Students plan to spend Thanksgiving in Haiti

Tucker Green shares a smile with a child from Haiti in 2015 during Thanksgiving break. Students who are a part of UNA Alternative Breaks are traveling to the country to spend Thanksgiving this year.

UNA Alternative Breaks has aided the village of Desab, Haiti, within the classroom for the past one and a half years. They will be going back this Thanksgiving break.

This is a way for students to get out of their comfort zone and help a new community along with their own, said Bethany Green, assistant director of Student Engagement.

The Alternative Breaks to Haiti are open to students and teachers but are completely student lead, Green said. The 2016 leaders for Thanksgiving are seniors Casey Kynerd and Melissa Parker.

Green said the group fell in love with the village after visiting the first time in spring 2015.

“We felt that there was a huge need for us to continue some type of partnership with them, but we couldn’t figure out what we needed to do at the time,” she said. “We eventually realized that we can’t keep going back and teaching in the classroom because, ultimately, we aren’t doing any good for this community (in the longterm).”

Green said after a series of meetings with village leaders and UNA faculty, they decided to teach the community composting, an alternative way of farming.

“Both groups are learning about starting and sustaining composts that will supply crops for the people of Haiti,” she said. “We’re trying to help them become sustainable. We want to do so much. That’s the only reason we go back is to visit.”

The people in the Desab community typically make about $100 a year, so living conditions are difficult, Green said.

As part of preparation, both teams are building gardens at Weeden Elementary in Florence and partnering with Alabama Extension Center.

“People from the extension center came to one of our retreats, and they taught us about composting,” Parker said. “After they taught us, we went to Weeden Elementary and built raised garden beds for their gardening project.”

Composting is not the only way UNA will be helping Desab, Green said. With the wide range of programs offered on UNA’s campus, many departments have become involved.

“We have a whole campus full of knowledge to help,” she said. “The program has received great feedback from people all over campus.”

Green said there are plans for the village’s teachers to do professional development at Kilby Laboratory and for the medical workers to train in the nursing program.

The teams are looking for people who want to break away from their community for a change and are seeking international opportunity, Green said.

“Since Desab is a very different environment that might challenge people that go, the leaders need people who can physically and emotionally handle it,” she said.

Parker said she trained for the trip in Idaho. There she learned how to be an active citizen instead of a volunteer.

Both the students and teachers look to make relationships with the people of Haiti and have a sense of community with them, Green said.

“You can’t understand a community until you see it for yourself,” Green said.

If students want to join the spring break trip to Haiti or any of the other spring semester trips, applications are available until Nov. 30.