Sleeping in tents, meeting representatives from grassroots organizations, playing soccer with the locals and helping rebuild a school are just a few of the activities a group of local students managed to fit in over their summer trip.
A delegation of 15 high school and college students, including seven from Los Altos High School, teachers and one parent embarked on a good-will mission to Port-au-Prince. Their goal was to bring aid to Haitian community organizations and pitch in to rebuild a Haitian school following the devastation caused by the 7.0 earthquake Jan. 12.
Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based non-profit group, organized the trip. Los Altos High teacher Seth Donnelly, who has visited Haiti eight times, initiated Los Altos High’s participation after students approached him expressing interest in assisting Haiti firsthand.
“It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life to see how our delegation just game to life while bonding with Haitian peers and activists,” Donnelly said.
Several students who traveled to Haiti volunteered with the Los Altos High-originated One Dollar for Life (ODFL) organization. ODFL-participating high schools raised approximately $20,000 for Haitian relief. Half of the money was delivered via the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, a Bay Area organization that collaborated closely with Haitian grassroots organizations, schools, farming co-ops and women’s groups even before the earthquake, Donnelly said.
The students distributed the remaining $10,000 this summer to various Haitian groups through the Haitian Emergency Relief Fund.
“One hundred percent of the money from the ODFL drive was given to grassroots organizations, unlike a lot of large aid,” Donnelly said. “Students were able to see dollar for dollar that everything they raised went to actual organizations in Haiti.”
Donnelly said that during the students’ stay in Haiti, they witnessed how little of the major aid – pledged by governments and raised by nongovernmental organizations – seems to actually reach the people of Haiti.
“You need to give in a sustainable way,” said Ian Glasner, a Los Altos High School senior who participated in the venture. “You know that you are going to make a difference, but you cannot see it right away.”
While distributing the $10,000, students witnessed the courage, ingenuity and tenacity of Haitian leaders active in women’s groups, schools and other community organizations, who are trying to rebuild their country against the odds, Donnelly said.
“The earthquake happened six months ago, and there is still rubble everywhere,” Glasner said. “The streets are torn up, and the government has done nothing.”
In addition to distributing money, Donnelly said the group:
• Established deep ties of friendship and solidarity with Haitian activists and youth.
• Distributed medical supplies, donated by an Oakland nurse, directly to the Aristide Foundation, which operates mobile medical teams that serve people in the camps.
• Participated in the construction of a new Haitian school.
• Distributed approximately 200 solar-powered lights, donated by One Million Lights and World Centric, to Haitian community organizations.
• Distributed food and dental supplies to youth in Cité Soleil, one of the poorest areas in Port-au-Prince.
Glasner said he felt differently about life when he returned from Haiti.
“When I came back, my friends were like, ‘You missed so much,’” he said. “I couldn’t care less. People were dying in Haiti. Television is boring. I couldn’t care less about seeing the latest movie or sitcom.”
Glasner said he hopes to accompany Donnelly on another trip to Haiti.
For more information on Haitian aid, visit www.haitisolidarity.net.
For more information on One Dollar for Life, visit www.odfl.org.