When three University of Michigan-Flint social work students left for Haiti over spring break this year, they expected to gain a first-hand perspective of rural Haitian life and learn more about the needs of the people who live there.
As temporary guests they accomplished so much more, and returned with a deeper appreciation for the values of the Haitian people after closely interacting with them each day.
The students, who are graduating in May with their bachelor's degree in social work (BSW), also gained personal insights that they will take with them into their careers as new social workers.
"The atmosphere is so incredibly positive and happy after everything that they've been through," said UM-Flint social work senior Saydee Robinson, who has visited the country twice before. "This trip I came back with a new sense of positivity and a realization that you can be happy without a lot of material things."
Saydee traveled with fellow UM-Flint social work students Molly Moerman and Courtney Vogt, along with a few other students from Michigan. They utilized a translator during the trip, coordinated through Rays of Hope International, and stayed at OSAPO, a nonprofit organization that provides medical care and other vital assistance to Haitians living in remote areas.
"The area we visited was a rural community full of life," Molly said. "The children were vibrant and curious. The people were open and willing to do whatever it takes to provide for their families."
Going on daily home visits in mountainous areas with a native social worker gave these students a close-up view of the substandard living conditions there and the ways that poverty, poor nutrition, unclean water, and medical problems have impacted family units.
"I learned that the life I live is completely different from theirs," Molly said. "I have a greater awareness now of global issues that others face."
Students observed their social work leader's interactions with families during home visits and soon became more engaged with families.
"We talked to parents about the importance of interacting with their children and the results of not interacting with them," Saydee said, recalling their time spent working with a group of parents, some who were HIV-positive and struggling with feelings of isolation.
They also learned about the concept of global social medicine and the ways in which the medical providers at OSAPO practice that concept by taking into consideration the specific environment of each individual. The students felt humbled by the people there while discovering common values with them during the memorable trip.
"I was encouraged by the idea of cultural humility," Courtney recalled. "It was humbling to know that I was building relationships and genuine connections with individuals who had diverse lifestyles, yet our lifestyles were alike in small ways. To pick up on these small similarities and share a connection was beautiful."
The UM-Flint Social Work Department encourages international learning opportunities for students. "The Social Work Department supports the students' efforts to connect their experiential learning internationally and to understand social issues in a local and global context," said chair Otrude Moyo.