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Small island has large impact on students

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When a group of seven students and one kindergarten teacher volunteered for the VCU service-learning Haitian Empowerment Program, they knew they wanted to make a difference in Haiti.

What they didn’t realize was the effect Haiti would have on them.

VCU students Brea Mangrum, Mariam Nadri, Attallah Muhammad, Darrell Haley Jr., Latessa Miracle Allums, Jessica Watts and Zel Hawkins spent three weeks this summer in Haiti as part of a life-changing trip. Amirah Bohler, a kindergarten teacher, joined the students.

The trip’s leader, Micah McCreary, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, had previously visited Haiti twice since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the small island nation in 2010.

“This trip was a culmination of the previous two,” McCreary said. “My first was for guidance, the second for service. On this trip I went as a guide as well as a teacher. After two weeks, I counseled the people, and the students did all the teaching.”

Part of that teaching included helping children learn English and social studies at Grace International’s Lamartiene School in Port Au Prince during the group’s first week in the country. The second week they volunteered at the Grace Village Home for Girls and Boys in Carrefour. Finally, they assisted with the construction of Lambi Village, a small village being built in Gressier.

Students not only taught, they learned about Haitian culture, education, health care and building construction.

“Being in Haiti was a great experience for me,” said Muhammad, a senior VCU psychology student. “I definitely want to return again. The culture is really something special.”

The lessons learned in Haiti will stay with the volunteers forever, and they are eager to share not only their stories, but the impact the trip made on their lives.

“It was very life-changing,” said Haley, a senior VCU psychology student. “It changed my perspective. I now know what I really want to do is help people. I know what my goal is now.”

The students returned inspired by the Haitians' fortitude despite the hardships they face daily.

“They don’t complain about hunger because they are so strong,” said Nadri, a senior VCU psychology and pre-med student. “I couldn’t look at my food knowing they haven’t eaten. It made me very emotional.”

Muhammad agreed.

“The Haitians are a resilient people,” Muhammad said. “They have the desire, they want to learn, and although they face poverty, malnutrition and substandard facilities, they have the inner strength to do what they have to do, to be what they want to be.”

The VCU Global Education Office, Department of Psychology and Division of Community Engagement worked in collaboration with the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Board and Grace International Inc. to sponsor the trip.

Grace International is a nonprofit dedicated to providing health care, education and spiritual guidance, and feeding and empowering the needy.  Started in 1974, it manages churches, schools, orphanages and other institutions in Haiti.

The Lott Carey Foreign Mission Board was founded in 1897 by African-American Baptists interested in helping churches around the world through programs in health, education and ministry.


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VCU student Jessica Watts with a Haitian child
VCU student Jessica Watts with a Haitian child
Latessa Miracle Allums, a 2013 VCU graduate, gets a hug
Latessa Miracle Allums, a 2013 VCU graduate, gets a hug