServeHAITI has volunteer groups traveling to Haiti almost every month, McDermott said. In the past they traditionally took one or two trips a year. “We have also been researching long-term volunteers so that we can have ‘boots on the ground’ to support our Haitian staff, especially now that the Dominican Republic refugee crisis is unfolding.”