Political unrest, US travel ban results in Haiti outreach trip cancellation

By Lucy Rudman
Junior Editor

Due to political unrest and the subsequent US Travel Ban, this year’s spring break Haiti outreach trip was cancelled. For the first time since its start in 2005, students and professors will not be traveling to the small island nation over the break.

Deborah McGrath, a professor of Biology and one of two faculty leaders, along with Dixon Meyers, expressed remorse, but emphasized that the “main concern for us here is student safety.”

She also commented on the state of Haiti, saying that, “[the political stability] ebbs and flows.”

“Much of what you see online, in video [regarding protests over food, water, and fuel prices], is much more localized [than you would expect],” McGrath explained, “It’s terrible, but it’s localized. Still, though, student safety is the number one priority.”

According to Sewanee’s website, one focus of the Haiti outreach trip is to track data in tree survival and growth, which is then used to calculate carbon payments for the coffee farmers and emphasizes “agricultural reforestation.” This is a necessary income to combat Haiti’s rapid inflation.

In addition to these efforts, there is an ongoing photo project, titled, “Zanmi Foto,” in which Lucy Wimmer (C’20) participated last summer.

“Zanmi Foto promotes resilience within the Bois Jolie [the Haitian farming community where the study is focused] community through visual literacy and communication skills gained through photography,” Wimmer explained. “Nine farming families have cameras and take pictures, which are then printed and given back to them. [The process] strengthens their sense of self, family and community.”

Chris Hornsby (C’19) has been to Haiti six times, beginning his freshman year. While he is not attending this year, the future and continuation of the program is vitally important to him, especially in the form of student trip leaders.

“I thought this spring break trip would be a good time for other people to step up [into leadership roles],” Hornsby remarked. “Unfortunately, now, with the cancellation, they won’t be able to fully realize their capabilities.”

At the release of the travel ban, Meyers had already purchased the airline tickets to Haiti, and students were expecting a trip. Instead of Haiti, the group will travel to Jamaica to continue outreach.

McGrath stressed the importance of Sewanee’s role in the economic well-being of their Haitian coffee partners, and said that she hopes to take a small group of students “for a quick trip” in mid-May to continue the project.

Wimmer, while abroad and not a part of this year’s spring break trip echoed this sentiment.

“I am devastated to hear it has been cancelled,” Wimmer said, “This project and this place is so important to me. I am anxious to find out how this will affect our work in Haiti in the future.”

McGrath, though, is confident in the future of the project, and especially the importance of the work they do. She is determined to make a prompt return to Haiti as soon as possible.

“Our work there is not done,” McGrath said. “Our belief in what we do there remains.”