Service Learning takes students to Haiti

Professor Micah McCreary with students from psychology class in Haiti.

Janeal Downs
Contributing Writer

While on a service learning trip to Haiti, students saw firsthand the lasting effects of a natural disaster.

Seven VCU students traveled to Haiti for three weeks on a faculty-led trip in June. The students were enrolled in Psychology 340, taught by Micah McCreary, a psychology professor at VCU. While there, students counseled and assisted children who didn’t have money to go to school and helped people start their own businesses.

“I think we see ourselves as so privileged here in the United States that to actually go and to really see what need is and to respond to the need can be defining as far as looking at it from a psychology perspective,” McCreary said.

The trip was McCreary’s third to Haiti. He first visited the country in 2010 after a magnitude-7.0 earthquake devastated the country.

“It was painful, it was dramatic. I never wanted to go back to Haiti again after the first trip,” McCreary recalled. However, he said his second trip was more of a healing process when he went with members of his church and other churches to help build houses for residents.

McCreary recalled how on this trip, one Haitian village had 26 families in need of mental health treatment.

“One student actually went with me during one conference session and he was just amazed, because even though I couldn’t speak Creole, human problems are the same and the human spirit is the same,” McCreary said. “And so I would connect with the human spirit and I would (do) interventions before the translator could even translate what the person said. It was powerful.”

Students assisted McCreary and counseled children. Jessica Watts, a junior nursing and psychology major, took the trip.

Watts worked with children who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, from the earthquake. She said the hospitals were overcrowded, including one where patients could potentially wait days to be treated.

“It made me a stronger person seeing all of that … things that I would have probably never appreciated before the trip, I appreciate now, like running water (and) air conditioning,” Watts said. “Leaving knowing you made an impact is probably the best thing.”

The Global Education Office offered eight faculty led service learning trips to Haiti, South Africa, Kenya, Panama, Portugal, Spain, and two separate journeys to Guatemala. Seventy-six of 523 students to study abroad participated in a service learning faculty led program.

“It’s a real priority for the university to increase the number of students who are participating in service learning programs and students who are participating in study abroad,” said Stephanie Tignor, director of Education Abroad.

By October, the new list of service learning and study abroad programs will be posted on the Global Education Office’s website. Students can use federal and state financial aid, institutional aid and scholarships to help pay for their study abroad trip. The office offers around $100,000 worth of scholarships to students, Tignor said.

Tignor encourages students interested in studying abroad to come to the general information sessions, which are Monday and Thursday at 12:30 p.m.. The sessions are held in the Study Abroad Office located on the first floor of the Franklin Street Gym.

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