Making a Difference in Haiti

The world needs Trinity students—as well as our dedicated faculty, alumni, donors, and partners. And Trinity’s work in Pignon, Haiti, demonstrates how the College gets everyone ready to make a difference throughout our world.

This three-year pilot project brings together those who share a vision to empower the people of Haiti. It encompasses a diverse group, including Trinity’s Honors Field Research Team and its faculty advisors, Many Hands for Haiti (MH4H) and Ozinga Inc. In the first year of the program, a 15 member team spent two weeks in Pignon conducting research.  “This is true interdisciplinary, problem-solving research,” said Provost Aaron Kuecker, Ph.D.

The Honors Research Team plans to return to Haiti on May 5. Before then, the team will meet with their counterparts who conducted research last year, and hold working sessions with leaders from MH4H.

The second year of the program will expand on last year’s efforts, according to Dr. Craig Mattson, Ph.D., professor of communication arts, and Dr. Lenore Knight Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology, co-directors of the Honors Program.

“We are looking to build upon the exploratory work of the first team, which served as our pilot group but also developed important directions for the research,” said Knight Johnson. “As project stakeholders, we draw from the insight and interests of our partners. What is MH4H needing in terms of exploration into its work? At the same time, we are an outside research team meant to offer an objective perspective on the strengths and growth areas of the organization. We hope as we continue to grow this partnership, we can find ways to strengthen the good work of all three institutions – Ozinga, MH4H, and Trinity.”

The seeds of the partnership were planted in Fall 2016 when several Trinity students expressed interest in a humanitarian trip to Haiti. Kuecker reached out to Tim Brand, executive director of MH4H, an organization with years of experience in Haiti, and Aaron Ozinga ’03, president of Ozinga Materials & Logistics Inc., who has also been involved with helping the people of Haiti for years.

In its first year, Mattson and Knight Johnson led a team of 13 students and recent graduates on the trip to Pignon. Among the specific projects, the team focused on “The First 1,000 Days,” which helps mothers understand the importance of quality care, nutrition, and medical needs of newborns and young children. Trinity’s researchers conducted interviews with community members and staff members at MH4H to discern people’s attitudes towards the First 1,000 Days program.

“This experience represents a true liberal arts education,” said Josiah Rosario ’18, who participated in the research.

According to Mattson, this project has been the richest experience of collaborating with students he has ever had. “Getting into the work of research with Honors students in a very open-ended situation, and flattening out the hierarchy between mentor and mentee, professor and student has been the most rewarding part of the experience,” said Mattson. “Also, getting to know Haitian leaders and seeing their hopes for their country and kin.”

In order to prepare for the trip last May, the Honors Field Research Team met twice a week during the spring semester to read about Haitian culture, understand America’s intervention in Haiti, study Creole, develop a research framework, and consult with intercultural practitioners. In the fall, Trinity hosted a Haiti Honors Stakeholders Conversation in the Grand Lobby in Ozinga Chapel, where those who participated shared their experiences and insights. As Ozinga said during the panel discussion: “We have the responsibility to reconcile the broken world around us.”