Four Sioux Central students had a life-changing experience recently when they traveled to Haiti.
Brad Aronson, Sven Nielson, Jordan Bayliss and Carly Huber, who are all also FFA members, traveled with Dennis Anderson of Global Compassion Network and adult volunteer Laura Albers.
Though a small group, the students and adults shared their compassion and worked as if they were a group of many more.
The group began their journey July 23 and returned Aug. 2.
The FFA members of Sioux Central have had a strong conviction to help in Haiti for several months and they hope to get FFA members around the state to also jump on board to help.
Their conviction began when a Farm Bureau member approached the group and asked them to raise money to put up a SafeTHome - miniature grain bins tested and manufactured by the Iowa grain bin company Sukup. The grain bin homes, made of 10-gauge galvinized steel, have a life expectancy of 75 years and can survive 130 MPH winds. The homes, 18' in diameter with 8' sidewalls, are termite, fire and water-proof. They stand 13.5' from the bottom to the roof peak, with 254 square feet of usable space inside and have a double roof that serves as a heat shield, giving a comfortable feel inside. A small solar panel comes standard for one light and windows come with steel screens and have lockable covers for security.
The bins can be assembled with a wrench and serve as homes for as many as 10 people. Each unit costs $5,700 to make at the Sukup plant, another $1,000 is needed to ship the home, which is in parts, to Haiti and lay concrete for the floor of the SafeTHome.
The goal of Global Compassion Network is to put up 48 SafeTHomes to get families out of tents and the makeshift dwellings so common to Haitians. The homes are being put up on a four and a half acre piece of ground that was bought and paid for from generous donors last September. The first shipping container with 13 SafeTHomes was shipped in November 2011. The "neighborhood" has been dubbed Village of Hope and is located in the city of Les Cayes.
As the students began looking at the opportunity to help in funding, it was decided they wanted to go a step further and actually travel to Haiti to put up a home.
"We decided to be the guinea pigs," said Sven Nielson. They have already spoken to other FFA groups at the state convention about how they can help. The Sioux Central students traveled this year and next year it is hoped other FFA students will take advantage of the opportunity. With the trip under their belt, they will be able to share even more information with students.
The local group worked hard to raise the funds they needed for one home as well as their travel expenses. People had the chance to contribute to their cause as the students walked through parades, the club donated money from their annual labor auction, local businesses contributed and a corporate sponsor stepped up. Other FFA groups pitched in for the cause as well; one club donated $1,200. The Sioux Central FFA'ers thank everyone that contributed.
Despite the language differences, the Haitians and Americans were able to communicate with each other.
The group was impressed with the Village of Hope, and more so at how excited the Haitians are to having a new place to live. They were amazed to see that what may look like a typical grain bin to them (in a smaller version) was truly a home to the Haitians - complete with decor.
They explained that seven homes make up a small "community," with a gazebo in the center of each of the communities.
The Sioux Central group funded one home but built three homes while in Haiti.
They also had the opportunity to play with the children living in Village of Hope and spent time with the girls living in an orphanage nearby. They even took a large group of the orphanage kids to the beach.
In addition, they toured, with a Haitian host, other areas of Haiti including the large city of Port Au Prince. where they gathered their opinions, "There is still a lot of work that can be done there," said Brad. "Many people are living in stick and straw structures."
They were well taken care of while in the foreign country and fed well, too.
As FFA'ers, the Sioux Central students also took a great interest in the crops being grown there. Yields are about 25 bushels of corn per acre, they said, with continuous growing seasons.
The young people were impressed to see how efficient the Haitians are, using and never wasting anything. Wood from shipping containers was reused to build the orphanage.
Dennis Anderson, who has been a pastor for a number of years, has accompanied youth on many trips over the years and shared that he was very pleased with the four students and the work they accomplished and the good attitudes they maintained.
FFA advisor Melanie Bloom was unable to go on the trip but she, too, showed her gratitude.
"I am really proud of them," she said, explaining that many students initially wanted to take part in the trip but there were only four that carried through.
"They stuck their necks way out and had open minds to make things happen. This is a life-changer and will make them think differently from now on."
Yes it will.
"It's very different than what we have in America," said Carly Huber. "We were able to experience a different culture. I'm not saying the way they live is better or worse, it's just different. We have to have that mentality that it's just different."
She pointed out that it was an eye-opener to see how the Haitians get along without many of the things taken for granted here - running water, electricity at any time of day or night and even toilets. Yet, they "got along just fine," living, to some degree, as the Haitians for the short time.
"They are very happy people and happy to be alive and happy to see that we came to help," she added. "It's a privilege to live in America. I'm not saying the way they live is better or worse, it's just different."
Sven added that he, too, views life differently.
"I'm more relaxed and learned from them not to get so wrapped up in the small things."
Sven will go off to college this fall but the other three students hope to be able to return to Haiti and continue their work where they left off.