Five Niagara University students are spending a portion of the summer in Haiti, deploying the knowledge they’ve ascertained during their collegiate studies to assist children in one of the world’s most impoverished countries.
Morgan Dahlberg (of Farmington, Connecticut), Ana Diaz (Kitchener, Ontario), Marla Ernest (New Windsor, N.Y.), Amber Mis (Niagara Falls, N.Y.) and Brianna Smith (Syracuse, N.Y.) are serving as summer camp instructors at Lycée Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable, an educational institution founded by 1978 Niagara University alumnus Edward J. Brennan in Saint-Marc.
The NU students were chosen from a pool of more than 20 applicants for the seven-week internship. They are joined by Dr. Michelle Ciminelli, associate professor of education at Niagara University, Dr. Henrik Borgstrom, NU’s interim associate provost, and Adam Seecoomar, a student from Duke University. Dahlberg, Diaz and Smith are education majors, while Ernest is studying hospitality and tourism management and Mis is focused on business.
Brennan founded the school through Hand in Hand for Haiti, a nonprofit he established in response to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti after a catastrophic earthquake devastated the nation on Jan. 12, 2010. The school offers some of the poorest children in the country a trilingual education (Creole, French and English) and a full curriculum based on the International Baccalaureate program.
Niagara University and Hand in Hand for Haiti signed a formal agreement in September 2014 in which NU pledged to provide service, research and educational opportunities that support the comprehensive development and operation of Lycée Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable. The first cohort of interns and faculty members spent seven weeks in Saint-Marc last summer, helping to fulfill Brennan’s vision that “education in a world-class school is key to the growth, strength and long-term recovery of Haiti and vital to the spirit and independence of its people.”
This year’s group, since arriving July 12, has been helping the Haitian students with their English language skills, teaching sports and cooperative games, and promoting literacy through thoughtfully planned library activities. Thanks to items donated by family, friends and NU faculty members, the students arrived at Lycée Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable equipped with 50 recorders, 30 kites, three large parachutes, recorder lesson books, baseball equipment, field hockey gear, jump ropes, Frisbees and books. These items are being used throughout the summer and then left at the school for future use.
Diaz created a Facebook group for the interns to share their experiences with loved ones. Judging by the smiles seen in the dozens of photos that have already been posted, the mentors and mentees are certainly enjoying the experience.
“The kids and staff at Lycée Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable are so talented and their joyous attitude is contagious. We are so grateful for this opportunity,” Diaz wrote on Facebook.
“It is amazing to see how quickly the interns fell in love with the people and country of Haiti, and embraced their work with the children. I am so proud of them!” Dr. Ciminelli added. “I believe this experience will be life-changing for our interns, and am so thankful for the partnership NU has with Hand in Hand for Haiti.”
The Niagara students return home Aug. 28. The fall semester at NU begins Sept. 6.