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On Wednesday, November 8th, VHP held a General Body meeting during which each committee presented a “microtimeline”: what we have been up to this semester, and what is coming up for the rest of the semester or year. Each presenter was given 1-2 minutes to speak. After the microtimeline portion, we had an envelope stuffing party to prepare the end-of-year newsletters for the post.

This event was particularly exciting for me, because as Social Media Director I do not have the opportunity to see each committee’s work on a weekly basis. It was inspiring to watch as new GB members took the floor and spoke with confidence and pride about their committees. This GB meeting embodied VHP’s core values: it was a room filled with love, joy, and support. I am fortunate to be part of an organization of so many future leaders.

Most importantly, the apple cider provided was delicious. It was the perfect refreshment for the midpoint of a stressful academic week.

-written by Sophia Massie ’20, Social Media Director

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The Vassar Haiti Project was invited to exhibit at the annual National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals Conference (NAAHP) at New York University November 2-4th. While we were there, I met several amazing people, including a passionate neurosurgeon and the ambassador to Haiti. As a neuroscience and behavior major, I was most excited to meet Ernest Barthélemy, who is working on training more medical professionals in Haiti to become neurosurgeons. I never thought I could be a surgeon but after a conversation with Ernest where he passionately described one of his experiences in an operating room, that might change! Meeting him was truly inspiring. I am excited to begin building relationships with many of those we were fortunate enough to meet at the conference and am grateful to the NAAHP for inviting us.
-Written by Gabriela Mandeville, Director of the Health Committee
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On November 4th, the Vassar Haiti Project joined many other Vassar organizations at the Night Market (an annual event hosted by the Asian Students Alliance where each organization sets up a table selling various kinds of food). Participating in the Night Market is always a great opportunity not only to bond as VHP members, but also to get to know other organizations and get involved in the greater Vassar community.

Before the event, VHP members gathered to prepare the food that was going to be sold. We chopped piles of cabbage, cooked vermicelli, mixed dipping sauces, pan-fried tofu, filled and boiled dumplings, sautéed shrimp, and steamed buns—all in four and a half hours! All of that cooking was then brought down to the main event where even more wonderful VHP volunteers sold our homemade dumplings, hand rolled summer rolls, and freshly steamed buns (the last of which sold out in just twenty minutes!)

Although the night market was definitely a success in terms of profit, more importantly we came together as an organization and made a very large amount of work (you should have seen all the cabbage we chopped!) go by quickly and easily. In fact, every time VHP puts on an event—whether it’s a large, off-campus art sale or single-table booth at a night market—I’m always blown away to see how many VHPers are happy to step up and make it happen!

-Written by Lindsey Coffee-Johnson, Co-VP of Events

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What Does VHP Mean to You?

I think VHP is a bridge between ideal/perfect society and action/practice. There were times I thought about digging a well, building a library and opening a clinic in less developed country. The thoughts ended in my mind without making any actual efforts. VHP shows me the organized way to achieve such goals, and I can’t wait to really contribute! Personally, it’s more like a group filled with people with kind minds and great ideas. Though we are doing serious and difficult tasks, the happiness spending time with VHP’ers always make the process more fun.

-Annabell Su

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What Does VHP Mean To You?

I just joined VHP this year, but so far I’ve come to love the sense of community and purpose in this org. I think VHP is a great way to give back to the international community, which is something I feel very strongly about as an international student. Additionally, while there are many community service projects on campus, I find that the work I do at VHP does make an impact; occasionally in other orgs I feel removed from the people I am helping, but VHP offers volunteers the chance to really see the fruits of their labor with the March trip.
-Violet Tan
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My Experience With VHP

VHP gives me insight on a world that is totally different from the world that I am accustomed to seeing and living in. Although I just joined VHP this year, I can tell that the sense of community is really strong, and every member is extremely dedicated to the project.

-Connie Zhong
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     This was my second ever September Sale.
     As the main fundraiser for our primary school, It was especially near and dear to my heart. I felt that this September sale was much more coherent, and less stressful than my involvement last year. I put in 3x the hours, but it ended up being more of a stress relief rather than addition. I found myself coming to this sale, head swimming with assignments and “to-dos,” only to be welcomed by my VHP family and have those worries drift away, in favor of coming together for Haiti.
     This year was especially hard because Haiti was drastically hit by Hurricane Irma- especially the rural mountain village we work with. Chermaitre had a significant loss of life, farmland, and buildings. It was incredible to see all of our new and old students, community members, teachers, alumni, and all other project supporters come together for this sale to celebrate the people of Haiti, while forming solidarity in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s loss.
     This year was a great success and provided many opportunities, once again, to spread VHP’s mission of reframing Haiti in a lens of beauty and grace, rather than poverty and destruction. VHP strives to have the beautiful, kind, and dedicated nature of the Haitian people outshine the widespread negative view presented of Haiti through the popular media. This goal of education, as well as fundraising, is truly what September Sale accomplished this year- and I’m sure it will for years to come.
Grace Roebuck ’20, is the Education Director for the 2017-2018 year. 
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Christine recounts her meeting with the Women’s Co-op in Chermaitre, Haiti:

The meeting with the women’s co-op was invigorating. We opened the meeting with the women singing to us and bringing us into their community. As we delved into the meeting, it was clear this was not a soft-spoken group of people. There was an exuberant atmosphere as the women shared their thoughts on all of the positives and negatives about the work they were doing. Udbhav and I worked with Pere Wildaine to narrow in on exactly what we could do to improve their working experience and how they could expand their market and the products they sold. We discussed several possibilities about general adjustments to their daily experience, such as establishing a literacy class for the women and introducing baking as a skill the women could learn, with the hope of eventually opening a local bakery. To conclude the meeting we distributed Lucy Lights to each of the women to use in their homes and took pictures. I left the meeting feeling incredibly inspired by the women and all they have been able to accomplish and appreciative that I got a chance to spend even a small amount of time with them.

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Grace and Sam share their experiences in Haiti:

Haiti was an incredible experience in terms of personal growth, relationships, and information gathering for all initiatives, especially education. We started by visiting the Secondary School and having a meeting with our 22 scholarship recipients. Facing the six girls and sixteen boys, it was a little awkward at first, but after our ice breakers, the meeting gave way to an open and honest conversation. From this meeting, the consensus was there needs to be many changes for the future including an increase of supplies, many more text books and reading books, improved living conditions, and more frequent servings of breakfast and lunch. Concluding our second Secondary School visit, we dispersed one Luci light to each student. These solar powered, inflatable lights will enable students to study and do work even after the sun sets, improving their living conditions and education. The other school we met with is the Primary School in Chermaitre, where we met with a group of students and a group of teachers separately. The teachers were very thankful for all the work VHP has done in building the new school and ensuring regular pay cycles. They believe there needs to be more food in the lunch program and the breakfast program must be reimplemented. The teachers also expressed interest in developing an Adult Education plan and curriculum. Information gathered also revealed there is no curriculum on human trafficking, despite Haiti being the 7th most trafficked country in the world. The meeting with the primary school students also went well; they agreed more food is needed at school. In addition, they need text books and reading books and would enjoy musical instruments—we postulate recorders for the students could be a good start. Overall the students were very receptive and thankful VHP and their honor and persistence through school makes every second spent on VHP 10x more worthwhile.

Luci Lights

While our meetings and interactions were constructive in helping us glean important information about the schools, the commitment of all of the teachers and students was evident and compelling. At the meeting with the primary school teachers, all of the instructors expressed their appreciation for our efforts to improve their jobs and help them better facilitate their roles, roles which they know are critical for their young students’ growth and achievement. And the teachers’ quick and unanimous support for kickstarting adult education classes stands as a testament to their yearning to spread education to the wider community. Giving them the Luci lights for their classrooms as well literally and figuratively brightened up themselves and their excitement for teaching, which was pleasing and reassuring for us to see. Along with the teachers’ enthusiasm, the patent motivation and fortitude of all of the students was striking and inspiring. A trend emerged among the mindsets of the primary and secondary school students: that their drive for educating themselves stems from a deep desire to exploit their potentials and passions by becoming contributing figures in society. This desire has catalyzed in them an admirable perseverance: despite scarce meals, insufficient textbooks and supplies, and two-hour hikes to get to school, these students remain dogged in pursuit of their educational goals. As a group of young, dedicated students ourselves, the connections that we sensed with the students, who bear such different origins from us, exemplified and reaffirmed the universal power and importance of education.

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Daniel Elendu ’19 and Sabrina Perry ’20 recount the experience of representing the Reforestation Team on the Haiti Trip: 

Being on the Reforestation Team for the March 2017 Haiti Trip allowed us connect with people and visualize our impact and through that, understand the project. Our first activity during the trip was a visit to Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète–the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (FOKAL), an organization based in Haiti that engages with other international organizations and communities to improve the life of Haitian people. We met with one of the directors at FOKAL and discussed how VHP operates in the States and how we collaborate with the people of Chermaitre. We also spoke about how the grant will be directed towards our Reforestation Project and we also learnt about FOKAL and their mission.

 

We travelled to Chermaitre on our third day in Haiti and on the way there, we were treated to a beautiful landscape and view of the mountainous region despite the rigors of the hike up the mountains to the Primary School in Chermaitre. We had a meeting with the reforestation team the day after our hike and it was an informative meeting as we got to learn that over twelve thousand of fourteen thousand trees had survived after the storms experienced during the Hurricane Matthew period. This was a positive sign after we saw some areas where erosion had occurred. We also discussed the ways the grant would improve reforestation in the village and inform the villagers, farmers and children about the necessity of reforestation in a region like Chermaitre. The team is doing a good job and helping to shape the positive partnership which VHP has with Chermaitre.

(Flourishing crops in Chermaitre)

We went on a hike they day after and we surveyed various farm plots and some of the villagers who owned them. From our sights and interactions, we could see the hard work the people of Chermaitre put into the reforestation project by the amount of little trees that were growing and we could also feel the sense of joy from financial security the farmers and their families enjoyed. We also got ideas of what new crops these farmers could grow to improve their earnings at the market. Something else that was a new experience was testing the soils at various plots that held coffee, chadeque, cocoa, and a host of other crops.

 

The people of Chermaitre work hard and we are glad that they are yielding the fruit of their labor in the variety of crops and trees that are present. After meeting with the team, seeing farmers labor on their plots and just hearing positive experiences, we are thrilled that the partnership with Chermaitre is thriving and we know why. For us now, the next step is to continue to direct our efforts on building on what is on ground at Chermaitre, thinking of how the grants will be utilised and thinking of how to work with committed people to make an impact. As individuals, we appreciate the opportunity to learn and understand what we are part of and to meet with the strong and diligent people who we hold hands with the make the Vassar Haiti Project possible.

(A farm plot in Chermaitre)

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