New Albany students are learning about problems in Haiti in anticipation of a visit from Paul Farmer, the 2009 United Nations Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti appointed by former President Bill Clinton and assigned "to assist in improving the economic and social conditions of the Caribbean nation."
Farmer will visit Nov. 29 and speak to New Albany High School students in conjunction with the New Albany Community Foundation's annual fundraiser, A Remarkable Evening.
The foundation is sponsoring a visit from Clinton for A Remarkable Evening.
Typically, the event speaker also meets with the high school students but that wasn't possible in this case, according to Craig Mohre, president of the foundation.
Farmer was chosen to speak to students because he is connected to Clinton through the organization he founded, Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization that provides health-care options for the poor. The Clinton Global Initiative helps to support Partners in Health, which worked in Haiti, at first treating HIV and AIDS patients, and in more recent years tackling "disease and poverty, providing food, water, education and housing to sick patients," according to the organization's website.
New Albany students are learning about all aspects of Farmer's work in Haiti, from the challenges of obtaining clean drinking water to establishing sustainable businesses that can help feed the people.
To reach all grade levels, a group of parent volunteers worked with the schools to design educational programs that teach students the importance of helping others who are less fortunate.
"We want to help the students and the community to know who (Farmer) is and what lessons can be learned from his experience," said New Albany parent Paula Trybus.
At New Albany Middle School, students have volunteered to wear Pack H2O, a backpack designed by Delaware-based Greif. The pack can be carried by women and children for many miles even when it is full of more than five gallons of clean water. It is designed to prevent water contamination, one of the problems Haitians face.
Students were tutored on the water issues in Haiti by Greif's Chief Sustainability Officer Scott Griffin so they can respond to questions from other students who read the sign on the pack that says, "Ask me about my backpack."
Packs being carried by students include several bottles of water, to simulate the weight Haitian women and children carry back from a clean water source to their families daily.
Parent volunteer Kris Moss said the elementary students learned about the packs in their wellness classes. The district has partnered with Greif to sell packs that can be decorated by students and sent to people in Haiti.
The district also is selling T-shirts designed and donated by high school student Keyana Aghamirzadeh and bracelets with the message "Hand in Hand with Haiti," with 100 percent of the proceeds benefitting a Haitian orphanage established by Partners in Health.
Moss explained that the orphanage includes children with special needs who were kicked out of a hospital during the catastrophic earthquake that leveled parts of Haiti in 2010. The hospital had to expel the children because it needed the bed space.
Special-needs children are not accepted in Haiti, Moss said, and many had never been outside of the hospital before moving to the Zanmi Beni Children's Home. The proceeds of New Albany's fundraising efforts will be used to establish a tilapia-fishing business at the orphanage.
"We are trying to create opportunities and ways they (the Haitians) can sustain their lives," Moss said. "It's like providing a new solution to an old problem."
That, too, has been part of the student's education, parent volunteer Pat Huddle said.
By meeting with Griffin, the chief sustainability officer, the students are learning about new careers forming in a more globally focused economy and workforce.
"A lot of the jobs in the future are going to be global and are going to be helping to solve a lot of our crises, related to water and energy sources," Huddle said.
"Someone like a chief sustainability officer will need to look at other countries to help solve world problems that are going to affect us all," Moss added.
Mohre said an another lesson is about how one person can affect the world.
The volunteers are hoping to raise $25,000 through their efforts to donate to the Zanmi Beni Children's Home yet this year.
To engage the community in the project, the volunteers are sponsoring a community book discussion. Trybus said they are encouraging community members to read Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder. A book discussion will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the New Albany High School library. People can sign up to attend at www.napls.us.
Prior to the book discussion, the New Albany High School drama department will perform excerpts from the book and the high school choral department will perform traditional Haitian songs.
Terri Bucci of the Ohio State University's Haiti Empowerment Project will speak to the crowd, before readers can break into small groups to discuss the book. Trybus said some teachers will be on hand to help facilitate the small group discussions.
Moss said the district hopes the efforts to help Haiti will continue. To document what's been done this year, Moss' daughter, Krissy, and Kelsey Langdale are producing a 10-minute documentary that will explain how to organize a communitywide and schoolwide fundraising effort. The documentary will be shared with other interested communities and school districts, Moss said.
"The district has really taken advantage of and leveraged this to educate students on what is happening in Haiti and we're very excited about the whole program," Mohre said. "The whole vision we had when we started the student lecture program was that students and their parents all would engage in continuing education together, and that's what's happening in this program."
A list of activities related to Hand in Hand with Haiti are listed on the district's website.