Thursday, July 14, 2011

McPherson College group returns from Haiti with new perspective.

On a path in Haiti, Tori Carder found herself alone with the Haitians hosting the Global Enterprise Challenge team from McPherson College. Not knowing the language well, Carder began to simply hum the hymn "How Great Thou Art." All the Haitians around her joined in, and a connection was made beyond words.

The moment encapsulates a significant accomplishment of McPherson College’s Global Enterprise Challenge--building a relationship with the people of Haiti, and changing the students’ perspective on the world. After their journey to Haiti from May 30-June 6, Carder said now she noticed amenities she used to take for granted--such as running water and abundant food. "It’s harder to just go back to everyday life," the Eudora, Kan., sophomore said.

The road to Haiti started in Nov. 2010 for five McPherson (Kan.) College students, when the college challenged its students to take 10 days and come up with a sustainable venture to help the people of Haiti. In this "Global Enterprise Challenge," 30 students worked together in six assigned teams on thoughtful, creative proposals. The winning team members each won a scholarship and the opportunity to travel to Haiti.

The winning team consisted of Carder; Steve Butcher, sophomore, Atlantic, Iowa; Nate Coppernoll, freshman, Stillman Valley, Ill.; Melisa Grandison, senior, Quinter, Kan; and Ryan Stauffer, senior, Milford, Neb. They were accompanied by Kent Eaton, provost, and Ken Yohn, associate professor of history. Their winning concept--called "Beyond Isles"--was to create a community market that would incorporate a physical market on the ground in Haiti as well as open up global markets through the Internet.

After arriving in Haiti, however, the plan changed. The team landed in the earthquake-damaged capital of Port-au-Prince, then traveled over land and by boat to the community of Aux Plaines on Tortuga Island, where the Church of the Brethren has a local church. A member of the Aux Plaines community is now a member of the Church of the Brethren in Florida, and she acted as a guide during the team’s time in Haiti.

In Aux Plaines, it became apparent that the people of Haiti had greater immediate needs and that substantial improvements in infrastructure would be necessary to make Beyond Isles a reality. In meeting those immediate needs, the students helped the Haitian community to dig out a pond, worked with children in the local school, and built connections.

Eaton said the team gained a clearer understanding of the complexity of the needs in the Aux Plaines community, and that the relationships that developed would be critical in future work on Tortuga Island. "Sharing shovels and space together, it was a way to say, ‘This project is so important, we want to help you with it,’" he said. "‘We’re willing to get up to our knees in mud to help you with it.’ It forms the foundation for a significant relationship."

Yohn said that because of the complexities in Haiti, it was hard to make general statements. "You find the human condition is amplified--it’s writ large," he said. "At the same time you have this sense of poverty, there’s also this sense of nobility."

Everywhere he went in Haiti, Yohn said, he felt like the sun was rising--that the potential for improvement was just on the horizon.

-- Adam Pracht is coordinator of development communications for McPherson College.

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