Professor awarded for humanitarian work in Haiti

Anthropology department chair Rose-Marie Chierici was awarded the Ernest A. Lynton Citation for Distinguished Engaged Scholarship from the New England Resource Center for Higher Education for her extensive work in Borgne, Haiti.

Chierici was one of only two recipients in the U.S. to receive the award, which is given to people in higher education who focus on direct outreach to society. She is the first professor at Geneseo to receive this honor.

For the last 13 years, Chierici has been working in Haiti, one of the poorest regions in the Western Hemisphere, to develop a comprehensive health care system. Borgne, a city with little to no economic development, has no running water, electricity or telephone and a population of over 80,000 people.

Chierici, a Haitian native who immigrated to the U.S. in 1960, is the executive director of Haiti Outreach-Pwoje Espwa, a volunteer, non-profit organization based in Rochester. H.O.P.E is mainly supported by private donations and according to Chierici, 90 percent of the donations reach those to whom they are intended.

Chierici, after deciding that she wanted to direct her research on her native country, has focused mainly on migrant farm workers and "boat people."

"I wanted to see why people would choose to leave in such terrible conditions - to just get in a small boat and take off in search of a better life in such large numbers," she said. This led her to back to Haiti to try and help those who had not left.

Her work began in 1995, one year after she began teaching at Geneseo.

"My work there focuses on community development, especially health care, education and economic development," she said. "It was an opportunity to do research abroad, and the college encouraged it."

According to Chierici, the project works through a capillary system. The volunteers and supporters have a base in the largest village in the region and work their way out to the countryside in mobile clinics.

Provost Katherine Conway-Turner traveled to Haiti with Chierici on one of her numerous trips to volunteer.

"Professor Chierici is a splendid faculty member and her work has been very important for Haiti," said Turner. "Her work saves lives."

Turner said that since Geneseo is a state institution, it cannot offer financial support but does try to help by offering courses that are related to the problems in the area.

Chierici has traveled to Haiti with Geneseo students as well as students and faculty from the University of Rochester.

"I'm looking for students who are willing to do something totally different," she said. "They have to be flexible because what we do depends very much on what we come across during the trip."

Junior Aaron Laboda, an anthropology major, has taken two courses with Chierici. Laboda said, "She's talked a lot about her work in class and what she does down there is pretty amazing. It brings a whole different aspect to class, hearing about this type of experience."

Chierici and the H.O.P.E organization are currently searching for students to help them establish links with the community through YouTube and Facebook projects.