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Haitian service trip to resume

Tricia deGroot | Friday, November 19, 2004

After a cancellation last spring due to an unstable government situation, the University will resume its humanitarian trip to Haiti this spring break. Since 1999, Steve Silliman, associate undergraduate dean in the College of Engineering, has taken nine students to Haiti for a one-week mission to repair wells and train the local population to maintain and repair their hand-pumps.Silliman began organizing these student seminars after his own trip to Haiti with Lifewater International, a Christian organization that helps rural poor obtain safe drinking water in 1996. “Once I visited there, I thought it would be a good place for Notre Dame to be involved,” Silliman said.The seminars have taken place at different times during and after the academic year depending on several different factors. “The time of the trips can vary. They can be during fall break, spring break or even senior week,” Silliman said. “It depends on several factors including my time, the political situation and the availability of housing.”Silliman canceled the last seminar, which was to take place last spring break, because of a coup in Haiti. Since such a dangerous political environment prohibited students from traveling to this mission, it has been about 18 months since the University has completed this service project in Haiti. Silliman usually receives about 75 applications to this program, but he is only able to take 10 people – himself and nine selected students. Once selected, these students begin training on campus for at least two hours every week.”The training consists of two parts – to fix hand pumps, which only takes about two to three hours of training and to learn about the social, religious and political conditions,” Silliman said.The main objective is not just to repair the water pumps but, most importantly, to train the locals on how to repair these pumps themselves, Silliman said. Before returning, the group will leave the Haitians with tools to continue making these repairs and the skills to help their community maintain their source of safe drinking water.In addition, when in Haiti, the students and Silliman will stay in housing provided by OMS, a missionary group with a significant compound in Cap Haitien. OMS also provides the group with all their food and water in addition to allowing them the use of vehicles, ensuring the students safe food and transportation while they are there.The program prides itself not only on the repair of India Mark II pumps and the training given to the locals but also on the opportunities it gives students to experience life in Haiti, interact with the Haitians and finally, live their faith. There will be an information session regarding this seminar in the next few weeks, and applications will be due soon afterwards. Students will be notified about the program in December or January. In addition to Silliman’s service project, there are a number of other professors and organizations on campus who have extended their efforts to help the people of Haiti. Kenneth Filchak, for example, has gotten his freshmen involved in raising money through Lifesaver sales.”Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere and so, with the freshmen, I started our own charity to try to win support,” Filchak said. Filchak went out and bought 200 pounds of Lifesavers and asked his students if they wanted to raise money for Haiti. “The hook with the lifesavers is that $20 will save a life in Haiti,” Filchak said. Filchak makes it a point that his students know this fundraising is not part of the class. However, even with no extra credit offered, Filchak has raised about $2,500 over the past two years with the help of his students.