While many students were lying on the beach and working on their tans or working summer jobs to earn extra spending money for the upcoming school year, a group of four Randolph-Macon students, Kethelyn Beauvais ’15, Umeki Fuchess ’16, Shuyan Zhan ’16, and Jessica Hill ’18, spent their summer bringing computers and solar power to Ecole St. Gabriel School in Lascahobas, Haiti through the Davis Project for Peace.
In 2010 Haiti was devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake. Though the death toll is not a definite number, it is estimated that nearly 300,000 Haitian people were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced from their homes.
“There is so much debris still,” sophomore Jessica Hill said. Hill described the roads as uneven and said that many of the houses now have roofs made out of tin. She also said that many of the buildings lost the integrity in their structures and have since been abandoned. Some buildings, Hill stated, have become garbage dumps since the structures are “so far past fixing.”
By visiting an area that was so severely devastated, as well as less advanced in many facets, these four R-MC students were given a different perspective. Having air conditioning and running water are two luxuries that the Haitian people do not enjoy.
“We got used to sweating a lot,” Jennifer Shotwell, the advising professor on the trip, explained.
The temperature for the duration of the trip was primarily in the nineties and through living without air conditioning units, Hill ’18 said that the experience taught her that “societies can function just fine without them.” Hill also gained a deeper appreciation for the society she lives in now.
While in Haiti, the students’ main project was to set up computers at Ecole St. Gabriel School. The school had originally gained the laptop computers seven years before the R-MC students’ arrival, but they had just been sitting in a closet, “collecting dust,” as Hill described. One of the first steps in setting up the computers was setting up a source of power in general. Hill recalled that they “hired some local electricians to construct a frame for [their] solar panels.” Once the frames were constructed, Shuyan Zhan ’16, and William and Mary student, Sora Edwards ’18, wired the solar panels to a charging station. Once the construction was done, the team was able to set up the laptops and hold training sessions with the teachers in order to teach them how to use the laptops.
While the team worked on the computers, they reported that “the children would often crowd around, creating a human wall where the porch ended” and would watch them work. One child in particular, Meenylee, stood out to the entire group. Meenylee, a 13 year old student at St. Gabriel, was an inspiration to the team. Since the native language in Haiti is Creole, it was very rare to find an English speaking person in Lascahobas. One day, while working on the computers, Hill was surprised when, from the crowd of children, she heard the small voice of a little girl say “hello” in English. Hill turned to see who had uttered “hello” to her and her team, and found that it was a young girl trying to squeeze her way closer.
After this experience, the team began to build a relationship with Meenylee. Meenylee practiced her English with the team and had them teach her how to count above the number 5 in English. The team even invited Meenylee to learn how to use the computers when they gave instruction to the teachers. Meenylee had a collective effect on all of the students on the trip and Kethelyn Beauvais ’15 said that one thing she appreciated “was the amazing spirit of the children and students.”
The main take away for these students was that they learned to appreciate their culture along with other cultures in a whole new way, and they learned just how much a single person can impact the world. Now a graduate student, Beauvais said she loves giving back and being able to be a part of a “self-sustainable project.” Beauvais ’15 hopes to continue work in Haiti, as she is now progressing in the medical field through graduate school.
-Kayla Koslosky ’18, Junior Features Editor