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William Van OrnumFebruary 14, 2012

One of the great things about teaching is learning from students, hearing about their adventures and quests into the wider world, and perhaps most importantly sharing their sense of helping others and working to make the world a better place. One of the students in my Fall 2011 Psychological Testing class at Marist College has been on two missions to Haiti and plans to go again. One of her abiding interests is also in providing clean water for those in poor countries. I will let Katherine Stebbins's eloquent words speak for themselves:

In June 2007 Elisabeth Kennedy and Pastor Jean Phares Beaucejour co-founded the HELO (Home, Education, Love, Opportunity) Haiti orphanage. Elisabeth Kennedy works for HELO from Connecticut while Pastor Beaucejour helps in his country, Haiti, and five times a year Elisabeth is able to travel to Haiti. Elisabeth brings a “team” of people on each of these trips. I was fortunate enough to be one of the people that has gotten to go with her twice.

Everyone I talked to told me that if I wanted to see poverty, Haiti was the place to go. I took a class called Haiti, Solidarity, and Praxis before going and I became well aware that my experience in Haiti would be extremely difficult. However, I thought I was prepared for it. The second I walked out of the airport in Port-au-Prince I realized that there was nothing that could possibly prepare me for what I was about to see. Walking to our van Haitian boys were hanging on the fences asking for money in Creole. When we got on the van I could not help control the tears rolling down my face as we passed hundreds and hundreds of tents and piles of garbage and dirty water that went on for hours. There was no escaping the now nostalgic smell of diesel and garbage; the smell of Haiti.

The first day at the orphanage the kids were all waiting. I will never forget the moment as we got off the bus and the kids hesitated at first and then quickly came running up to us with big smiles and open arms. At the orphanage we played soccer, colored, sang, laughed, and hugged a lot. To help myself from taking in all of the poverty I kept focused on the children, feeling that I was doing something positive in their lives.

Another day we went to a Restevek Alliance home. The children at this home are very damaged mentally and physically as they are child slaves that were saved. One boy had scars all over him- his head, his legs, everywhere. Emotionally, it seemed that he had even more scars. Slavery is not illegal in Haiti and it is a huge problem. We also went to a hospital in Les Cayes to hand out baby kits to the baby’s mothers and stuffed animals to the older children, the things I saw in the hospital will never leave my mind- the extremely malnourished children, bodies bandaged with dirty bloody gauze, the children’s tears and screams.

I spent my first trip fighting back tears, with my heart breaking over and over again. For the second trip I was determined to really figure out if and how I could help. I know that just going there to see the children and giving them as much love as possible is very important but this time I knew I wanted to do something else. I found an art project where the children could make rocks into ladybugs. The children ended up making fifty ladybugs and I brought them home and they will be used for fundraising. Now that I am back from my second trip I know that the heartbreak never ends, but with that the motivation never ends. My current project is focusing on building a fourth home for the HELO orphanage, with another home, more children will be given opportunity and the country of Haiti will little by little be able to rebuild.

William Van Ornum


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JR Cosgrove
12 years 3 months ago
Dr. Van Ornum,

A couple things:

Your student may be aware of them but Planet Money on NPR did several podcasts on Haiti in the last two years especially after the earthquake.  They examine the problems from an economic point of view which is one of the key problems with Haiti.  A link to their stories on Haiti is


She should also get some of the basics of economics which is quite easy and not that expensive because as I said above a lot of the issues are economics but far from all.  Here is a great inexpensive course that one can download to your IPod or smart phone and listen to at leisure.  It is currently on sale for $19.99.  There are others but this is a great course for anyone who wants to get started on economics.


The problems go much further than economics and one has to look at other social influences as well.  There are several other French speaking countries in the area that have taken a very different path than Haiti.  Most are somewhat propserpous and still are considered part of France.  I have been to Martinique and Guadeloupe and while these islands are not down town Manhattan, they are very livable places.  Your student might want to explore why the disaster in Haiti while people of the same origin only a short distance away are doing much better.
Stanley Kopacz
12 years 3 months ago
The slaves of Haiti had the temerity in 1804 to revolt against their French masters and establish an independent country.  In 1824, the French rightly penalized the Haitians for stealing French property, namely the bodies of the Haitians that their spirits were merely occupying, by imposing a debt of 150,000,000 francs.  The US, having many slave-owning businessmen, joined in pressuring Haiti on this matter.  The debt was reduced in the 1830's to 60,000,000 francs by the merciful French and paid off in full by Haiti in the 1880's.  Perhaps Haiti accelerated the imposition of this punishment by giving troops, money, and material to Simon Bolivar on condition that slaves be freed in liberated territories.  Things would be so much simpler if people would just know their place and keep it.

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