2014-01-02 / Community

CLU students lend a hand in Haiti

By Anna Bitong


ON BOARD TO OFFER AID—Students working with a group known as Hands of Light in Action are spending winter break in Haiti helping teach sustainable farming techniques to the villagers. 
Courtesy of Hands of Light in Action ON BOARD TO OFFER AID—Students working with a group known as Hands of Light in Action are spending winter break in Haiti helping teach sustainable farming techniques to the villagers. Courtesy of Hands of Light in Action At Eglise Calvaire Baptiste Village in Ganthier, Haiti, many villagers have gotten sick from drinking filthy water from a creek where they also bathe themselves and clean.

The village is due to receive a water filtration system and other aid from student volunteers from Cal Lutheran University and Hands of Light in Action, a nonprofit that helps people in need, especially those affected by natural disasters.

Haitians are still struggling to recuperate from an earthquake in 2010 that destroyed most of the capital city, Port-au-Prince.

CLU sophomore Christina Geldert said she didn’t know what to expect during her first trip to Haiti with 11 other students who had volunteered to spend their winter break teaching sustainable farming techniques to villagers in the Caribbean nation.

“I’m trying to keep an open mind,” the 19-year-old said Dec. 27, the day before she was scheduled to travel. “Our biggest thing is to lead by example, to show them that the tools they already have are good enough for sustainable agriculture.”

The trip was the idea of Ryan Glatt, an exercise science major at CLU who founded the Students for Enlightenment and the Education of Sustainability (SEEdS) for Haiti club at the start of the fall semester to promote the service trip and raise funds for the project. Within a few months, other students offered to lend a hand in Haiti.

“I was by myself,” Glatt said, then “it exploded to something more than I imagined.”

Glatt said that many villagers eat one meal per day, and some don’t have enough vegetables in their diets.

“Some people grow some or all of their food and need better infrastructure,” he said. “The whole goal is to have them grow diverse crops.”

The group, which includes communication professor Russell Stockard, an expert in Caribbean studies, will complete their project with help from Supersistence, a Hawaiian permaculture organization, and Agua Inc., a water filtration company.

Glatt said that volunteers will live with villagers and, unlike typical service groups, will work alongside Haitian volunteers and lend their academic expertise. For example, film students Taylor Johnson and Berlin Galvan will document the experience. And Geldert, a pre-veterinarian medicine student, will care for dogs in the villages.

“Dogs are a huge problem there because they don’t get medical treatment,” she said. “In Haiti, they don’t put animals first as prized possessions like we tend to do in the United States. This leads to neglect, rural infections and ticks that manifest because of lack of care.”

The students, who are scheduled to return from Haiti on Jan. 17, will help residents of at least three impoverished villages to plant small gardens for crops that can thrive in the local soil, including sweet potatoes, leafy green vegetables, tropical fruits and beans, Geldert said.

The volunteers also plan to organize sports camps and distribute medical supplies.

So far they have raised more than $20,000 for their cause. Donors include the Kline Foundation, which gave $2,000; CLU student government, which donated about $8,000; and private donors and clubs such as the Moorpark Women’s Fortnightly Club, which gave a total of $10,000. In addition, about $3,000 of another $15,000 needed has been raised through a crowdfunding campaign at www.rally.org/ handsoflightinaction.

Some of the money will go toward setting up a garden and irrigation system at Eglise Calvaire Baptiste Village, where volunteers will also install soccer goal posts and teach nutrition and successful gardening practices.

“ There’s no greater gift than sustainability,” Glatt said. “We’re giving people something renewable, that will last forever or that is repairable.”

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