Building Onward

UB students plan to construct school in Haiti through buildOn program

On March 4, 2014

  • UB’s buildOn chapter, an organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through service and education, is fundraising for a trip to Haiti where students will help build a school and live with a host family to learn about the culture. Back row, left to right. Kimberly Forgue, Sara Davy, Emily Fiore, Lokpyria Singh, Jamie Leidner, Abhiram Rao Front row

Reading about human rights issues was no longer enough for Emily Fiore, so she decided to experience the problems firsthand.

In December 2011, Fiore was alone in Tacloban, Philippines, and ready to volunteer. It was there she first witnessed real poverty.

Last year, Fiore created a Global Brigades chapter at UB and funded an alternative spring break trip to Honduras to help build public health infrastructures.

In May, Fiore plans to bring the buildOn chapter at UB to Haiti to build a school while living amongst the native people.

"I realized that health was only one way to examine human rights, and I kind of just wanted to explore other options and other lenses," Fiore said. "And education definitely falls into that category of fundamental human rights."

Fiore, a senior anthropology and biology major, founded the chapter at UB in September after attending a buildOn leadership conference the previous summer. She wanted a place that requires active engagement where students could come out of their comfort zones.

Fiore wanted a cause that is "empowering them instead of us," and building a school fit that idea.

The nonprofit organization has a central goal to "break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education," according to its website. The group focuses on two types of programs - building schools in developing countries and having after-school programs for impoverished city areas in America. And the organization is also designed to empower and deal specifically with student chapters.

The trip to Les Cayes, Haiti, is seven days long and consists of building the school and different cultural workshops. A pair of American students will live with one host family for the duration of the trip.

"I just want to go back to a state where I appreciate the small things," Fiore said. "You lose sight of a lot of that until you go to a place that doesn't have running water and electricity."

Molly Gosson, a senior health and human services major and vice president of the chapter, was always interested in "saving the world."

Having Fiore as a neighbor, Gosson found her chance when Fiore created the chapter.

"I'm excited to be scared," Gosson said. "I feel like I'm in such a routine where I'm not out of my comfort zone as much as I should be. And I feel like it's important while you're helping people, you have to feel uncomfortable in the process ... But I know I'm going to walk away having an excellent experience."

Gosson appreciates the promise the organization makes with the international communities, which it calls "the covenant."

The community pledges to provide the land, local materials and unskilled labor to help while buildOn pledges to bring the engineering, materials, skilled labor and project supervision to build the school. The community must also promise an equal amount of boys and girls attend the school.

The UB chapter has been fundraising since last semester for the $35,000 it costs to build the school, as well as for plane tickets.

Jamie Leidner, a junior health and human services and sociology major, is a member of the chapter as well. She said the group organized book drives and dress drives and they partnered with an organization that helps sell dresses to women of lower socio-economic status.

To help reach its goal, the UB chapter has combined their fundraised amount with University of California, Berkeley and the Lewis & Clark College to raise the money.

Hadar Borden, administrative director of undergraduate academies, has known Fiore since her first year at UB. Fiore approached Borden for guidance on resources on and off campus.

"One thing is to have good conversations with their counterparts, their colleagues [and] their peers of other institutions," Borden said. "I think they're going to walk away with a community, people they can turn to as they move on into bigger roles."

Fiore believes the sustainability approach of the program serves as a spark for the community.

After a community has built a school with buildOn, they will normally ask the government for more schools to be built. Fiore said one location now has five schools after participating with buildOn. The organization will also have the schools partner with the government for their curriculum.

"I think it's just so worth it for everyone to be able to experience something like what we're doing," Gosson said. "It takes time and dedication. It's not something you can do overnight. It just helps you grow to realize hard work pays off and it's sort of mandatory if you want to see good results."

The group hopes to be recognized at UB as an official club in the future and be a place where people can grow.

Fiore believes trips like these have the ability to turn students into leaders.

"This is what we're trying to encourage all our students to do," Borden said. "To be change agents, be leaders in their community and however they want to define community, whether it's local, regional, national or international."

Their next fundraising event is a Chinese auction March 9 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Holiday Inn.



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