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Students experience social work first-hand in Haiti

Social work students on the ground in Haiti.

 

By Laura Woodford

In the fall of 2011, Dr. Delores Mullings' Social Justice class orchestrated many fundraising events to benefit HATS (Hands Across the Sea) Haiti. The class raised more than $6,500 plus other donations to benefit the organization founded and run by Newfoundlander Karen Huxter. In a recent unexpected turn of events, four of the students were presented with the opportunity to travel to Haiti in May to help out first-hand at the school and orphanage.

Ms. Huxter's brother, Don Huxter, saw the students' fundraising efforts broadcast on the NTV Evening News Hour one night last fall and decided to contact Dr. Mullings. He came to speak to the class and showed videos and photos of his sister's organization and the various teams who had travelled to Haiti to volunteer with her. He expressed how thankful they were of the students' efforts.

In late January, Mr. Huxter again contacted Dr. Mullings and said he suddenly had four spots available in the next team. Julie Osmond, Melissa Fiander, Brittany Lambert and Robyn Drake began fundraising once again, this time to cover the costs of their airline fees, vaccinations, medical and travel insurance, accommodations, food and transportation. They brought necessities, such as medical supplies and bed sheets, as well as toys for the children.

Ms. Fiander said it was eye-opening to see the difference between how people live in a developing country versus a developed country.

"As social workers in training, I think we have a certain insight, or world view, already, but seeing a developing nation first-hand really forces you to think, experience and apply it."

"It was a new sensory experience for me," said Ms. Osmond. "The devastation, the tent settlements throughout the countryside, the poverty – it was very sad."
Inside the HATS Haiti compound was a different story. The four social work students helped with washing and dressing the children, measuring out portions for meals, serving food, transporting goats and taking the children for vaccinations and to other important events.

"It was an amazing educational and cultural experience," said Ms. Osmond. "We learned for the first time what it was like to feel different simply because of the colour of our skin. You could feel the eyes on you walking through the village or market."

She said this experience has inspired her to go a different route with her social work career. "It has opened a door for me. International social work seems much more possible."

"Though some people may be skeptical about international aid organizations, HATS Haiti is definitely worthy of donations," said Ms. Fiander. "We saw for ourselves the good work being done. We would encourage social work students, or any student, to do these international trips whenever there's an opportunity."
Dr. Mullings and her students would like to thank friends, family, and the community for their generous support.

"For $17 a month, you can help a child get a uniform, go to school, and ensure they are fed," said Ms. Osmond. "We can do so much more than we're doing. People aren't aware that they can make a change by doing so little."
Both women said they are grateful for the experience. They have a new inspiration and motivation for social work and said knowing they've personally helped someone is a really good feeling. The experience has taught them to appreciate what they have and to turn "our privilege into production."

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