The following reflection was contributed by Jerry Liu, one of the Laurier Enactus students who took part in our service learning trip to Haiti. As their Faculty Advisor, I am happy and humbled to share their thoughts with you. We are also grateful to Steve Sider (check out his blog here), for inviting us to be part of this experience.
After working remotely with a Haitian NGO on their micro-finance program since October, I had the opportunity to travel to Cap-Haitien to work with the team on the ground. It was a great opportunity for us to apply the skills we learned in university, while having a deep learning experience in the Haitian context.
Our team managed to strike a balance between digging deep into the culture and economy in Cap-Haitien, and synthesizing these into specific insights for the NGO. Most notably, while coming up with business ideas for the micro-finance program, we toured the nearby market, and realized that most vendors were selling either products purchased in bulk at the Dominican border, or donated clothes from the United States.
This helped us identify the systemic issue in the economy of Cap-Haitien: while the economy is not yet ready to be knowledge-based, local industries have a hard time competing with this flood of foreign products. Citizens are flocking to buy and resell these foreign products, but do not have the education to carve competitive positions in the market, and thus compete mainly on price, reducing incomes. Thus we are left with an economy that is dependent on foreign products, with a population that struggles to make difficult sales to put food on the table.
The educational opportunity was unparalleled. As a teaching assistant, I try to implement active learning in the classroom. Trips like these automatically make every moment a moment of active learning. Instead of lecturing about the Haitian economy, we physically walked around the market. Instead of reading about some of the managers at the NGO, we interviewed them. The entire city became our classroom, welcoming us to a learning experience like no other.
A passionate educator.. on a quest for a schooling model to love!