2017-07-12 / Front Page

‘We changed people’s lives’

Marlette students travel to Haiti
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Haitian children guide Marlette students Nick Powers (grade 11) and graduated senior Renee Miller down a country road near Tiverny, Haiti. Haitian children guide Marlette students Nick Powers (grade 11) and graduated senior Renee Miller down a country road near Tiverny, Haiti. MARLETTE — For 19-year-old Marlette grad Renee Miller, her recent one-week stay in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was life-changing.

“It made me see our own culture through different eyes,” she said. “I’m going to Calvin College in Grand Rapids this fall, and though I don’t know yet what I’m going to study, I do know that after this trip whatever I decide to do I want to make sure it impacts people’s lives and has a purpose.”

Miller and 17 other students and chaperones from the Marlette and North Branch area left for the Caribbean nation of 11 million on June 19, to help install simple and inexpensive in-home water filters.

The group returned home June 26. Some of the group, including Miller, sat with for an interview with the News on Monday.

According to the CIA World Fact Book, thousands of Haitians die needlessly every year from waterborne diseases such as bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever.

Half of the nation’s rural population does not have an improved water system.

Prior to the group’s departure, one of the chaperones, Marlette High School science teacher Steve Shifflett, explained, “The problem is the villagers draw their water in buckets from contaminated wells in the town square. The sand and gravel filters we will install in their homes are designed for the homeowner to empty the bucket into the top of the filter and what comes out the bottom is clean water. Simple and non-electric, but effective.”

Shifflett told the News on Monday, “Our group installed 28 filters. They were placed in households with an average of six family members. So, we directly impacted the lives of about 168 people.”

Miller added, “I’m really happy about it. I feel we made an impact and changed people’s lives. They now have clean water and won’t be getting sick anymore.”

Long-time Marlette mathematics teacher Kristen Behnke, also a chaperone, commented, “We went down there to bring a positive change to people’s lives. But the Haitian people had just as much, if not more, impact on our lives. They are such a welcoming people. They have such a wonderful sense of community.

“Americans think Haiti is unsafe. It’s not. People asked us on our return, ‘Did you get sick while there?’ We didn’t. A couple in our group did get sick when we got back to the States and had to adjust to our old diets,” said Behnke.

“Haitians don’t have refrigerators,” added Shifflett. “Everything they eat is fresh. No preservatives. I was one who really got sick when I started eating our food again.”

“I miss their food,” said Miller. “I really enjoyed the stews and soups we ate for dinner.”

Shifflett remarked how happy the Haitians are despite having so little. “They got clobbered by the 2010 earthquake in which they lost just about everything and still haven’t recovered. Then last October 16, they got hit with a big storm (Hurricane Matthew), which took off half the roofs on the island” he said.

Though just about the size of Maryland, Haiti has few good roads.

“We travelled by vans from the capital city Puerto Prince,” said Behnke. “It took us five and a half hours to drive the 80 miles to our destination. The mountainous, forested countryside looked so pretty in the distance, but up close there was debris and garbage everywhere. We stayed at a compound provided by Poured Out, Inc., a Michigan-based charitable non-profit.”

“I really want to go back,” said Miller.

“Steve and I are already making plans to take another group to Haiti next year,” said Behnke.

Shifflett concluded, “I want to encourage every high school in the county to find a cause and go serve others. It took us 15 months of planning and fundraising. We worked hard to raise the $35,000 for the trip, but it was well worth it.”

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