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Spring break 2011: Students to go to Haiti

By Nate Powell-Palm

Over spring break, 10 Grinnellians will travel to Haiti to witness the effects of the earthquake and help rebuild in what will be Grinnell’s second major effort to help the people of Haiti.

Last month marked the one year anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti which killed between 92,000 and 220,000 people and left nearly two million homeless. Last January, Grinnell College students coordinated events to raise awareness and money. They raised over $5,500.00.In November 2010, sixty-five Grinnellians applied for eight spots to go on this semester’s week-long trip to Haiti.

“[Students] were selected for interviews based on their answers to short essay questions about their desire and commitment to work in Haiti, and what they would be able to offer Haiti and the Grinnell community,” said Professor Michelle Nasser, Spanish, the acting faculty advisor for the trip.

“In the interviews, students were asked to discuss the ways in which they would be able to contribute to the intentional community and how they would be able to share their efforts with the Grinnell community before and after the trip.”

Despite good intentions, people consistently question the methods by which relief is delivered, be it food, aid or volunteer building teams. But the volunteers on this trip are trying to be realistic about their impact.

“We would be naive to think that we are going to make a significant difference while spending just a week in Haiti,” said Erica Seltzer-Schultz ’12, a trip participant.

Seltzer-Schultz explained that this trip is as much about the betterment of Grinnellians as humanitarians as it is about the actual relief work that will take place.

“The trip will no doubt be just as if not more beneficial for us as it will be for the Haitians we meet,” she said.

The trip to Haiti this March will serve both the purpose of providing relief to affected Haitians, and giving students a chance to take what they talk about in campus clubs and classrooms and apply it to their work in Haiti, according to Debbie Cifuentes Ramirez ’13, another trip participant.

“Going to Haiti will give me the chance to share a part of who I am with someone and hopefully impact his or her life.” she said. “I know for a fact that volunteer opportunities are learning experiences, because I have learned many life lessons from those who I have helped.”

This trip will serve as a jumping off point for several trip participants who consider the possibility that they will devote their lives to humanitarian work.

“I believe this trip will really help me clarify where and in what capacity I could see myself working in international service/disaster relief work in the future,” Seltzer-Schultz said.

The week of February 14-18 has been designated “Haiti Awareness Week.” The week’s activities will include selling t-shirts to raise funds and a round table discussion at 4:15 on Tuesday, Feb. 15 in ARH 302.

Much like the Tunisia/Egypt forum presented last week, four faculty members—Professor Irene Powell, Economics, Professor Sarah Purcell, History, Professor Eliza Willis, Political Science and Professor Krista Bywater, Sociology—will give their assessment of the situation in Haiti and take questions from the audience.

On Friday, Feb. 18, the student participants of the trip will host a buffet-style dinner and show a film on Haiti. Student Organization of Latinas/os (SOL) will also be selling Valentine’s Day roses this week, and Concerned Black Students (CBS) will be hosting a dinner in the near future. All of the proceeds from these events will be donated to the organizations with which the Grinnell group will be working.

Lastly, there will be a reading of Haitian literature hosted by the library, date to be announced.

Students interested in participating in any of these events should contact Professor Nasser at

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