What this is all about

Based on the WMRA show "The Spark", hosted by Martha Woodroof, this project looks at the creative passions of college students in the Shenandoah Valley area.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jessica Romero, the Volunteer

Looking out over Haiti

Mon Lopital sits on top of a mountain in Haiti. It is a tiny village of about three thousand people, nearly five and a half hours from the nearest large town. The villagers used to make the trek up and down the mountain on foot in order to get food and supplies. But now, thanks to the work and dedication of people like Jessica Romero, they have a general store of their own. And she hopes to give them so much more.
A sophomore at Blue Ridge Community College, Jessica is a member of Enactus, an international community of students who see entrepreneurial action as a way to change lives. Enactus focuses on environmental, social, or economic projects to increase people’s quality of life. The Blue Ridge branch has programs focused on everything from the empowerment of women to tutoring the mentally disabled. When Jessica came in to speak with me at the WMRA recording studio, her shirt had a small logo with the words Enactus stitched beneath it. Clearly, she is proud to be a part of this organization.
Jessica was born in New York and moved to Harrisonburg 8 years ago. When she was a child she wanted to be a veterinarian or a teacher. She has only been a member of Enactus for two years, but it helped to shape her goals for the future. Her new dream is to help people.
“For me, once I started looking into Enactus I was like ‘I have to be a part of this’. This is just too awesome to let it pass by.”
The Enactus team
Jessica and four other students to went to Haiti this past January to work on a new project. Last June they built a general store for Mon Lopital, but this time their mission was to provide something simple, yet essential: Light.
“Ninety percent of Haitians have no electricity,” Jessica said. “They use kerosene lamps, which are really expensive. Instead we figure we could use solar powered lamps.”
It is called the D-Light Initiative. “We raised money for 600 LED lights, and met with a Haiti committee of twelve people, who chose the seven women most in need. Each woman is given a box of lights to sell, all profits to them, in order put money aside to re-invest in more lights.”
These lights do more than just light up their homes. By giving these women lamps it gives them a job, and the opportunity to improve their lives. The lights provide sustainability, so that the village could thrive on its own.
“Hand-ups,” Jessica calls it. “Not hand-outs.”
Jessica was drawn to Haiti because of its potential. There is a desperate need for change, but lack of infrastructure and support make this difficult. She and the other Blue Ridge students had the resources and ability to help, and all they needed was passion.
Jessica with one of the children from Mon Lopital
“To see that light hanging there and lighting up the home, with the kids studying, the mom cooking or sewing, it speaks for itself,” she says. “I’m passionate about doing something bigger than myself, and this is way bigger than me. I never experienced a feeling like this.”
Of course there are always challenges. Even with all their work and research, there are always more areas of need.
“It’s important to see opportunity where others see obstacles,” she says with a smile. “I’m one person and I want to do all these things, but there’s so much to do, so many people to help, so many things to change.”
It can be discouraging, but Jessica keeps faith. And it is her faith that partly drives her.
“God, he’s doing mission work every day. I’m a believer and I feel like we are called to help. The least I can do for Him is follow His footsteps. He’s given us love and life, and I want to carry that on.”
Jessica hopes to work for the US Agency for International Development, or USAID, after graduation. She would like work in Latin America, where she speaks the language and knows the culture, or back in Haiti, a place that has become dear to her. But she also hopes to challenge herself and eventually move on to other parts of the world. Jessica aspires to speak at least five or six languages, and continue with her work of helping those around her.
“Maybe I can learn Swahili and go to Africa!”
Until then, her heart is with the people of Mon Lopital. Her dream would be to provide the children with a school well-stocked with supplies and with teachers that are paid a proper salary. It would take a lot of work, and a lot of resources. But Jessica already has the passion, so she’s already one step closer to achieving her goals.
Children of Mon Lopital
My next interview is with Washington and Lee's Max Chapnick, to be posted next week.

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