“Buy a book, or buy a brick.”
That’s the slogan that builder Mike Whitaker has been repeating as he requests $5 donations.
It’s simplified, sure – but it’s accurate and effective.
Whitaker and a team of 17 others from Sardis Fellowship Baptist Church are collecting donations for their second service trip Haiti next month.
They’ll be joining the United Christians International (UCI) organization in the small village of Caiman, in the Central Plateau of Haiti.
Since 2005, UCI has taken a holistic approach to development in this rural area, working to improve nutrition, healthcare, housing, education and agriculture.
Pastor Rod Heppell and 13 others embarked on their first service trip to Haiti in April of 2014.
“We raised $40,000, which was awesome, and we went down to build houses,” Heppell explained.
That housing is now the residence for professors who travel to this area of the countryside to teach in UCI’s pivotal project, the university.
Thanks to years of volunteer work and donations, Caiman now has an elementary school that offers education up to grade six, and they continue to add one grade per year as resources are available.
In the meantime, they’re continuing to develop facilities and programs for the accredited Caiman Christian Community University (UCCC in French), which will be celebrating its first graduating class this spring.
Fostering education in the large spans of rural communities that exist between the larger cities of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien is crucial to the livelihood of those who live there, because students who leave to study in the major city centres rarely return.
“UCI is trying to elevate the standard of education in the countryside,” Heppell explained. “How is a country going to change and break the cycle of poverty without education?”
When Heppell first visited the university in 2013, they had 70 students. Today, there are 500 students.
“In a relatively short amount of time, [UCI is] making a significant difference in this region,” Heppell enthused. “So for us as a church, it’s very exciting to support them in their vision.”
As this team of 18 people, including five youth, prepare for their mid-March trip, their goal is to raise $25,000.
The money will go toward building a second floor to the boys’ dormitory (the brick) and the remainder will be designated to sponsorships for students to study (the book).
The majority of UCCC’s students can’t afford to pay the full cost of tuition, but all who receive sponsorship participate in a work program to continue to upgrade the school.
In addition to the substantial sum of money that Sardis Fellowship is raising for this organization, the team will make great efforts to personally connect with the people of Caiman.
For the kids and youth, the team will be running daily English lessons in the elementary school, running craft sessions and carnival games, soccer scrimmages, and pantomime musicals.
They’ll get to know the university students through games, films, projects and conversations that will also allow the students to practise their English.
“Little games and activities create humour, interaction and camaraderie. It breaks down barriers,” Heppell enthused.
The group will also help out with the nutrition programs, run dental clinics led by Isabelle Chenail, and do home visits with the students.
All of the team members are responsible funding their own trip costs, meaning that 100 per cent of the community donations will be gifted to the UCI program. They’ve raised more than $7,000 thus far, but are determined to hit the $25,000 mark.
Their major fundraiser for the project is the auction, coming up on Feb. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Sardis Fellowship Baptist Church (45187 Wells Rd).
The team will be serving coffee and desserts during the silent and live auctions. Auction items include RV rental, a set of braces, a sailboat trip, gift certificates to Chilliwack businesses and many more.
Reserve tickets ($5 each) by phone at 604-858-8433 or email firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb. 24. Those unable to attend the auction can make financial donations to the Haiti project online at sardisfellowship.com.