by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
“Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live and living to serve” is the motto of the FFA and NYS FFA District 5 President Kait Isaac, of St. Johnsville, NY, took that motto to heart when she volunteered to serve in Haiti on a team with eight other FFA members from around the United States.
“I first heard about this trip through a National FFA notification,” said Mike Settle, retired agriculture teacher/Mohawk Valley FFA advisor, who chaperoned the trip. “I posted the notification to the Mohawk Valley FFA Facebook page and Kait jumped on the opportunity to participate.”
The ‘service opportunity’, a humanitarian effort called “ffa2haiti”, involved working along side of Haitians with a team of other FFA members participating from across the United States. Kait was the only FFA volunteer on the team representing New York State.
“We went to the Village of Hope where GCN (Global Compassion Network) has created a community for the victims of the earthquake,” said Kait.
The earthquake she referred to occurred in 2010, devastating Haiti, which was already one of the poorest countries in the world. The catastrophic quake destroyed an estimated 300,000 buildings, leaving over a million people homeless and thousands of children orphaned.
Efforts are still being made to rebuild communities and lives of the Haitians. And people like Ag Ed Instructor / FFA Advisor, Melanie Bloom at Sioux Central High School in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, are determined to use this opportunity to educate FFA members, raising their awareness and providing them with life changing, service learning experiences.
Sioux Central FFA has sponsored at least one ‘Sukup Safe-T-Home’ for the Village of Hope and several Sioux Central FFA members have traveled to Haiti to participate in the building of these homes.
“We built a Safe-T-Home,” acknowledged Kait, who was in the company of five FFA team members from Iowa on the trip. “As a team we were very successful working with the Haitians.”
Kait describes the Safe-T-Home as being very close to what a grain bin is here in the states — and, in actuality, that is where the idea came from, as the Sukup Safe-T-Home was developed by modifying an 18-foot steel grain bin. The double roof provides a heat shield and collects rainfall. Solar panels power LED lights. The zero seismic building also has an anchor system and has been tested to withstand winds up to 130 mph. The life expectancy of the building is 75 years and the cost is $5,700. A team of four people can assemble each 18-foot unit in about 10 hours.
Kait also described what she called “Tent City”, where hundreds of Haitians, including orphans, live in tarpaulin tents, about 20 feet X 20 feet. Cows, goats and pigs run freely among the tents.
“We worked a lot at the orphanage,” Kait commented.
Settle reported on work the team accomplished at the girl’s orphanage.
“We cut the steel for, welded together and painted eleven 30 foot long steel trusses for a storage area that they are constructing,” said Settle. “We installed mosquito netting on the beds, we built a shade house for a plant nursery, we tilled by hand and planted a plot of alfalfa to be used as rabbit food, we did maintenance work on the electrical generator, installed outdoors-solar security lights and made other electrical improvements.”
Settle said one of the most important goals the orphanage is trying to reach is to become self-sufficient in producing food. “They have a 5-acre parcel and are raising chickens, rabbits, goats and produce for food. They are trying to become self sustainable.”
Kait and Settle both agreed that many hours were spent simply interacting with the children at the orphanage.
Settle said participating in this service trip was an inspiration for him to seriously consider ways to help the children of Haiti. “One person can really make a difference!” Settle attested. “It doesn’t matter how much I think I am — or am not — prepared for something, God is still in control.”
Settle is now considering going back to Haiti and chaperoning another team.
Kait says she is now interested in other areas of service, even after she has graduated from high school and beyond the FFA.
“This experience has changed me deeply,” Kait stated. “Serving in Haiti changed how I looked at things in this country. What I saw really was an eye opener for me. The way they live is amazing. They are so resourceful and easy going. I went to Haiti to help, and they helped me. They showed me that you don’t need so many materialistic items to be happy, you take one day at a time and put your trust into God.”
The National FFA Organization is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States with over 557,000 members in 7,500 chapters, based on middle and high school classes. Their purpose is “to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”
by Elizabeth A. Tomlin