Students to help youth in Haiti during spring break

Nina
Nina Brandi during a previous trip to Haiti to help children at risk of becoming human trafficking victims.

March 5, 2014 - Nina Brandi, a sophomore nursing student at Quinnipiac, is leading a group of students and a recent graduate to Haiti during spring break, March 8-15, to help children at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking and forced into domestic service. 

"These children have had such horrific experiences," said Brandi, who has been to Haiti five times with the Restavec Freedom Alliance. The nonprofit organization supports 34 children in two homes in the cities of Chantal and Ducis, about four hours away from Port-au-Prince, where the students will volunteer. 

Brandi originally invited some of her classmates to go with her on an informal trip to work with the children. She was overwhelmed by the interest. When her group grew to 20, the Department of Cultural and Global Education began collaborating with Brandi to make the visit an official University trip-and Quinnipiac's first service trip to Haiti.

"There is a great deal of need in Haiti. We are excited to give our students an opportunity to do service work there," said Diane Ariza, associate vice president for academic affairs and chief diversity officer at Quinnipiac. The University currently offers service and educational trips several times a year to Barbados, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, South Africa and other countries. The Institute for Global Public Health at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine also is working with global partners to establish educational clinical and research opportunities for students abroad, including Haiti.

"I knew the University had potential to do so much," said Brandi, who is applying to the global public health minor and hopes to work in pediatric nursing. On her most recent trip, Brandi brought 13 refurbished computers donated by the University's IT department. This trip, she will be bringing an additional 20. "I love these kids and I want people to love them as much as I do."

During the trip, the Quinnipiac group will assist teachers in the schools, help the children learn English, conduct science experiments and activities, and play games to help them build interpersonal skills. The volunteers will learn how to work with these children, using training material from Free the Slaves, a non-profit organization with the ambitious mission to end slavery around the world. 

Students hope to help the children begin to trust people and understand that there are good people who care about their well-being. "Another major goal is to be role models for these children, and to empower them to know that they can be the next leaders of their country," Brandi said.

Most of the children at the two group homes run by the Restavec Freedom Alliance had parents who could not afford to take care of them and were at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. The U.S. State Department estimates that in Haiti there are between 150,000 and 500,000 "restavecs," the term used for children forced into domestic labor and abuse. This doesn't include the adults trapped in this criminal system.

The School of Nursing is addressing this problem here in the U.S. at its conference, "Stolen Lives: An Interprofessional Response to Human Trafficking," May 29-30, which Brandi plans to attend. The conference brings together community groups, policy makers, health care and law enforcement professionals, and others who are addressing this human rights issue. 

Brandi was 16 when she went on her first service trip to Reynosa, Mexico, and was exposed to the extreme poverty that existed in other corners of the world. It inspired her to volunteer more. Nothing prepared Brandi for the poverty she encountered in Haiti. On her first trip to the country in May 2012, she recalled driving on the dusty unpaved roads and seeing the piles of garbage, the worn-down tents from the 2010 earthquake that many Haitians still called home and children begging- some of whom, she now knows, probably have been swept into human trafficking. 

Along with Brandi, Katherine LaMonaca, global public health program coordinator in the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, will be co-leading the trip to Haiti. Quinnipiac students joining the trip are seniors: Lindsey Kelly, Kristen Rotondo and Erin O'Brien; juniors: Erika Almanzar and Jillian Palmere; sophomores: Lucas Blom, Alena Breton, Gianna Costantino, Melissa Dal Pozzo, Nicole LaBarre, Andy Landolfi, Megan Melville, Kasandra Rodriguez, Chandler Thornton, and Nicole Torres; and freshmen: Noah Buck, Christina Camacho, Christina Carmona and Mariana Tamayo. Lukas Guan, a 2012 Quinnipiac graduate, also will participate. 

To learn more about the "Stolen Lives: An Interprofessional Response to Human Trafficking," May 29-30, or to register, visit www.quinnipiac.edu/nursing/human-trafficking.