The School of Foreign Service awarded Cole Horton (SFS ’18) an Improving the Human Condition grant to construct an agricultural plot at an orphanage in Haiti this summer.
Each summer, the SFS allocates grants of up to $3,000 to students whose unpaid internships or research assistantships seek to improve the lives of others. Priority is given to short-term, hands-on projects incorporating international travel, according to SFS Associate Dean Anthony Pirrotti.
“The idea was that the money would give SFS students a little more flexibility for their summer sessions,” Pirrotti said. “They could use the time to pursue good causes, causes that link with the university’s mission to do good in the world around us and to continue our mission to serve other people. It would free them from the constraints of only looking for positions that paid.”
Applications for the grant begin spring semester, and selections are made by a committee by the end of April. The number of grants offered per year varies, as funding is sourced from both the SFS and external donors. Thirty grants were awarded this year.
“This is a really great opportunity for students in the School of Foreign Service, and we would encourage more students to apply,” Pirrotti said. “In the past, students have done projects that range from working with refugees to working on immigration issues to State Department internships. … There’s quite a lot of latitude in terms of what’s available to students.”
As a recipient of one of this year’s grants, Horton led a group of 18 students from his high school, Deerfield Academy, in Deerfield, Mass. to an orphanage in Kenscoff, Haiti during the first two weeks of June. The orphanage, called a creche, is operated by humanitarian organization Chances for Children. Around 60 children live in the adoption center.
“From talking with the staff from Chances for Children, it became clear that they were spending a lot of money on transportation and storage of food,” Horton said. “They’ll buy a lot of rice and beans, which is filling, but not nutritious, and after months of the same diet a lot of orphans end up getting sick. I was trying to think of a project that would either minimize the costs of purchasing food or increase the variety in diets.”
For the past four years, Horton has worked with Chances for Children to construct a tiered agricultural plot at the creche. The plot, which is now 5,000 square feet, aims to decrease the orphanage’s operating costs, increase the nutritional value of the children’s diets and make the center more sustainable.
“They wouldn’t have to transport their food, they wouldn’t have to buy it all, they could just buy the seeds and hopefully cultivate it every growing season,” Horton said. “There’s no electricity or energy that needs to be put into it, just gravity. They’re growing 13 different vegetables. Cabbages, carrots, things like that, which are too expensive for the orphanage to buy in bulk in local markets in Haiti.”
Horton highlighted several issues Haiti faces in terms of food access and his hope that the agricultural plot could serve to alleviate these challenges.
“For Haiti, the key problem is that there’s not enough access to food,” Horton said. “On top of that, it’s the people who need it the most that don’t have enough money to buy it, and Haiti has such a large population in such a small space. … I was fortunately able to design a project that I felt addressed those three issues and provided at least a partial solution to each.”
The majority of the funds allocated by the grant went to purchasing materials for the project, including piping, seeds and gardening tools. Older orphans living at the center will also use these supplies for vocational training.
“The older orphans, who are probably not going to be adopted, will have to leave the orphanage at some point,” Horton said. “The goal is to help them have some sort of skill in gardening so that they can support themselves, if they end up on their own without any money to buy food.”
Claire Koeppel, a rising sophomore at Deerfield Academy, was a member of the group that travelled to Kenscoff this summer. Koeppel emphasized the group’s goal to have a lasting impact on the children at the orphanage.
“It’s like that old adage, ‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime,’” Koeppel said. “I think the main goals were to build the vegetable garden, of course, and to give a lot of extra love and hugs to the orphans there — everyone was really excited to see them — as well as to be involved in something that is much bigger than what we experience at home.”
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