Spring break trip to Haiti allows Eastern Michigan students to partner with Haitian students; learn about efforts to rebuild communities devastated by earthquake

Eastern Michigan University is only Michigan school to participate

by Pamela Young, Published May 13, 2014

YPSILANTI – Most Alternative Spring Break opportunities offered by universities are located in needy areas in the United States. This year is different. Eastern Michigan University students have expanded their spring break choices to include Haiti, a Caribbean country still dealing with the severe after-effects of a 2010 earthquake.

Seven EMU students teamed up with Haitian university students April 28 to May 9 to share their experiences and learn from Haitian students as well.

(from left) Haley Moraniec, Brea Haywood and Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija learn how to cook Haitian food.

Haiti Campus Compact, a national alternative spring break organization, arranged for the trip.

This is only the second time that EMU students have traveled out of the country for an alternative spring break. The first trip was to the Dominican Republic in 2006.

The students were housed at Na Sonje, a foundation that specializes in teaching others about Haiti and that sponsors grassroots Haitian organizations.

“We wanted to become aware of the problems facing Haiti and learn about the efforts they are taking to rebuild their communities,” said EMU’s Haley Moraniec, a social work major from Livonia, Mich.  “We traveled throughout the country learning about how the Haitian people are supporting themselves and building sustainable communities despite the problems they face. The goal of the partnership was to learn to walk in the shoes of the Haitian people.”

Other EMU students participating were:

  • Megan Anthony, graduate student in social foundations of education, Ann Arbor;
  • Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija, doctoral student in educational leadership, Ann Arbor;
  • Courtney Smith, graduate student in public administration, Detroit;
  • Alex Weberman, graduate student in Teaching English as a Second Language, West Bloomfield;
  • Sydney Glass, undergraduate in social work, Highland Park, IL,
  • Brea Haywood, undergraduate in English, Ann Arbor.

The Compact’s goal is to engage U.S. campuses in effective and sustainable service work in and for Haiti through 2015 to ensure consistent and mutually beneficial support.

“We learned about sustainable farming efforts, micro-finance for women and the healthcare system,” Moraniec said. “In general, we also learned about development through grassroots programs, and non-governmental and international organizations.”  

The rural areas and tent cities in Haiti have been working on building solidarity in their communities and are attempting to implement sustainable farming efforts that can feed the community on food grown and made only in the country.

The micro-finance efforts are through organizations that give micro-loans to women to become artists and entrepreneurs through artwork, clothing, jewelry and other things they make.

In addition to Eastern Michigan, six other colleges and universities are participating in the program. They are the College of William and Mary, the University of Maryland, American University, Loyola Marymount University, Middlebury College and the University of Connecticut.  Each school travels to Haiti at different times and undertakes a specific project.

Eastern’s Alternative Spring Break program is sponsored through EMU’s VISION Volunteer Center. VISION (Volunteers Incorporating Service into Our Neighborhoods) provides students and the EMU community with opportunities to learn more about social issues, develop leadership skills and get involved to make a positive change in society.


Pamela Young

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