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College of New Rochelle students Arielle Tillus and Vayola Justinien spent their spring break in Haiti working to prepare a library at a newly built high school.
Both women have roots in Haiti — Justinien, 23, moved from Port-au-Prince when she was a teenager, and Tillus, 21, has family there, though she was born in the States.
So the trip with a group of 10 other student volunteers from the college’s Campus Ministry last week was a homecoming of sorts for the women, and a chance to be reminded of how fortunate they are.
Justinien is studying to be a nurse and Tillus is pursuing a degree in social work.
While in Haiti, the CNR group worked to fix up the interior of the library, cataloged books and got to know students in Sassier, where the school is located.
Both Justinien and Tillus speak Creole and helped translate for the residents. What they heard was a lot of excitement from the students about having — for the first time ever — a library attached to their school, within walking distance from their homes. And from town officials there was a lot of urgent discussion about how to improve the roads and the water quality, Tillus said.
The K-12 school where they spent most of their time is called College Pierre Toussaint and was founded in 2006 by Brother Tyrone Davis, a member of the CNR Board of Directors who also works for the Office of Black Ministry for the Archdiocese of New York.
Davis organized the week-long trip to Haiti as part of his and the ministry’s ongoing sponsorship of the Pierre Toussaint school.
While Sassier is in the western part of Haiti, far from the destructive path of the deadly January 2010 earthquake, many people there live in poverty. Few opportunities for jobs and primary education are available nearby, forcing people to travel hours from their homes and families in order to get ahead, the women said.
Check out the video above to hear more about Tillus’ and Justinien’s experience in Haiti and why they believe there’s hope for the struggling island republic’s future.