haitian-children_web.jpg“I learned values; that you need to have hope, no matter what the situation is you need to have a smile.”

That’s what St. Thomas University student Alejandra Roser took away from her recent visit to Haiti. Roser, along with nine other students, recently returned from Port-de-Paix; the poorest region in the poorest country in our hemisphere.

The reason for the visit?

Through the Archdiocese of Miami Global Solidarity committee, the students, all part of the business course in Social Entrepreneurship, are working to implement long-term, sustainable projects to help the people in the region become more economically stable.

“They learned what social entrepreneurship really is. That it is for the social good of everyone,” St. Thomas University professor Judi Bachay said.

During this one-week visit in mid-April, students focused on three specific projects: First, a coffee cooperative to assist local farmers in creating a website and means to sell their goods here in the United States.

The goal is to have coffee ready for sale by this August. Students also spent time at a women’s artisan’s community where the local women create art to support themselves.

“I was very rewarding for us students to go over there and engage and to also partner with the different initiatives taking place in Haiti,” said Shantell Haynes, a junior at St. Thomas. 

A third project involved solar energy. Students visited one of the most remote, deforested regions – Baie-de-Henne – to deliver a solar-energy bakery, which will help reduce deforestation and help feed some 300 children.

“A lot of times when people think of Haiti, they think of a place where we just have to give something; rice or clothes, but there are amazing people there doing amazing work, trying to build a better future,” said Anthony Vinciguerra, of the Center for Justice and Peace.

The students’ experience was documented on film. Their mission and efforts are part of the St. Thomas’ communication department’s project to create a documentary titled, “Blooming Hope: Harvesting Smiles in Port-de-Paix.”

The goal of the film is to bring more awareness to the issues facing the people of Port-de-Paix and to build more support for the sustainable projects.

St.Thomas student Tiffany Norman said, “We are all so pleased. We are happy to have been able to put our learning into action.”

For more information on the Blooming Hope project, contact bloominghope.org.

Julia Yarbough, a news anchor at NBC 6, writes periodically on her outdoor and other adventures.

Photo by Alejandra Rosero. Children from Baie-de-Henne pose for a St. Thomas University student.