The problem with going to a place that one has heard about is that there are preconceived notions, whether good or bad, said Nausheen Habib, social work graduate student. It's essential to be aware that there are two sides to a story, and learning to understand a place and its people enhances knowledge about them, she said.
People perceive Haiti as a country suffering from poverty and a devastating earthquake in 2010, she said.
For Habib, traveling to Haiti was not only an opportunity to practice social work but a cultural learning experience.
“I’ve learned so much about how resilient the Haitians are, they have so many community resources and strengths,” Habib said.
Although she can’t disclose specific information about the people she met while there, she said that Haiti’s people are strong and the country’s greatest resource.
Haiti has received contributions from other countries and organizations sending necessities, but what they don’t realize is that they’re taking away potential jobs from the citizens that could help their own economy, she said.
Through Empower Haiti Together, a for-profit organization that promotes sustainable and empowering partnerships in Haiti, Habib and a group of students with public health or social work backgrounds visited communities in Balan, Fonds-Parisien, Port-au-Prince, and Jacmel.
They partnered with non-profit organizations such as Soil, an organization that transforms waste into resources in Haiti, where the organization learned about improving water and sanitation, she said.
Her group also invested their money by eating and shopping locally and using local transportation such as Tap Tap to stimulate the economy, she said.
Habib said she would like to work with communities to develop community-based programs focused on fighting the transmission of disease from mother to child by providing education and resources.
She said that Haitians do not need a hand-out but a hand up, and it all comes down to understanding the resources they already have, figuring out what works for them, and collaborating with them.
Brandi Felderhoff, social work adjunct professor, has taught Habib in a few social work courses. She said for someone like Habib who wants to work internationally, traveling to Haiti is an opportunity that she needed to have.
“It’s a very informative opportunity that will solidify her interests and her desires and give her a clear picture of where she wants to go,” Felderhoff said.
Peter Lehmann, social work professor, said Habib embodies social work at its broadest level by engaging and empowering communities to change themselves, so they can prosper.
She is also working on ideas to develop a health-training module with Haiti community health workers so they can work together from a strength-based perspective, she said.
“If we want to help a country to move forward, we can’t do that unless we understand where they come from,” Habib said. “We can’t collaborate with the people and we can’t earn their trust unless we know what they want and where they’re coming from.”