For more than 20 years, buildOn has mobilized rural communities in some of the economically poorest countries on the planet like Haiti, which according to the UN's Human Development Index is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere with 77% of the population living below the poverty line of US $1.25 per day. Since 2001, buildOn's Global Service Learning Program has constructed 105 schools in Haiti, and thanks to the tireless fundraising efforts of 34 students from Harriton and Lower Merion high schools throughout the 2016-17 school year, that total has increased to 107.
After more than seven months of intensive, around-the-clock fundraising, the Aces' and Rams' buildOn Trek Teams ultimately raised more than $150,000 to construct a pair of schools in La Civette and Platon Robert - two rural, impoverished communities with boys and girls in desperate need of educational opportunities. Almost half of all primary school-age children in Haiti do not attend school, and Haitian public schools have the capacity to serve only one quarter of the school-age population. The money raised will also fund a pair of Adult Literacy programs, which are taught in the evenings in the same schools the children attend by day. The Adult Literacy classes give parents and grandparents the education they need to build better lives for themselves and their children. Seventy percent of students are female, and the Adult Literacy program gives women who were denied access to education as girls a chance to learn to read and write.
During their nearly two-week trip, the Harriton and Lower Merion teams were fully immersed in Haitian culture and customs of their villages as they lived with host families, participated in dynamic cultural workshops and deep reflection activities where they explored and discussed issues facing the host community, and worked side-by-side with villagers to construct the schools.
"I'll never forget indescribable feeling of approaching the village for the first time," said Harriton senior Alexandra Branscom. "After a few hours of driving on bumpy dirt roads through the mountains, we stopped in the middle of the road because we saw a sea of people emerge from the distance. As we got out of the car and walked closer, I recognized that it was the whole village waiting to greet us. The children stood up front in their white and blue checkered school uniforms waving branches to the sound of music. The rest of the village played instruments and sang. As soon as I knew it, we were all completely engulfed in the celebration of our arrival. Children rushed over to take our hands and give us their branches to hold with them. Several of the Trekkies even cried tears of joy as we danced with them for the first time. From the moment we arrived at Platon Robert to our departure, the Haitians treated us like their own. One of their favorite questions to ask was, 'do you feel at home in Haiti?', and I can confidently say that we did."
"The thing that stands out most to me about La Civette is their sense of community," recounted LMHS junior Kelsey Stanton. "Everyone in the village spends time on the worksite - even the little kids. Watching all of them carrying heavy rocks and buckets of cement with smiles on their faces inspired me to work harder myself."
"Some of my favorite Trek memories are spending time with the kids in our community," continued Stanton. "They are all so outgoing and loving. When we would walk around the community, they would just grab our hands and follow us, or even hold out their arms for us to pick them up. I am so grateful to have lived with am and I am glad that they are a part of my life."
The opportunities for growth throughout the Trek process are enormous as students learn the value of service and education while developing a deeper understanding of the world and themselves as agents of change. When students witness firsthand the incredible enthusiasm for education from children who lack access to it, they gain a renewed appreciation for their own educational opportunities.
Harriton Trek Slideshow
Lower Merion Trek Slideshow
To view a video recap of the Lower Merion Trek experience on the District's YouTube channel, click here.
Congratulations to all of this year's Trekkies!
Harriton: Homa Mirzai, Rachel Brown, Graham Branscom, Hannah Austwick, Grace Weaver, Jasmine McGranaghan, Madeline Taylor, Sam Eaddy, Yasmeen Majid, Barbara Peck, Aidan Fleming, Sophie Brown, Duncan Miller, Angela Sjoblom, Alexandra Branscom, Gina Golden, Todd Curyto, Jamie Nemec, Dan Imaizumi
Lower Merion: Kathryn Lockwood, Sophie Kamplain, Kelsey Stanton, Mollie Katzen, Gabby Van Hollander, Sean O'Kelley, Luke Howey, Samantha Gaier, Anna Goodman, Samantha Anderer, Josie Blumencwejg, Leah Owen-Oliner, Lily McClendon, Catherine Reed, Maddie Canter, Jenna Mancuso, Sara Chiappardi, Tom Reed, Leslie Bullitt, Dan Capkin