Lower Merion High-School Students Trek to Haiti

Main Line student wonders what she will face.

Trek (n) – a difficult journey involving fundraising and building a school, typically made by high-school students.

Trekkie (n) – [see TREK] a high-school student who goes on a trek.

On May 12th, 18 students from the buildOn chapter of Lower Merion High School, including myself, are “trekking” to Haiti. Our journey is known to everyone as simply “Trek.” The goal is to build a school in a village outside of Les Cayes, 95 miles from the capitol Port-au-Prince. We have already raised $66,000 for the school. I’m excited, but I must admit that I’m also somewhat apprehensive.

The most obvious concerns are safety and health. There is considerable political instability and poverty in Haiti. Haiti is also sorely lacking in hospitals and medicine. The State Department has issued serious safety and health warnings for all travelers to Haiti. I just finished reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, a Pulitzer-winning book that depicts a doctor’s experiences in rural Haiti. I have always taken hospitals and law enforcement for granted. What does it mean to live in a country where these are not readily available?

We will be staying in a village with host families, far from the conflict and turbulence of Port-au-Prince. So my main concern is neither safety nor health care. I am mostly worried about the difference in cultures, and the language barrier. I will be immersed in a new culture: new language, foods, schedules, work, ideas and customs. How will I communicate with my host family, and the villagers, when we work alongside them to build the school? I don’t know a word of Creole! I’m taking a crash course, but will that suffice? Also, the village does not have electricity or running water. I have never lived without the conveniences that I have so taken for granted in America: a hot shower, my cell phone, my hair dryer! Will I really be able to go a full two weeks without them?

Although I am pressed with uncertainties, they are far outweighed by my hopes for building a new school and eagerness for experiencing a new culture. I want to experience Haiti and its people first hand, not just in the pages of a book or on TV. I feel privileged that host families in the village have invited us to live in their community. I want to live up to their expectations. I want to bring change to Haiti, one school at a time.

Divya Arya is a freshman at Lower Merion High School. You can read her post-trip account of the Haiti school building on The Philly Post on May 29th.