Closer look: Project Haiti president Alain Bonny

By Nicole G├╝ven

Project Haiti is a Penn State student organization created in 1997 by Father Fred Byrne, with the intent to make Penn State students more aware of the economic differences between Haiti and the United States and to raise funds and awareness for Haiti.

Every semester students from Project Haiti volunteer their time over spring break to live, work and play alongside Haitians. The students' goal is to be in "solidarity" with Haitians, which involves a true perseverance to helping the common good of all and not just a vague compassion of others' plight. Project Haiti members also participate in fundraising events throughout the year, such as hosting spaghetti dinners every semester, participating in THON, selling flowers in the HUB, and working at Beaver Stadium during football games. In the past decade, Project Haiti has raised over $100,000 for grassroots organizations in Haiti.

The student organization operates in conjunction with Penn State's Catholic Campus Ministry and meets at 9 p.m. on every other Tuesday in the Harshbarger Room of Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on Penn State's University Park campus.

Project Haiti President Alain Bonny tells of Haitian children eating dirt to calm their pained stomachs. He speaks of his parents who immigrated to the United States from Haiti, and of the homeless families who can be seen living outside of a Haitian airport. And Bonny speaks of three relatives who were killed in the recent earthquake.

Bonny is a 22-year-old senior majoring in chemistry. Although of Haitian descent, Bonny's first trip to Haiti was with the student organization Project Haiti. He joined as a sophomore and the trip turned an indifferent attitude to one of affection for a culture he had never had the chance to view before.

"I had never had a real opportunity to go," said Bonny. "It's common with Haitians that they fear to go back. The way the country has deteriorated in the past 30 years, no one wants to go back, nor do they want to send their kids back. When Project Haiti came along, I had the opportunity to go."

Bonny became president of Project Haiti in his junior year. He said that his first visit to Haiti as a sophomore was a shock to him.

"We drive through Central Plateau, one of the poorest places in the world, and kids eat dirt three times a day because there's nothing to eat, just to have something in their stomachs," said Bonny. "It was a slap in the face. Since then I'm going full steam ahead with Project Haiti."

A group of about 25 students involved with the project volunteer in Haiti over spring break every year; this year, because of the recent earthquake, Project Haiti has had to push back the date until after final exams this spring. The group usually stays one night in Port-au-Prince, the capitol city, which was devastated by the earthquake. The building they stayed in has been demolished, and the group just confirmed Bonny himself has lost three relatives to the recent earthquake.

"I'm sure if you ask anyone with Haitian ties, they've lost someone they know," said Bonny. "It's really unfortunate."

The trip the group makes this year is very important because of the effects of the earthquake. The orphanage the group usually works with has grown by 33 percent since the earthquake. So this year the group will focus on manual labor, renovating facilities to accommodate the new kids or helping to build houses for the new families that are moving into the village. They also place an important focus on maintaining the foundation's "solidarity" and providing comfort to the children.

As for donations to help with the relief effort in Haiti, "The need is so great right now," said Bonny. "I'm indifferent as to how it gets down there. I just ask people when they want to donate, to do their homework as to where they donate because there are a lot of scams right now. If you donate, just make sure it will get to Haiti."

Donations are very important because "Haiti's already starting to disappear from the headlines," said Bonny. "It's not going to go away just because people stop reporting about it. It's going to take years to recover."

Bonny is going to work for Teach for America in Los Angeles for two years after graduation and then plans on attending graduate school for chemistry. Because of his experience with Project Haiti, he plans on visiting Haiti at least once a year and makes it his goal to be able to donate to Haiti relief organizations in the future.

For more information about Project Haiti, visit the association's Web site at http://www.clubs.psu.edu/up/phaiti online. To donate to Project Haiti, contact Bonny at arb5134@psu.edu.

Reprinted from The Global Lion, which can be downloaded at http://www.international.psu.edu/publications/global_lion/feb03_10.pdf.

Last Updated November 18, 2010