A campus with a mission

Mary Baldwin students travel to Haiti to change their own lives as well as the lives of others

Students Joyce Campbell (left) and Derrica Stone make friends with the children of Cherident

Mary Baldwin College’s commitment to service-learning and global engagement is nothing new. An emphasis on serving others runs deep through the school’s history. In fact, Mary Baldwin is a Sullivan scholarship and award school and gave out its first Sullivan award all the way back in 1933.

That long-standing commitment to service recently manifested itself in some truly remarkable outreach. Members of the Mary Baldwin community from a wide array of disciplines traveled to the town of Cherident, a rural community about three hours’ drive south of Port Au Prince, the Haitian capital.

Elsa Vasquez-Flores works on mural designs with children

“I’ve talked to many people—and now I understand it myself—there is this feeling once you go to Haiti that you don’t really come back,” says Associate Professor of Marketing and Communication Bruce Dorries, who was part of a group that traveled to Cherident for Spring Break in March 2014. “Part of you is still there, thinking about the people and what you can do together next time.”

In addition to Mary Baldwin students, faculty, and staff from social entrepreneurism, communication, social work, and physical therapy, the network currently includes area churches, Waynesboro-based solar energy company Sigora Solar, retired local priest Father Roger Bowen, the August Lions Club, and the Haitian Education Foundation in Arkansas. Dorries hopes the group will soon expand to include more organizations that have connections with Haiti, including Blue Ridge Community College, which boasts a long-standing social entrepreneurial partnership with the Haitian village of Mon Lopital.

Brittany James talks with members of the Cherident community

The goals of the trips are as diverse as the people and groups involved. The recent visit to Cherident was spent conducting community needs assessment research, providing physical therapy for more than 150 people, and working with Cherident locals to create a mural. That striking piece of public art is meant to reflect the history, landscape, and identity of the area.

The Mary Baldwin group will also host an event in October called “Café Haiti.” The gathering will convene local organizations and individuals to share what they have learned from working in Haiti and discuss how to better coordinate efforts and support each other. With service-learning trips already planned for undergraduates and grad students in the summer of 2015 and for doctoral students in physical therapy from the newly-opened Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences in summer 2016, Mary Baldwin is committed to a long-term relationship with the country.

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