Students Make a Difference in Haiti – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Make a Difference in Haiti

Edward J. Brennan P’06, P’09, chief executive officer and chair of DFS Group, returned to campus last fall to host an informational session about Hand in Hand for Haiti. Among the students who met with him were Patrice Thomas ’13 and Jose Lamerique ’13. Just a little more than half a year later, the two were on the ground in Haiti working as part of the Hand in Hand team.

Hand in Hand for Haiti was founded in response to the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that devastated Haiti, destroying 4,000 schools in one of the western hemisphere’s poorest countries. In the aftermath of the disaster, Brennan and other leaders in the travel retail industry partnered with Hand in Hand for Haiti as part of a pan-industry initiative to make a bold and compassionate response through designing, building and operating a new sustainable school. Located in the Commune of Saint-Marc, which took on 32,000 refugees after the earthquake, the state-of-the-art complex offers a hurricane-proof and anti-seismic school complex to provide quality education for the children of Haiti.

By the time Brennan came to campus, Thomas had alredy begun having conversations with Miranda Warder, assistant director of the Salisbury Center for Career Services and Professional Development, about internship and career paths. Warder informed him of Brennan’s visit and arranged an interview.

“Mr. Brennan accepted me for the summer and I had the greatest most gratifying summer ever,” says Thomas.

He and Lamerique, who was also interviewed by Brennan on campus, spent six weeks in Lycee Jean Baptist Pointe Du Sable, in St. Marc, an hour outside of Port-au-Prince. They were involved in planning and leading a host of activities designed to promote unity and social development, including dancing, singing, reading poems, and playing traditional Haitian as well as American games with the children ages 3 to 6 years old.

Thomas also taught the children English and French and took them on trips, such as to the beach to watch fishermen – the subject of a popular children’s song. Additionally, he brought the drums he purchased while studying abroad in Senegal to the school and played for them every day.

“I also worked with the Foundation on a project that will allow donors to know more about the children whom they are supporting and whose education they are financing,” adds Thomas.

Both Thomas and Lamerique met Brennan again when he came to the school for three days during the summer. Thomas had the opportunity to serve as interpreter when Brennan met with the St. Marc Mayor.

“The most exciting aspect was just watching the growth of the kids during those six weeks,” explains Thomas. “At first, the kids did not say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ often when staff did something for them. By the third week, every one of them was so disciplined and they were constantly showing gratitude.  Witnessing the kids displaying so much potential and their intelligence is remarkable. They amazed me every day.”

A double major in sociology and French, Thomas’ experiences in Haiti instilled in him a new passion for working with children. “I learned a lot working with them, doing administrative work and networking with Ed Brennan,” he says.

For Lamerique, the most fulfilling aspect of the internship was more personal: “getting a chance to go back to my homeland and help the children of Haiti.” A history major with a minor in Africana studies, he says his summer experience also carries the direct benefit of relating to his interest in global education and literacy.

“I learned to appreciate life and the simple things that I have,” he says. “Witnessing the levels of poverty that these children experienced was really eye opening.”

Thomas intends to pursue a law degree, but has not decided whether he will look to enter law school immediately following graduation from Hobart or after working for a time.  Lamerique plans to attend law school next fall.

The photo above features Patrice Thomas ’13 and Jose Lamerique ’13.