FAIRFIELD — Eighteen-year-old Madison Holzapple has never been out of the country.
For her first trip abroad, she didn’t choose a Paris getaway or a sunny beach trip to the Bahamas. The Solano Community College student is going to help out Saint-Georges, a rural village of about 5,000 on the southern coast of Haiti.
“I was kind of terrified at first,” she said. “It’s really exciting but it’s terrifying at the same time.”
The March trip is just one in an ongoing mission in the home village of Solano College’s superintendent/president, Jowel Laguerre. After moving to the United States, Laguerre’s mother rented out her home but it wasn’t being cared for, Laguerre said. It stood empty for a while before Laguerre asked his siblings and his mother about the use of the house. Checking with the villagers during a September 2012 trip, it was determined a medical clinic was the biggest need.
The Fairfield-Suisun Rotary Club adopted the entire village of Saint-Georges as a long-term project with immediate emphasis put on the medical clinic, said Talyon Sortor, of the Rotary club. The project gained traction and the attention of several other area Rotary clubs in Fairfield, Dixon and Vacaville who contributed money. So far, between a Rotary district grant and donations, $14,000 has been raised for the project.
“We call it a project, but it’s really the (village) of Saint-Georges that is the project,” Sortor said. “It’s not just one single project.”
Sortor and others took two previous trips to Haiti, cleaning the former home plus adding electricity and plumbing, including a bathroom. The village itself, said Sortor, has no electricity so a generator was deployed and light outlets put in.
The vision, Sortor said, is for the front half to house the clinic and the back half to serve as a dormitory area for when the Rotary group comes down for other projects.
Part of the Saint-Georges project is getting to know the local residents. While there is still work to do on the medical clinic, which is now in use, much of this trip is designed to bond with the residents. Several students – related to Rotarians – are taking the trip, including Sortor’s 13-year-old son.
Laguerre said the trip should be an education for them.
“Travel is the best education that can be had,” he said. “It’s experiential . . . (it’s an opportunity) to do things they wouldn’t normally do otherwise.”
Holzapple will do some physical work but much of her visit will be “connecting with the people and getting a better understanding of what they need so we can develop better ideas back in the States,” she said.
The trip will also be a chance to learn that not everyone lives like her. She’s looking at a change in focus from the things that are “wanted” to the things that are “needed.”
“They seem like polar opposites of what we do over here because they’re more focused on their needs,” she said.
She found out about the trip from her aunt and uncle, members of the Vacaville Sunrise Rotary Club, who are also going on the trip. Through them and school activities, she’s not a stranger to smaller community service opportunities – something she said she’s been involved in for about five years. The trip is the next step for her in community service, she said.
Holzapple, and a good portion of the 20 or so going in the upcoming trip, have been taking weekly Creole lessons given by Laguerre at his house. She said she’s eager to try to communicate using her new Creole abilities – on this trip and others in the future.
“I want to be involved in going back to Haiti,” she said. “I feel like more can be given.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.