During the next week, five students from Aspen High School are prepared to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of Haitian kids.
The effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti are still being felt as the country slowly recovers. More than 200,000 were killed in the 7.0 magnitude quake, with 1.5 million people left homeless from the devastation.
The five Aspen students – seniors Ben Belinski, Dominique Wojcik, Jacob Kadota and Allegra Galli, a senior exchange student from Florence, Italy, along with sophomore Tiana Perry – all left Saturday and return March 1 from Villard, Haiti, where they’ll be doing most of their work.
The students will deliver 150 schoolbooks in both English and French for the Villard school. They also plan to build a mini-library at the school to store the books in.
“We’re all super excited to go on this trip,” Belinski said. “The goal is to make a difference and an impact in the people’s lives in Haiti, but I also understand it will be difficult at times. This is going to be eye-opening to experience a different culture. I’m hoping to gain some real-life experience, as well as help the Haitian kids as much as possible.”
The students will participate in conjunction with the Haiti School Project to work with instructors and students in Villard on a variety of educational activities, including student-to-student teaching.
Tim Meyers, a Carbondale resident who learned about the lack of school buildings for children in Haiti following the 2010 quake and wanted to help, founded the Haiti School Project. Meyers now lives in Haiti full-time.
A local team of architects and builders flew to Haiti last year as part of the project to help complete the Villard school building.
Also going on the trip will be chaperones Mary Cate Hauenstein, a local counselor who visited Haiti when she was attending high school, and Richard de Campo, a local architect who visited Haiti last year as part of a team that helped build the school building in Villard.
“The brick and mortar part of the school is done,” de Campo said. “The real part of the school is the education. The Haitian students are pretty motivated. The desire is there, they just need some help and direction. It’s going to be a little jarring for our kids to see life in a third-world country, but this trip will likely influence the rest of their lives. ”
After de Campo returned from Haiti last year, he spoke with Aspen resident Charla Belinski and the two came up with the idea that would involve some local students to help in Haiti. Belinski asked her son, Ben, if he would be interested and Ben was more than enthusiastic. He approached some fellow Aspen High School students and those going on the trip all volunteered to participate.
The trip is backed by Aspen Chapel’s Kids for Kids and Snowmass Chapel’s Teen Action Council. Some of the goals of the program include teaching and learning beyond the classroom experience, understanding a very different socioeconomic environment, developing a sense of service to others and development of leadership and communication skills.
The students have put in countless hours fundraising and preparing activities. Ben Belinski said the students have now raised more than $4,000 for the trip through bake sales, fundraising within their church groups and pitching locally for donations.
“So many people have been extremely generous helping us raise money,” he said. “There’s been a lot of local enthusiasm behind the fundraising.”
Besides the books and the library project, the Aspen students have some science projects and geography lessons to share. They also hope to do some music together.
In addition to working at the Villard school, the students will visit the Albert Schweitzer Hospital located in Deschapelles, a town in the Artibonite Valley of central Haiti. They’ll also spend some time at the Mercy and Sharing Orphanage that was started by Aspen residents Susie and Joe Krabacher.
Galli is an exchange student from Italy and has traveled with her family, but hasn’t had an opportunity to travel to a country like Haiti by herself. She hopes to keep a journal and take many pictures to share with students in Aspen, as well as share her experiences with her friends in Italy.
“We’re hoping to build a connection with the kids in Haiti,” Galli said. “Hopefully this will be the first of many trips for Aspen kids to help out in Haiti.”
If people want to follow how the trip is progressing, they can go to a Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/aspenforhaiti where the kids will be posting pictures and comments during the visit.
“I’m hoping this trip can plant the seed for the next generation of student leaders to think in broader cultural terms,” de Campo said. “I’m willing to bet that our students won’t be the same after this trip. It’s going to force them to look at the world in a different way.”