June 14, 2017
Eight East Carolina University Honors College students traveled to Haiti last month where they say their lives were changed by the experience.
The trip - a first of its kind for the Honors College - was made possible through the generosity of alumnus Chip Chesson, who was inspired by Chancellor Cecil Staton's vision to increase international travel for students.
Over three days, the ECU students were immersed in the culture, economic issues and life in Haiti, where they stayed at the guest house of Family Health Ministries, an organization that focuses on helping Haitians help themselves, "instead of the typical 'go help the poor' mentality we are guilty of as Americans," said ECU senior nursing student Kaylan Galloway.
The students toured a medical clinic, which made Galloway appreciate the technology available for expectant women in the United States. "Even then, childbirth is not easy. These women go through so much," Galloway said. "The trip changed my life. I have been abroad before, but never to Haiti. The beauty despite poverty was breathtaking."
ECU junior elementary education major Jenna Murdock said the visit to the busy delivery room at the clinic was one of the most impactful moments of the trip.
"Some of these women had complicated births without anesthesia, some gave birth to stillborn babies and one gave birth minutes before that very building collapsed in the earthquake," said Murdock, who had not traveled outside the United States before the trip.
Another unforgettable experience was visiting Saint Antione School, which required a two-mile hike over rough terrain to reach.
"The children we saw at this school walk that same treacherous path for hours, both ways, just to receive an education," Murdock said. "I cannot even imagine making this trek every day. While standing at the top of one of the mountains in the wind and the rain, looking at how much farther we had to journey, I realized just how fortunate I am. The farthest I have ever had to walk to receive an education was from my car in the parking lot to the school building."
Murdock said she plans to tell her future elementary school students about the trip. "The strength and determination of the young students we met was inspiring," Murdock said. "I think we do not realize just how fortunate we are to be receiving a proper education here in America. I want my students to be grateful and aware that while they were riding a bus, some children were walking six miles in the rain to get to school."
Emma Plyler, a rising sophomore speech and hearing sciences major, had never traveled outside the United States before going to Haiti. "Getting the opportunity to go on this trip means the world to me," she said. "Having the chance to learn about the importance of connections and helping others in a different country is one that I probably wouldn't ever get to do again."
Chesson, a longtime ECU School of Business advisory board member, organized the trip after meeting Staton at an advisory board meeting and at the suggestion of Stan Eakins, dean of the business school. "He (Eakins) knew that I served on the board of Family Health Ministries and had traveled to Haiti many times. He suggested I take a group to Haiti. I thought, 'great idea, let's do it.'"
Todd Fraley, director of the EC Scholars program, emailed all Honors College students about the trip and, in one hour, received responses from 100 who were interested. With space for only eight, the students were asked to write a short paper telling why they wanted to go, and Chesson picked the students from that group.
A quote that summarized Chesson's objectives for the students was printed on the back of the trip T-shirt: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
On his first visit to Haiti, he went with the mentality that he would "fix them, make their life better," said Chesson, who was in the last graduating class of what was then East Carolina College. "What happened is they fixed me. I learned so much about how to live, love and what faith was all about. I believe each student will tell you their life will forever be changed by what they experienced in Haiti."
The students on the trip were Galloway, Amy Jordan, Katerina Koloustroubis, Nakaya Melvin, Murdock, Taylor Nelson, Plyler and Jayati Vyas. Chesson and Michele Stewart traveled with the students.
"The Honors College is truly grateful for donors who support our students by providing them opportunities to learn about the world and truly understand how they can have an impact," Fraley said. "The Honors College is committed to developing international learning experiences for our students and with the generosity of people like Mr. Chesson, we can ensure more students can participate."
Murdock, who took her first trip abroad, summed up the importance of visiting other countries and learning outside the classroom.
"I think the best way to make this large world seem a little smaller is to take the time to connect personally with others that are different from us," she said. "The lessons we learn by experience have a larger impact on us than the ones we learn while sitting in a classroom."