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Global Enterprise Challenge Returns from Haiti with Global Perspective, New Relationships

Global Enterprise Challenge: Haiti | June 22, 2011 | Comments Off

GEC Team working in Haiti

Dr. Kent Eaton (left), provost, and Nate Coppernoll (right), freshman, Stillman Valley, Ill., work to help create a fish pond in Aux Plaines, Haiti, as the culmination of the Global Enterprise Challenge.

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 to 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. “I’m definitely feeling a need to react.”

The road to Haiti started in November 2010 for five McPherson 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”, the 30 McPherson College students worked together in six assigned teams and blew away the judging panel with their 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 Dr. Kent Eaton, provost, and Dr. 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. 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, they helped the Haitian community to dig out a pond for a fish farm, worked with children in the local school and built connections with the Haitian community. Dr. 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,’” Dr. Eaton 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.”

In their time there, the students discovered both the rich culture and overwhelming challenges facing this Caribbean country. Grandison said the economic poverty was impossible to ignore. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with most Haitians making less than 50 cents per day. At the same time, that lack of money doesn’t define them, she said.

“On one hand, it’s haunting. On the other hand, it gives me energy and pushes me,” she said. “It’s hard to ignore something when you’re slapped in the face with it.”

Stauffer was also struck by the Haitians’ personal pride, their generosity and the potential just under the surface in a country of beautiful people and places. Their hosts fed them out of their own resources and sheltered them in their own homes.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Stauffer said. “It’s hard accepting it when you know that it was a big sacrifice for them to make us feel at home and be welcome.”

Dr. Yohn said that because of the complexities in Haiti, it was hard to make general statements about it.

“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, Dr. Yohn said, he felt like the sun was rising – that the potential for improvement was just on the horizon.

As they prepared to leave, Grandison said she experienced moments that she would carry with her: the school children singing “Au Revoir” to them on their last day there; a woman who asked Grandison to always remember them and keep them in her heart; and a Haitian student who said she wished she was smaller to fit into Grandison’s suitcase.

“I wish my suitcase was larger,” Grandison replied.

Grandison and the other members of the team said that the experience had changed their outlook and would influence their lives and careers.

“I’m not finished working there,” Grandison said.

Dr. Eaton said he was encouraged in the development in the students’ maturity across the course of the trip to an especially difficult area of the world.

“Haiti is a hard place to go to,” Dr. Eaton said. “And then it’s a hard place to leave because you have to acknowledge that you can leave. They had to move from comfort and privilege to go to live with people who are on the underside, looking up. You can’t come back without having matured with what you want to do with your life. I think these students will have something to teach us about global citizenship and what it means to serve.”

Dr. Eaton said he hopes that McPherson College’s Global Enterprise Challenge is just the first step of a long-term engagement in helping the people of Haiti.

“We like to rush in and fix things,” Dr. Eaton said. “But there’s a level of economic issues that have no quick fix.”

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