By Sarah Vistocco '13
After receiving a certificate of attendance in 2011, former Siena student Pierre-Louis Joizil returned to his hometown of Fontaine, Haiti with a strong plan for change that has led to involvement from the College community.
In 2009, Joizil and two co-workers began an organization centered on reforming education, agriculture, the environment and health care in their country. They also hoped to spark economic growth. That work became even more important after an earthquake ravaged Haiti on January 12, 2010. The earthquake destroyed Joizil’s university, which is why Siena College provided scholarships to Joizil and fellow countrymen Canes Camil and Esperandieu Cenat. The men were able to complete their studies here and earn degrees from their university in Haiti.
Even though Joizil has been back in Haiti for about a year-and-a-half, his work continues to inform Siena students of the Caribbean country’s needs. This knowledge inspired a few talented students to volunteer their time and service for the people of Haiti. “I believe it will work. Three men got together and decided to change the village,” Katie Williams ’13 said of Joizil and his co-founders.
Nine students, including Williams and trip leader Vincenzo Polsinelli ’13, embarked on a Habitat for Humanity trip to the developing country during winter break. They spent nine days working and playing alongside children and students in Fontaine. They also painted the newly constructed St. Gabriel Middle-High School. While painting the school, the Siena volunteers taught English and learned a little Creole along the way.
“I used to walk two hours each way to attend the nearest middle and high school,” said Joizil. That’s not the case in Fontaine anymore. Constructing the school there has made education accessible to 119 students in the area.
Electricity is also a commodity in Haiti. “One out of 100 families in Fontaine has electricity,” said Polsinelli. Through the help of Siena students who aided in the installation of solar panels, St. Gabriel now has electricity. Polsinelli partnered with General Electric, which donated six solar panels, and Let’s Share the Sun, an organization in Troy, N.Y. that facilitates their installation in poor, disadvantaged areas of the world. Polsinelli said that the solar panel installation was accomplished by “Haitian technicians, which helped create good paying jobs.”
Kerry Knott ’14 described the scene that took place during the group’s last night in Haiti. As night fell, she said the solar panels powered the school’s lights and celebratory music. The group then enjoyed a final dinner together. “Having the lights come on the last night of our stay in Fontaine was a culmination of our whole trip,” said Knott.
The solar panels allow the Haitian students to use laptops that had been previously donated. They are able to study at night. Solar lanterns were also donated so that students may share the energy at home with their families.
For the people of Fontaine, solar panels are just the beginning. Joizil has purchased a field for use as a chicken nursery, which will likely provide jobs. He hopes that more students regularly visit Fontaine to continue the growth. “All of our students are interested in English and computer knowledge,” Joizil said. Those skills could eventually help them land jobs, which are hard to come by in a country with 40.6 % (2010 est.) unemployment according the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.
Polsinelli plans to continue affecting Fontaine by returning with medical experience. “I plan on going to medical school and I plan on taking this project with me,” Polsinelli said. He wants to conduct research in the village and eventually create a clinic that will be run by the people of Fontaine.
Although not every student will return to Haiti, their service will continue to promote growth in the village. Knott said, “The solar panels were not just a wonderful addition to St. Gabriel’s but also to the community of Fontaine as a whole. They are a physical representation of Fontaine’s step forward to a bright future.”