Local women making a difference

Erin Friedley, Monona, (back row, third from left wearing a dark pink shirt) was part of an Upper Iowa University group that recently traveled to Haiti.

Two sisters—Amy Doepkke, Elkader, and Erin Friedley, Monona, spent seven days in May on a service trip to Haiti. Eleven other Upper Iowa University students and two faculty members were also part of their group.

Working closely with Partners In Development (PID), a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people, the UIU team helped to build duplexes, which will provide a first-ever home with walls for some of the Haitians living in a tent city called Canaan. The 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti displaced these families. There’s no running water in Canaan, and food is scarce there as it is in many parts of the country.

“While I was working there, I would cry because I could see the tents people live in and I wondered how they did it,” said Amy. “I’d been to Haiti before but I still had a hard time seeing people live the way they do there.”

She added that the conditions also caused her to work harder in the country’s extreme heat.

“Sometimes we could only work for 15 minutes before taking a break because it was so hot,” she continued. The students didn’t have any construction equipment either. They moved boulders in wheelbarrows and created bucket lines to pass cement for foundation layers.

This was Amy’s second trip to Haiti. She first visited there in November 2012.

“After my first trip, I had to go back,” she said. “I wanted to help the people of Haiti even more than I did before my first trip. A piece of my heart will always be there. In the future, I can see myself returning to Haiti to help again.”

Amy and her parents, Brian and Julie Doepkke, sponsor an 11-year-old girl named Magdaline Verdieux through PID. Their monthly donation provides school, medical care, food and other necessities. Magdaline’s aunt is raising her. Her parents were either killed or simply abandoned her. 

“I’ve seen how people live down there and I wanted to give a child a better chance,” Amy said. “So my family and I decided to sponsor a child. This past trip, I got to meet (Magdaline). It was one of the best days of my life. But it was really hard to leave her because I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again.

During their recent visit, Amy and her Upper Iowa classmates walked to an orphanage that’s home to children with mental and physical disabilities. Though initially hesitant, the children eventually swarmed the students jockeying for places on their laps and in their arms. “I was caught up by the children and they sat on my lap,” said Chiaki Maeda from Tokyo, Japan. “They looked to enjoy spending time with me, so it was okay. I felt sad, though, because they don’t get to experience this kind of attention every day.”

The children made an impact on the Upper Iowa students throughout the trip. Danneille Easton, student from Henderson, Iowa, bonded with a little boy she called “T.” Saying goodbye to him was a tough thing to do

“As we were driving away in the truck, a pack of kids was following us and I spotted T. He looked right at me and waved,” she said. “Of all the things I saw and experienced in Haiti, T was by far the most memorable.”

“It amazes me how these kids can come from such conditions but still find the strength to smile every day and be normal kids,” she continued. “Another situation I witnessed included five little girls. It was the day we ate spaghetti for lunch, and we had a lot left over. Maxim (the UIU group’s construction supervisor) gave a box to a girl that was about 12 years old, and told her to share with the four other girls who were with her. The girls decided to share even more and gave bites to a couple of others walking by. I would never have expected something like that to happen. It showed me just how close this community is and how even the young kids there understand just what their neighbors are going through.”

Amy was similarly impressed by the compassion, caring and resiliency of the Haitians.

She noted, “The country has been through a lot of tough times. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world. But the people are still happy and make the best of things. They’re happy when groups come down and work. It lets them know that people care about them and that there are people who are willing to help them start a better life.”

This was the fourth consecutive year for the UIU May term trip to Haiti. Upon their return, each student writes a paper chronicling their personal experiences. While working with PID, the students gain first-hand experience in disaster and hunger relief efforts and also learn about the culture through immersion and interaction. The lessons the students learned there are humbling and everlasting.

“Spending a week in Haiti can change you a lot,” Amy said. “I’m more thankful for what I have. I no longer complain about things like having the best phone or name-brand clothing because that doesn’t matter.”

By Pam Reinig, Register Editor


Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Comment Here