During the May Term quarter of 2016, I participated in a civic engagement course that included a service trip to Haiti. The purpose of the trip was for the class to “engage ourselves civically” throughout the duration of the trip, and at the same time, gain a better sense of self. However, what does civic engagement even mean? Before the trip, I had a vague understanding of civic engagement; I believed that civic engagement was a personalized version of community service, and in some ways it was. Throughout the trip, that definition changed, and I also understood the importance of service learning in relation to civic engagement, which made my perspective of Haiti, true service, and even my own purpose, change. The journey to Haiti comprised of an eight-day “excursion with a mission” with the majority of the trip based in Cherident, a small, rural community.
Our housing comprised of three rooms in the house of Father Fred, an Episcopal priest. During our stay, Father Fred went quickly from a stranger to a friend in my eyes, as he would come to represent the bridge between Mary Baldwin University and Cherident. In the final three days our trip, we resided in Jacmel, a southern city that is renowned for its beaches and well-maintained French architecture. Although excited to be embarking on such a journey, I was initially anxious about how closely I would be in contact with poverty. What had a big impact on my mindset was the devastation that Haiti had undergone in 2010 due to the earthquake, as well as the country’s status as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Eventually, I became connected to the land by way of the people that we had met and the work that we had done.
In the end, I gained a more personal view of Haiti,. .ying such relationships are what I hope to do as a physician as a future. Connections are what make the service more beneficial as well for those giving and receiving and makes it more likely that more improvements can be made, as evidenced by Father Fred inviting us back again next year to do more work. Performing such services in such a close allowed for me to see the implications of our actions on the people, which has made me desire to improve more black communities at home in a similar way, such as volunteering at a school or churches. The resounding experiences that I have gathered on such a journey have not only changed my notions of Haiti, but of civic engagement and the meaning of service.
Upon reflection, my definition of civic engagement is the promotion of dutiful service within a community through relationships formed through learning and understanding.