BHS students get first-hand view of poverty in Haiti | Guest Viewpoint

For many kids, Spring Break means family trips to the beach or the ski slopes. But an amazing group of intrepid Bainbridge High School students recently returned from a week in Haiti, where they visited poverty-stricken remote villages and brought school supplies to children studying in crowded classrooms, many of which were built out of sticks and fabric walls.

The students, most of them members of the BHS Global Health Club, organized the Spring Break trip so they could learn more about Haiti and the organization Partners In Health, a Boston-based nonprofit health care organization.

They wasted no time in organizing two local events to raise awareness of the needs in Haiti:

• In partnership with the Bainbridge Island School District’s Multicultural Advisory Council, the Global Health Club will show “Bending the Arc,” a documentary about Partners In Health, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 16 at the Commodore Commons.

• The Global Health Club also is hosting a Strides In Solidarity 5K at Battle Point Park on Saturday, June 2. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. with the walk/run to start at 9 a.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit Summits Education, an offshoot of Partners In Health, which works in the Central Plateau region with the lowest literacy rate in the Western Hemisphere.

When I learned of the high school group’s interest, I immediately put together an awareness trip to Haiti. I think learning about differences in our world can’t start early enough. Students are very perceptive and have a great capacity to learn about and promote social justice in our world. Their enthusiasm for justice is infectious!

Our group included BHS Seniors Brielle Kinkead, Stella Streufert, Sara Colley and sophomores John Colley and Kendall Havill, and adult chaperones Pamela Kinkead and Jill Colley. The students spent a week learning and observing by visiting Partners In Health and its affiliates, including Summits Education, which operates a network of 40 public primary schools in partnership with the Haitian Ministry of Education.

The teens came back with a better understanding of obstacles the people in Haiti face and a mission to inspire others to participate, advocate and fundraise for ongoing projects under way in Haiti. “The trip had a profound effect on me,” John Colley says. “I feel even more grateful for where I live, and I definitely want to go back and help.”

The students want to raise money for the schools in Haiti, many of which operate in unfinished wood and tarp structures. All the proceeds from the Strides in Solidarity event will go to Summits Education’s infrastructure support program, which will help schools that haven’t yet been built.

Brielle and Stella, Global Health Club co-directors, said they were shocked to learn that 85 percent of teachers lack basic qualifications and 80 percent of Haitian students can’t continue after primary school. “We feel so privileged to have grown up on Bainbridge Island with such an amazing education system that we can’t sit around while others don’t have access.”

Summits Education is improving student outcomes by providing teacher training, materials/supplies, curriculum development, infrastructure support, sanitation programs and food programs.

The Haiti trip was not school-related, but the group is working with Trish Corsetti, the club’s faculty advisor, and Bainbridge Island School District to propose similar trips in the future.

Brielle said she wanted to go to Haiti to learn more about Partners In Health, expose others to the work they do, encourage others to join the Global Health Club, and raise awareness and funds for the ongoing improvement projects in Haiti. “I also wanted to let everyone know that we should all do and study what we love because global health needs everyone and all their skills to succeed.”

Stella agreed, adding: “It’s important to change our perspective and also to explore and be inspired about what to do after the trip.”

I’m so proud of this group and I applaud their efforts to spread the word on the needs in Haiti. Awareness trips to Haiti are valuable because you see such stark differences in the way people live, which profoundly affects the way one looks at the world and their own community.

Laura Van Dyke of Partners In Health Engage is the volunteer community coordinator for Bainbridge Island.