UC Sigma Chi's reflect on their volunteer work in Haiti

By Stefano DiPietrantonio – bio |email

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A group of local student volunteers who spent part of the last three summers building a school and doing other humanitarian relief work in Haiti is watching the news very carefully.

They met so many people and they don't know what's become of their work or some of their friends.

Members at The University Of Cincinnati Sigma Chi Chapter said it was an amazing summer they will never forget and hard to imagine that memories may be all that's left.

The Sigs witnessed a group of Haitian children singing 'Alleluia Jesus is the Way', but the traveling evangelist that they watched lead so many of them in song, who is also their friend named Serge, is missing.

"He's very cheerful and he just has a way with people," said Jason Reising. "He brings the best out of them."

The Sigs said it was hard to watch the video they had shot only two summers ago, not knowing if he's OK.

Sigma Chi's have made three trips the last three years, to help build schools in Haiti, with the local group, FOCAS Ministries, started by Sig Ben Hoyer's grandfather, Dick Taylor.

"The first we helped the Haitians plaster the school they had just built," Hoyer said. "The previous school had been torn down by a hurricane."

Then the Sigs came back on another trip, painted it, then helped wire an office building, church and school their third go-round.

"The school from the third trip is pretty significantly damaged," Hoyer said. "The church there, the walls have crumbled."

The Sigs say that once in Haiti, it's not life as we know it the second you step off the plane.

"Seeing the UN troops driving down the streets with their m-16's pointing anywhere looking around it's pretty intimidating," said Andrew Wier.

They would soon come to understand the desperation they saw all around in Haiti.

"It's just really sad," Wier said.

Especially when the average annual salary in Haiti is under $200.

"They're always upbeat," said Reising. "It's so surprising a country that's so poor, so many hardships they just always try and make the best of every situation."

"For me it was a really humbling experience," said UC Sigma Chi Chapter President Doug Krutka. "Just because these people have almost nothing and they're still so happy and always singing."

Todd Mayberry called his time in Haiti life-changing, especially building a new school.

"And there's a group of kids that just followed us around," said Mayberry. "A lot of them didn't have shoes, didn't have shirts. They wake up in the morning not knowing if they're going to have food. It was kind of a wake-up call for myself, as an American, do I really have a right to be upset, be ungrateful for what I've been given?"

"We need to take what we've learned through Sigma Chi and just try to apply that elsewhere," said Evan Clinkenbeard.

And part of that is pledging a deep sense of responsibility.

"The day that we went to the Presidential Palace, it was a very sunny day, about 90 degrees," Clinkenbeard said.

He says can't believe the palace they once stood in front of is a pile a rubble today.

When asked what was the one thing the students suddenly realized we take for granted here in the US, Kyle Snider paused a moment and said, "Brush your teeth. I don't know how many times I caught myself brushing my teeth with the wrong water, I paid for it one day."

Snider said the locals call that "Haitian Happiness," and it's quite painful to the lower half of your body, causing intestinal disturbances. And with no purified water to drink or use right now, one can only imagine there is a lot of that kind of "happiness" going around right now.

The Sigma Chi's are holding a fundraiser Thursday, Jan. 28 at Uncle Woody's in Clifton. They will be taking donations at the door and then channeling those monies through FOCAS Ministries directly to Haiti.

You can learn more about FOCAS ministries, based in Cincinnati at: http://www.focas-us.org/index.html

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