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28825: Stahl (comment): Student Tourism/Service Learning (fwd)

From: Aletha Stahl <stahlal@earlham.edu>

My institution offered a May Term course in Haiti from 2000-2003. However, due to liability it is institutional policy not to send students to any country under an explicit US Dep't of State travel warning.

For our program, we first spent time in the Haitian community in Miami, then moved on to Haiti, with both rural and urban homestays for the students for several days and guest houses for most of the time. Although my institution generally supports service learning, in Haiti we opted out of any such opportunities given what I perceive to be an overabundance of paternalistic NGOs offering the opportunity for do-gooder guilt appeasement and creating negative local competition for external resources. (I don't mean that about all NGOs in Haiti by any means and agree that there are benefits to both the "bandaid" and systemic change models. But I didn't want to leave students w/ the primary impression that Haitians need THEIR "help.") One of the best aspects of our educational program was the participation of a group of Haitian young people who had, like our students, participated in an orientation preparing them for our encounter, and who joined us for many activities and discussions and even hosted some of our students.

I believe that there is much to be said for taking students from North American colleges and universities to Haiti but that much care must be taken to create programs that neither feed romanticized notions of "the only country to have a successful slave revolution" nor paternalist ideas of how to help "the poorest country in the Western hemisphere".

I would also like to see more North American institutions set up programs that invite Haitian young people to benefit from their abundant resources while nevertheless questioning the myth of "the American Dream" despite that fact that certain opportunities "lot bo a" are vastly greater than in Haiti.

I don't have clear answers for a perfect program or exchange model and always welcome suggestions. (Yes, Lance, sometime I DO want students to visit your plant/factory and meet with leadership there.) This forum always generates new ideas. Thanks, Bob, for keeping it going!

Aletha Stahl

Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies

Earlham College
801 National Road West
Richmond, IN 47374-4095