POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — From March 9-16 nine representatives of the Vassar Haiti Project, including students from the college, as well as a local nurse and nutritionist, will travel to the isolated and impoverished Haitian village of Chermaître to deliver basic supplies, support a school building project, and conduct a health assessment.
Largely through auctions and sales of Haitian art, the Vassar Haiti Project has raised more than $200,000 for Chermaître, which is replacing its one-room, windowless, dirt-floored school with a new seven-room structure. The project's next annual major auction and sale will be held at Vassar on April 11-13, with items on view earlier in the week at the college's Palmer Gallery (http://projects.vassar.edu/haiti/index.htm).
As part of their upcoming trip, the Vassar Haiti Project will be assessing the progress of the school’s construction and exploring future projects for the school, such as solar-powered electricity. They will bring supplies for Chermaître, including medical equipment and supplies, clothing, art supplies for local artists and their apprentices, hand-crank flashlights for the school, and school supplies, games, toys, toothbrushes, and toothpaste for the children. Many of the supplies were donated by local businesses or by Vassar’s alumnae/i association.
With nutrition consultant Caryn Halle and registered nurse Deb Hillard along, the group will also conduct basic health measurements of the villagers, engage in educational activities with village children, and explore future on-site opportunities for service learning internships.
Learning about other health and improvement initiatives in Haiti will also be on the group's agenda. They will visit both Konbit Sante, a clinic in Cap-Haitien run by a rotation of doctors from Portland, ME, as well as the MedsForKids factory in Cap-Haitien, which manufactures a nutritional supplement to help battle malnutrition. In addition, the group plans to meet with a team in Gros Morne about reforestation and other projects in the area, and with artists and artisans in and around Chermaître.
"We're excited about the wide-ranging experience, and we will bring many strengths, including Vassar students for the first time, freshman Raluca Besliu, sophomore Emily Strasser, junor Grace Tan, and senior Ken Simons," explained Vassar Haiti Project co-founder Andrew Meade, the college's Director of International Services. Fellow co-founder Lila Meade and volunteer Greg Flaherty will round out the group.
Fundraising efforts are underway to help defray the trip's expenses, and the Vassar Haiti Project welcomes donations. For more information call (845) 437-5831 or send an email via the college contact form.
Husband and wife team Andrew and Lila Meade founded the Vassar Haiti Project in 2001, with the modest initial goal to help pay for one hot meal each day for approximately 150 Chermaître school children, and to use the remaining funds to help pay teachers' salaries. The idea struck such an immediate and strong chord that within two years the project raised nearly $40,000, and decided to choose a higher ambition: to help Chermaître replace its decrepit school.
The project also strives to increase public understanding about Haitian culture and history, and it has steadily expanded its reach through community partnerships, which include Poughkeepsie's Spackenkill High School and Jewish Community Center. Nurse Deb Hillard, who will be part of the group traveling to Haiti, co-chairs the Haiti Committee for Trinity Episcopal Church in Fishkill, NY.