Helping Haiti

By Lisa Ritter posted 02-01-2010 01:37


The devastation in Haiti has had me asking how is it that people who were already experiencing the worst of the worst can go beyond that?  Weren’t its people, living in the poorest country in our hemisphere, already burdened enough before the terror of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake?  

I wanted to find a way to help beyond making a monetary contribution, although that is vitally important and something that I have done.  We have an organization here in Springfield, Missouri called Convoy of Hope that is something like the Fed Ex of charities.  It gets shipments of needed goods out quickly to areas that need them both domestically and abroad.  It had a long established feeding center in Haiti that distributed meals to over 7,000 each day prior to the earthquake.  Its director was actually there when the quake struck so the organization was quickly able to move its massive supplies of food into Port au Prince and thus was one of the first relief groups at work.  Convoy of Hope then asked schools to help make hygiene kits that could be distributed to people living in the makeshift shelters.  This seemed like the perfect way for my classes to get involved.

As a Spanish teacher, I typically teach a small unit on the Dominican Republic and 

touch upon Haiti in our discussion.  I have a PowerPoint presentation that I made several years ago that I use to give background information and comprehensible input in Spanish.  Students locate the Caribbean island on a map and I point out that it is split into two nations that both have had a difficult history and face current problems although the Dominican Republic is in a far better economic situation. I also have photos of the beautiful inhabitants that shows the diversity of these Spanish and French speaking nations.  We then work through Juan Luis Guerra’s song Ojalá que llueva café as a way to not only encounter the subjunctive in an authentic document but to explore and better understand his wish that coffee would rain down on his people who struggle under economic inequalities.

This time though I followed the presentation with news reports from that contained elements that my students could understand.  One of the most poignant scenes was that of a fourteen year old Spanish-speaking boy telling how he was all alone after having lost the various members of his family.  And the ruins of the once beautiful presidential palace whose porticos resembled those of our own White House served as an exclamation point to the massive devastation in the country.

After that setup, I explained the need for the hygiene kits and showed one I had made that consisted of a zippered gallon bag that contained a hand towel, comb, shampoo, anti-bacterial soap, a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste (a real life application of the daily routine vocabulary).  I told students that I knew many had already helped in other ways and that they weren’t obligated but if they wanted to, we would be collecting throughout the week.  They could put together the contents for a complete bag valued at approximately $5 or could simply bring in an item or two.  I set a goal of twenty bags, as I was not sure how many we could realistically collect in one short week.  By Friday we had over fifty hygiene kits set to go.  Students helped to pack the bags and make sure that each was complete.  The five boxes were tangible evidence of what they could do to make a connection with others in need.  Our French classes will insert notes in each bag before we deliver them to Convoy of Hope this afternoon.  

I think that these connections show how languages can be used to do some real good in the world.  And although I am exceedingly proud of my students, I know that many others all over the country have been involved as well.  Would you share what you have done?