Reflections on the Water
Mo Baptiste’s commitment to Haiti
By Luka Starmer ’11
When the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the Caribbean island of Haiti on January 12, 2010, it also shook Mo Baptiste. Baptiste is Haitian American and an assistant professor of education at Ithaca College. At the time of the quake, he was in Florida working on his dissertation on the marginalized leaders of the Haitian revolution. When he heard the news of the quake, he knew what his next move would be.
He jumped at an opportunity to fly to Haiti with a nongovernmental organization under the auspices of providing emergency disaster relief, unaware that he was being misled.
“It turns out this Haitian organization that I went with was trying to smuggle children into the U.S. illegally,” says Baptiste, who, after learning this, had to decide what to do.
After the earthquake, the U.S. government was granting anyone with an American passport a free flight out of Haiti. That would have included Baptiste. However, six Haitian Americans, with whom he had flown over, found themselves unable to leave because they had Haitian passports. Baptiste was the only one among the travelers to stay in Haiti to assist them, and it was during this time that he experienced a chance encounter with two members of the World Water Relief organization. Impressed by Baptiste’s valor, they agreed to drive the group across the island to an airport in the Dominican Republic. Upon returning to the United States, Baptiste earnestly vowed to return the service of selflessness to the World Water Relief and to the country of Haiti.
His opportunity to give back came in October 2010. The World Water Relief contacted him to return to Haiti to assess an education plan aimed at teaching students about the water systems and about preventing the spread of cholera.
See Mo Baptiste’s photos and learn more about his relief efforts in Haiti, below.
“These people created a curriculum around clean water that was translated into [Haitian] Creole,” says Baptiste. “It teaches the young people, the children, how to treat the water, how to take care of the environment, and about pollution.” This program is key to dispelling the belief many Haitians hold that germs can’t kill them — a myth deeply rooted in a culture that has overcome slavery and endured hundreds of years of adversity. Baptiste explains that, even at the peak of the deadly cholera outbreak that swept through Haiti, some Haitians were saying, “We’ve survived so much; how could germs kills us?”
Beyond the educational programming, the World Water Relief, in collaboration with grassroots Haitian leadership, installed high-tech water systems at three schools in the village of Mirebalais, which was deeply affected by cholera. These systems provide drinkable water and a place for students to wash their hands.
Baptiste has returned to Haiti three times since 2010, bringing reusable water bottles and school supplies, and he plans to continue his service trips in the years to come. He says that these students cannot learn if they are missing school due to illness associated with bad drinking water.
Baptiste has shared his story a number of times at Ithaca College and with the greater Ithaca community, strongly encouraging individuals to support the grassroots efforts, created by Haitians for Haitians, that currently exist in Haiti. “What we as Americans should not do is create another nongovernmental organization and go into Haiti on our own, doing what we believe the Haitian people need and forcing our will on them.”
Claudia Ayers, director of stewardship and data management in the Division of Institutional Advancement at IC, was inspired to play a role in the Haiti relief effort after hearing Baptiste speak about his work at an all-College meeting in January.
“Ithaca College is a very generous community, so if you put out a box and a call to help, people respond,” says Ayers. “We have a box in Alumni Hall that is full of water bottles and art supplies.” Another box is located in the James J. Whalen Center for Music.
“There is so much we can do here in the U.S. without stepping foot in Haiti,” says Baptiste with a certainty and authentic passion that looks you in the eye. He explains that the logistics are challenging for shipping and receiving supplies directly to the country as a result of the damaged governmental infrastructure. But that doesn’t daunt him at all.