SU helps build community in Haiti

The Shippensburg University International Travel Series hosted a presentation last Thursday, Feb. 28, in Orndorff Theater titled “Building Community in Rural Haiti.”

Members who presented the program included Jonas Celius, current SU students Olivia Ickes and Bryant Snyder, and professors Blandine Mitaut and Agnes Ragone.

Mitaut and Ragone are both part of the modern language department at SU.

Celius, the father of one of Ragone’s students, was struggling to communicate with his relatives in Haiti.

Celius moved to the U.S. in 1992 to better his future, but he struggled to keep up with the Haitian dialect, which is primarily French. After Ragone did what she could to help the Celius family and learn more about Haiti through Celius’ eyes , she wondered if there was something more that could be done.

Ragone traveled with Celius to his hometown on the island of La Gonave. While there, Ragone found potential for a university trip in hopes of giving back to Gros-Mangles, Celius’ home village.

Ragone then brought her wishes back to the International Studies Program, where she, Mitaut and Jonathan Skaff developed a plan for a return trip to Haiti in support of a service-learning project.
While on her previous visit to Haiti, local teachers told Ragone that a playground for the Haitian children would be an ideal necessity.

Many Haitian roads are made of dirt and stone, and a child having a clear, healthy place to play is rare. Most children, some barefoot, are forced to run and play through the same brush patches where farm animals roam freely. Therefore, the service-learning project was to build these children a safe place to learn and grow.

With all plans in motion, Ickes, Snyder, Mitaut, Ragone, Celius and another student from Lock Haven University left for Haiti on Jan. 6.

The group stayed with the Celius family in Gros-Mangles.

Prior to departing for Haiti, the group raised funds to help build the concrete base of the playground for the children. However, with no electricity and water having to be lifted up out of wells for mixing, the task was quite challenging.

Luckily, the group was not alone in their efforts. Ragone explained that all of the villagers, from ages 4 to 80, wanted to help with the project.

“It was incredible to see that much support,” Mitaut said.

Ragone was quick to point out that the young residents of the island were of the largest help. The extra assistance even allowed the group to build a larger area than what they had originally planned.

“The children looked determined. They knew this was going to be their playground,” Ragone said.
After explaining the trip and service-learning project, Ickes and Bryant explained more on their overall experience.

“Reading and research can only take your mind so far. I’ve grown as a person from this experience,” Ickes said.

Next year, Ragone and Mitaut will travel to Haiti again with another group of students. This time, they want to work on restoring the local infirmaries.

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