Leadership at HELP: “Change for the common good”

By: Meaghan Balzer, Leadership Program Manager

December 17, 2012

At HELP, all students take part in a four-year leadership curriculum based on a service-centered, social change model, and on the five principles of HELP: respect, rigor, courage, sacrifice, and service. With “change for the common good” as our slogan, our goal is to tie professionalism to social responsibility, with the understanding that leadership is manifested through active engagement in creating a more just society, be it in a hospital, in a classroom, on the street, in the farmer’s field, or in the family. HELP’s curriculum helps students to develop the leader that is within each of them, and gives them the tools to inspire effective leadership in others.

HELP students engage in the principles and values of the leadership program across three domains: the individual, the group, and the society. We hope that our students graduate with compassion for others, an understanding of effective teamwork, and the experience of working for change in some of Haiti’s most challenging environments. Service projects are an especially important way for students to engage in HELP’s mission, and to develop collaborative action that benefits all. Last year, our students identified five areas that need improvement in their disenfranchised communities: food production, education, quality of life, gender-based violence, and waste management. I’m pleased to share the reflections of some of our students on their various service projects.

ACTIVE Service Project
By Anne-Martine Augustin (engineering ‘14)

Action Toward Initiatives and Volunteering for Education (ACTIVE) is based on the goal of encouraging other young Haitians to get involved in volunteerism in their communities. We came up with this idea because we believe that young people want to make a difference in Haiti, and just need someone to help them focus and coordinate their service. We also know that there are receptive hosts – people and organizations who need volunteers but do not know where to find reliable assistance. Our objective is to help volunteers and hosts unite for mutual benefit. For our first project, we worked with a free elementary school to recruit and organize volunteers to rebuild their library, which was destroyed in the earthquake.

This year, we have grown from six original members to a team of 12. Our objective for this school year is to connect volunteers and hosts in some of the most common fields of study at HELP such as agronomy, engineering, medicine and dental services, education, and technology.

Hydroponic Garden Project
By Emmanuel Richmond (management ’13), Agronome-Paul Saint-Paul (agro-economics ’13), and Jean-Smith Dorméus (management ’13)

The term “hydroponic” refers to any system that functions based on the nutrients that come from water. It is a system that is ecologically friendly, and can be used to grow plants in places where there is not enough soil. This is why it is a particularly useful system for Haiti, a place where healthy soil is a problem, particularly in tent cities and slums in many urban areas.

Our group identified “food and hunger” as an area that needs improvement in our community, and we decided to hit two birds with one stone: addressing an environmental issue alongside an issue of food necessity. One of our greatest challenges was in coordinating all the pieces of the project – we had to research and understand hydroponics, fundraise for materials, and put our heads together to find the skills needed to build the system. This all took much longer than we initially thought, but we learned a great deal along the way. Now that the initial phase of the project is finished, we are working on planting vegetables, maintaining the system, and learning more about hydroponic systems from professional growers. We are also working to involve more students, and have many new members this year. Eventually, we would also like to give workshops about hydroponics both for HELP students and for members of the wider community.

SAKALA Project
By Samuel-Polidor Accius (industrial engineering ‘14)

SAKALA, which was started by a former HELP student, is an organization in Cité Soleil (often referred to as “the poorest neighborhood in the Western hemisphere”) that gives children a place to play sports and receive academic tutoring. It was created to give another view of Cité Soleil, to make people see this place differently.

We started last year by organizing a soccer game with the SAKALA team. It was such a good activity and we were pleased to do it, but we did not only go to play soccer with the kids – the purpose of this game was to make our first contact with the organization and to show the children that we support them. After the game, we started going every Sunday to tutor students who were preparing for the national secondary school exit exams. This summer, we were glad to learn that most of them passed the official exams, which was a great improvement over the previous year.

This year, we are continuing to work with SAKALA, which would like to one day have a library. With the combined skills of our members studying engineering, we are confident that we will be able to design a comfortable place that encourages literacy. We also plan to organize a book drive to fill the library with interesting and useful books. We will also continue to play sports with the children, and we hope to continue to raise their success rates in their state exams.