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College Students Spend Spring Break in Haiti
When you think of spring break destinations for college students, Haiti probably doesn’t top the list. The rebuilding projects in the earthquake-ravaged country don’t exactly convey a carefree vibe to combat the stresses of higher education. So, as I made my way to the streets of Port-au-Prince on my way to a Haiti Adolescent Girls Network meeting, I was surprised to come across a group of Howard University students who chose to skip beach parties and ski resorts in order to volunteer.
Located in Washington, DC, Howard University attracts many of the nation’s most accomplished students and is one of the United States’ premier historically black universities. Joseph Dillard, a senior majoring in political science at Howard, explained to me that, in addition to academics, the university stresses the importance of being a responsible member of the global community.
“At Howard, our motto is 'truth and service',” said Dillard. “That is what alternative spring break in all about.”
Dillard came to Haiti with a group of students whose degrees range from liberal arts to health. It was his first trip to the Caribbean country, and his energy and enthusiasm were high.
“There’s not much difference between us and the girls who are in the Espas Pa Mwen program,” Dillard stated, explaining that he’d come to Haiti to gain a better understanding and awareness of the commonalities of people across the African diaspora. “The main difference is that African Americans are more economically privileged than these girls.”
Dillard and his fellow spring breakers, many of whom were of Haitian descent and able to speak Creole, stayed in Haiti for one week. Their efforts focused on providing dental care education and conducting hearing tests in Croix des Bouquets and Petion Ville. However, the team still found time to help the girls plant a garden at the YWCA Haiti in Port-au-Prince, which is what they were on their way to do when we serendipitously crossed paths.
The compassion of this group of Howard University students reminded me that if we look for differences, we will find them. But when we take the time to break down the barriers that divide us, we discover we have more in common that we know.