Rising East Carolina University junior Jenna Murdock was one of eight ECU Honors College students that visited Haiti in May thanks to a generous donation from ECU alumnus Chip Chesson. While the group spent a majority of the trip in medical settings, the time the group spent inside one local school changed the way Murdock approaches her future as an educator.
“We hiked close to 2 miles on rough terrain to reach the Saint Antoine School,” Murdock said. “Some of the children we saw at this school walk that same treacherous path for hours, both ways, just to receive an education.”
Situated in the Fondwa Mountains, Saint Antoine School serves around 700 students ranging from preschool to high school. Like many buildings in Haiti, the school was damaged by the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the small Caribbean country. However, Murdock said it had since been rebuilt with the help of donations.
The school features a large, bright blue gated entry, with a courtyard, one two-story building, several smaller buildings, and a view of the mountains of Fondwa.
“When I walked through the gates, an immediate calming feeling came over me,” Murdock said. “You could tell this was a safe, happy place for the students to learn and grow. The vibrant blue theme is carried throughout the buildings and the students’ uniforms.”
One of the most surprising things Murdock saw at the Saint Antoine School was a computer lab, which the students are able to use when the electricity is functioning.
“Unfortunately, the average American student does not enjoy going to school,” she said. “There is a lack of motivation amongst American school children. However, in Haiti, the children are aware of the power of education. They want to go to school because they know it is a safe haven for them to learn.”
“It has the ability to open so many doors,” Murdock said. “We are so lucky here in America to have the right to a proper education and many students are unaware of this fact.”
Murdock said she wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember, but her experiences in the Haiti made her want to be a teacher even more, and changed the way she will approach teaching once she graduates.
“It has made me rethink the amount of value I put on material possessions. One of my favorite pastimes is to go on Pinterest or other teacher websites and plan out my ‘dream classroom,’” she said. “After seeing the classrooms in Haiti, I have rethought the necessity of having a perfect, ‘Pinterest-worthy’ classroom. The information taught and the connections made with the students are the most important parts of being an educator.”
While she eventually would like to teach in North Carolina, Murdock said the trip has sparked her desire to teach abroad.
“Traveling the world has always been a huge goal for me and I hope to be able to use my teaching degree while doing so,” she said. “I would love to spend some time teaching English in places such as China, Africa, or Thailand before coming back to the United States to settle down and teach here. I think the knowledge I would gain from an experience such as this would be extremely humbling and beneficial for me as a teacher and a person.”