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Sunday, January 24, 2021
<p>McNair Scholars Jasmine Wright and Bertrhude Albert pose with orphans at the H.O.P.E. Center in Haiti.</p>

McNair Scholars Jasmine Wright and Bertrhude Albert pose with orphans at the H.O.P.E. Center in Haiti.

Twelve years after moving to Florida, UF senior Bertrhude Albert crossed country lines once again to return to her home - Haiti.

It wasn't the same country she remembered as a young child. A month before, on January 12, 2010, Haiti had been rocked by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

"It never struck me what was going on in my country until I went back," Albert said. "When I returned, I knew that my future was going to be Haiti."

Her father, Isaac, has run an orphanage in Haiti called the H.O.P.E. Center for a decade, but his daughter was also inspired by the trip to offer her own help to the people of her home country.

"Being face-to-face with this poverty ... It was engraved in my heart from that point on," Albert said.

Albert helped organize a mission trip to Haiti for 19 UF students during spring break.

From January 13 to March 1, the group raised more than $23,000 for the trip and other projects, Albert said.

Albert and her roommate, master's student Priscilla Zelaya, decided to start the nonprofit organization Projects for Haiti Inc. after returning to Florida.

"When we came back, without a doubt, we had to do something," Zelaya said. "There's so much hope in Haiti."

The Christian-based organization supports projects to aid people in Haiti, such as the children at Albert's father's orphanage.

Projects for Haiti became an official nonprofit in the state of Florida in July.

The organization supports an English Association program that provides education materials for 16 Haitians who meet once a week to practice their English-speaking abilities together.

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The organization also tutors people who can't speak any English once a week to give back to their community.

"I hope that after this year, their English proficiency grows tremendously and their community grows tremendously," Albert said.

She sees Projects for Haiti as a call for young people, Christians and Haitians to help the struggling people of Haiti.

"Our country needs us," she said of herself and other Haitian people in the U.S. "Let's step up and make a difference."

Amanda DiLorenzo, who went on the spring break to Haiti in March, said she was amazed by the level of poverty many of the people she met dealt with every day.

While she was in Haiti, she met a young girl who came in for medical treatment. The girl had a hernia the size of a toy football on her stomach.

"When you go to hug her, she would scream (from the pain)," DiLorenzo said.

They gave her pain medication, but once that ran out, DiLorenzo knew she would be back where she started - wanting to be hugged but pained by physical contact.

"My heart was breaking," she said.

DiLorenzo, a UF sophomore and treasurer of Projects for Haiti, was inspired by her experiences to take a course in Creole.

Joshua Horton, a 26-year-old UF graduate student in computer engineering, also went on the spring break trip and was amazed by how kind and hard-working the kids at the orphanage were.

"You realize you don't need to have all the stuff that we do in order to be happy," he said. "When I left the orphanage, I didn't want to leave the kids. I need to go back."

Rokeshia Ashley, a 20-year-old UF junior, is a McNair scholar like Albert.

She, Albert and another McNair scholar visited Haiti in August.

Ashley wanted to visit Haiti after living in the "Little Haiti" section of Miami.

She wanted to see how the cultures of those two places compared to each other.

"I mean, aside from the bugs and aside from the heat and humidity, I loved it," she said of her trip to Haiti. "I felt welcome there."

The three students taught English to Haitians during their visit. Fluency in English is a valuable asset in Haiti that can help people get hired for a variety of jobs, Albert said.

"The kids wanted to learn English," Ashley said. "They want an education, and it's not readily accessible for them."

Albert will graduate this year, but Projects for Haiti will continue with her at the helm. She hopes to eventually earn a Ph.D. in Latin American studies with an emphasis on Haiti. Then she could teach at the college level and continue to visit Haiti a few times each year and run her nonprofit.

"I just want to empower Haitians to go out and make a living, to cope with the hand that they've been dealt," she said.

When she was younger, Albert dreamed of making a high salary. Now she won't give up on the tiny Caribbean country.

"My conscience won't let me; my heart won't let me; my body won't let me," she said. "I'll spend my last dollar in Haiti. That's fine with me."

McNair Scholars Jasmine Wright and Bertrhude Albert pose with orphans at the H.O.P.E. Center in Haiti.

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