From Iowa to Haiti, With Love

For its Honors in Action Projects, the Beta Zeta Mu Chapter at Western Iowa Tech Community College often adds a global touch. One year, the chapter raised $14,000 to build a school in Togo, Africa. Another year took chapter members to the Dominican Republic.

Their 2015 project raised $15,000 to build a water well in Haiti; and in May, seven students, chapter advisor Sima Dabir and college president Dr. Terry Murrell traveled to the country for the well’s inauguration.

“Phi Theta Kappa is an international honor society, so we feel we need to do things not only at the local, regional and national levels, but also beyond,” Dabir said. “We always include some global aspect.”

As chapter officers researched the 2014/2015 Honors Study Topic, Frontiers and the Spirit of Exploration, they became interested in comparing the global economies of the United States and a more underdeveloped country. Haiti stood out to them, particularly for the state of its economy in the wake of the 2010 earthquake as well as its close proximity to the United States.

Research uncovered that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. They also learned that only 50 percent of the population in urban Haiti — and only 30 percent in rural areas — had access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities.

Furthermore, the chapter desired to somehow help the thousands of orphans living in the country.

“Our group decision was that clean water, being a basic necessity for a healthy life, would not only benefit orphanages and education but the Haitian society as a whole,” chapter co-president Bill Clifford said.

Beta Zeta Mu then began researching charities they could partner with. They discovered Haiti Outreach, an organization that not only builds a water well but also trains the surrounding community to care for and manage the well.

“They want to empower the people of the community to improve their own lives,” Dabir said. “We knew it would fit with the mission of Phi Theta Kappa of empowering people and providing opportunities to people, and it would go beyond a simple service project.”

In December 2015, Haiti Outreach representatives spoke during a community convocation seminar at Western Iowa Tech. More than 350 college faculty and staff members, students, community members, business leaders and state legislators attended the presentation, which even featured authentic Haitian desserts.

The event raised the $15,000 needed for the chapter to adopt a well through Haiti Outreach.

“We did not just raise money to build a well in Haiti,” chapter president Abigail Ferreira said. “Our funds were put toward improving the community as a whole.”

Upon the well’s completion, the group made its journey to Haiti for the inauguration May 25-31. They began in Port-au-Prince before flying north to Pignon. From there, they drove to Mon Repos, a community in the city of Quanaminthe, where the well was located.

“The entire journey was extremely educational, not only to our students but to us as well,” Dabir said.

Navigating rutted, dirt roads, rain and a lack of modern conveniences like traffic lights and gas stations proved eye opening for the students as they saw the Haitian people living happily without some of the amenities they often took for granted. Their van broke down; they had to drive a truck through a river — but still, the positive attitudes of their Haitian guides and the helpfulness they encountered from locals along the way pushed them through the challenges.

“The daily struggles we have pale in comparison to the lives of the Haitians,” chapter officer Megan Beaver said. “It did not matter where our van broke down; there was always help and a friendly smile.”

The people of Mon Repos came to the well inauguration dressed in their finest clothing. It was a true celebration, and everyone in the community participated in the music, speeches, dancing and laughter.

For the Beta Zeta Mu chapter, it was a celebration of their hard work and dedication to making a difference for the people occupying this one small corner of the world.

“It was the most emotionally straining event that happened throughout the whole trip — how a little drop of clean water can make a whole community so happy when we wonder in the U.S. if the shower will be hot,” said Kevin Miller, Beta Zeta Mu Vice President of Membership and a regional vice president. “They viewed it as a parting from being slaves to diseases, problems and struggles that they endured from dirty, unsanitary water.”

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