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Katie Howe in Haiti

Above, from left, Henrietta Koramoah ’20, Abbie Walsh ’19 and Katie Howe ’20 with some Haitian children during their Alternative Spring Break last March.

Spring Break Trip Leads to Spot on Local Board of Directors


Katie Howe with childAfter she returned from the 2017 Alternative Spring Break trip to Haiti, where she helped out with various service projects through The Haiti Plunge, Inc., to benefit a women’s cooperative in a rural part of the country, Katie Howe ’20 of Malden, Mass., could not stop thinking about her experiences there. Now, she serves on the local non-profit organization’s board of directors.

“When I signed up for the Alternative Spring Break trip to Haiti, I never expected to enjoy it so much and to become so passionate about the organization,” Howe explained. “I had been on service trips before, but nothing like this one. Despite language barriers, cultural differences, and varying social norms, members in all of the Haitian communities we visited and stayed with welcomed us openly and wholeheartedly.”

Howe, who majors in environmental studies with a minor in anthropology, said much of what she experienced in Haiti related closely to her studies: “I am interested in learning in different environments, and being exposed to new places, people, and challenges. It is important to discover and understand how others live, and what their viewpoints are,” she said. “I enjoy clubs and organizations that help others, create friendships, and shape me to be a leader.”

When people are struggling to get by, even simple concerns such as recycling can seem irrelevant to daily life, according to Howe. “Conservation is important to everyone. By taking care of the planet – even just our little corner of it – we take care of ourselves.”

She plans to return to Haiti when another group heads to a second Alternative Spring Break in that country over the next break, in March 2018. Much more than a service learning experience, Howe said, “It is a cultural exchange where I was able to build relationships and connections with the individuals and groups we met throughout our nine-day visit.”

As a youth board member, she works with other Haiti Plunge board members – including Spencer Moser, director of MCLA’s Center for Service, who leads the Alternative Spring Breaks – to raise awareness of The Haiti Plunge on campus, and to interest other students in going on the trip. Other responsibilities include attending board meetings and the organization’s events and forums, as she spreads the word about its goals and intentions for the future.

Her hometown of Malden, Howe explained, is a diverse city – not only racially, but also ethnically and economically. There, she is aware of the struggles families face daily, “but what I experienced this past March in the city of Port-au-Prince – and the surrounding villages of Brely, Desab, Cabaret, and Tenwar – was something much different,” she said.

Only 11 percent of people who live in rural Haitian villages – such as those that encircle Port-au-Prince – have access to energy, compared with 63 percent in the Island’s cities. About 16 percent who live in Haiti’s countryside have access to improved sanitation, as opposed to 48 percent in the cities.

“The Haiti Plunge exposed me to a whole new way of living, with different definitions of happiness, and also terrible images of poverty,” Howe said. “In communities such as in Brely, much change is needed. I hope, through my education and effort, I can be part of that change.”