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Students in Haiti with family there

Lessons in Haiti: Discovering Cabrini’s Mission on Service Trip

Posted on 8/15/2017 10:09:01 AM

In summer 2017, Cabrini students had the opportunity to take what they’ve learned beyond the classroom to make an impact on the world.

Noel Faragalli (’20), a Biology major, has always had a goal of making a difference in her lifetime. 

“Whether that be helping one individual or an entire country, I have always wanted to be a part of making this world a better place,” she said. “However, I never thought the opportunity would present itself as early as it did.”

Faragalli was excited when she found out her chance was right at her fingertips: an opportunity, through Cabrini, to go to Haiti for a short-term mission trip.

Mignon Toppino (’20) was also eager when a classmate mentioned the Haiti trip. “A classmate gave me Professor [Vonya] Womack’s email and urged me to contact her because spots were filling up fast,” she said. “Through correspondence with Professor Womack, I got approved for going to Haiti and being enrolled in ECG 200.”

Womack was contacted by Thomas P. Nerney (’77), CEO of USLI and former Chair of Cabrini’s Board of Trustees, about teaching a course that included a short-term mission trip to Haiti. Nerney has sent his employees to Haiti to aid in the water crisis there as a part of USLI’s corporate social responsibility. He saw a great opportunity through Cabrini’s social justice curriculum to have students help alongside some of his employees. 

Before the trip, the girls spent a semester in a newly developed ECG 200 course that focused on studying models of corporate social responsibility and the model of integral human development while also preparing students to visit Haiti and help tackle the area’s water crisis.

“It was my first time on a plane, let alone out of the country, so that struck my nerves a little,” said Maureen Helm (’18), who also attended the trip.

That did not stop her from traveling the 13 hours. The group took a seven-hour plane ride and then spent another six hours traveling by van to their destination, the village of Torbeck, Haiti, where they stayed at a medical center compound for the week. 

Members of the organization Poured Out, which supplied materials for the water filters, led the trip. Studentsfrom Cabrini and Womack  worked alongside USLI employees, a group of doctors, and a youth group from Colorado.

The group’s goals for the week included building a water house run by solar energy to provide clean water at a medical center and installing water filters in homes throughout the small village.

The trip came with some challenges.

Faragalli felt guilty and helpless at times, thinking about her life in the U.S., as she traveled through the city where there were piles of trash,  people drinking and bathing in streams of unclean water, and women and children who had to walk  in unbearable heat carrying buckets on their heads to transport food and water.

But this became Faragalli’s motivation to work just as hard as the Haitians and help them in as many ways as possible. “The Haitians have something that most people lack: courage, strength, and, most importantly, love,” she said.

“It is very hot and humid and there is lots of climbing hills and carrying water, masonry, plumbing, and ditch digging,” Womack said. “But, I am always amazed at how students process their experiences and how quickly they adapt to their surroundings.”
When they weren’t working on the filtration systems, the students had the opportunity to learn from and connect with the Haitians by participating in community cooking at a village home, playing volleyball with kids, teaching English, and singing songs with others their age after dinner, Womack said.

After a week of intensive labor, the team accomplished the goals they had set.

“We ended up installing water filters in 21 village homes and completed the water house on our last day,” Helm said.

Helm was taken aback by the sincere gratitude she was shown each day as she helped install water filters that work by using rock and sand. She noted how great it felt to be able to help provide clean water to people—something most people in the U.S. take for granted each day.

“After every house we finished, we were praised with ‘thank yous’ and told that we would be prayed for and that God would be looking out for us,” she said. “People we barely knew were telling me they loved me and how thankful they were that God sent me to them to help them and their family.”

All three girls left the trip feeling truly inspired and deeply impacted. 

“The trip helped me to appreciate what I have and all that I have to offer to the people in my life,” Faragalli said. “I try to smile all the time and stay positive because I know there are people who have it much worse. I wake up every morning knowing I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and clean water to drink and for that reason, my strong will to help others and make a difference will never subside.”

“Haiti taught me the most valuable thing in life: how to love unconditionally, endlessly, and without boundaries, through the way they loved me,” Toppino said. “The interactions I had with the Haitian people is such a blessing, all of them touched my heart so much. The children I met were filled with so much joy and love that I saw the face of Christ through them.”

“The trip has inspired me to appreciate my faith a lot more,” Helm said. “Over the years I have not been as active in my church as I would have liked. This trip has definitely pushed me to go back and become more active there.”

All the girls would certainly agree that taking a mission trip is well worth the time.

"There is no better way to learn than by experience,” Toppino said. “Everyone could benefit from going on a mission trip, it truly teaches you humility and how important it is to take action in helping others.” 

Womack left Haiti confidently knowing how much they made a difference in the lives of everyone they encountered during their week away.

“I came away from this trip feeling proud of our students as I watched them endure physical stress, emotional stress, and create the most beautiful relationships with the Haitian people,” Womack said. “Their experience and processing it with them is what I love the most.”