The country of Haiti has attracted a lot of attention from many Americans over the past year. Following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January of 2010, Americans reached out to Haiti to help in any way possible. Millions of dollars of relief have flowed into Haiti, but the country still stands in disrepair. Haitians are searching for answers, looking for help, and hoping for restoration within their country.
James 1:27 states, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
This verse has been on the heart of Bluefield College senior Emily Wingfield since her childhood. God gifted her with a passion for the people of Haiti when she was merely 14 years old. Though a fire burned in her heart to help Haiti, she remained patient, prayed, and listened for an answer as to when and how.
Wingfield became a student at Bluefield College after graduating from Gloucester (VA) High School in 2007. While pursuing a degree in psychology with minors in business administration and Christian studies, she shared with Professor Harry Snodgrass her calling, her patience, her prayer, and her hopes for Haiti.
“When I think of Haiti, I think of a hopeless situation of distress, need, and poverty,” Wingfield said, “where Haitians are left with very little opportunity for growth and success.”
Professor Snodgrass’ reply: “What are you going to do about it?” and with that sparked a new energy for Wingfield for the nation of Haiti. She, Professor Snodgrass, and fellow student Evan Sherman of Dillsburg, PA, immediately began generating ideas to help the Haitian nationals. They considered a vast amount of needs before settling on the idea of education.
“We decided that Haiti would benefit most from a program that empowered Haitian students to learn,” said Sherman, a BC business major. “We did a little research about Haiti, and we found the word ‘ayiti,’ which means mountainous land or blue mountains. We thought that kind of got to the root of Haiti, which is what we want to do with this project.”
Thus, Educating Ayiti was born as an organization designed by the BC students to fund a college education and teacher training for Haitian nationals. Through Educating Ayiti, after completing their high school studies in Haiti, the Haitian students will travel to the United States, obtain teacher training throughout four years of college, and then take their skills back to Haiti in order to teach future generations.
“We are not striving to fish for the Haitians,” said Sherman, “but rather to teach them to fish for themselves.”
Since creating Educating Ayiti this past spring, Sherman and Wingfield have registered the organization as a Virginia non-profit corporation, created a board of directors and an advising committee, and attracted attention from many within the Bluefield College family, including faculty, staff, students and trustees, who are ready and willing to be a part of the cause.
“Educating Ayiti has given me an opportunity to be involved, beyond academics, in something bigger than myself,” said Professor Snodgrass, “something that will have a lasting impact on both the lives of my students and the lives of Haitian nationals.”
With added support from numerous individuals, organizations and churches throughout the East Coast, along with proceeds from t-shirt sales, speaking engagements, private donations and grants, the hope is to bring a Haitian student to the United States by the fall of 2011.
Even prior to the earthquake, Haiti’s infrastructure was reportedly crumbling, corrupt government practices were normal, and absolute poverty engulfed nearly 80 percent of the country’s total population.
“The earthquake that struck in January worsened the conditions of this already crumbling nation,” said Sherman. “Twenty-eight of the 32 universities that existed throughout Haiti were destroyed, government buildings were demolished, private dwellings collapsed, and Haitian nationals were displaced all over the nation.”
As a result, Haiti stands alone as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and nearly 500,000 Haitian children between the ages of six and 11 do not attend school of any kind.
“The nation of Haiti needs help to rebuild its country,” said Sherman. “Through the education and empowerment of Haitian nationals, the people of Haiti can turn their country around. George Lewin once said, ‘Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.’ Haiti has a number of problems that can only be solved through the education, practice, and will of their inhabitants.”
To join the BC students in Educating Ayiti, visit educatingayiti.org.