Senior aims to promote sustainable practices during experience in Haiti

By Amanda Gee

Laura Stockwell

Photo provided by Laura Stockwell

Laura Stockwell visits with children at Helping Haiti Angels (an orphanage) during her trip there last year. ​Full-size image (398 KB)

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After an eye-opening experience in Haiti last year, Laura Stockwell wants to help people around the world develop more sustainable agricultural practices.

The agricultural sales and marketing senior from Hudson, Ind., wants to make sure people can maintain and live off of a piece of land. She also wants to ensure they can pass on what they know so others can do the same.

"I wanted to be productive, go and work, be immersed in a culture and contribute — help as much as possible," Stockwell said.

That's what drove her decision to travel to Haiti last year. There she and a team from Purdue helped Haitians build a foundation for sustainable agriculture in the town of Cap Haitian.

During her first day in Haiti, Stockwell saw something that affirmed her commitment to sustainability: a Passing of the Gift ceremony by Heifer International, an international nonprofit organization. The ceremony involves farmers giving livestock to other farmers — it puts into practice what Stockwell was there to foster and promote.

"The members of the community were passing on the gift they had received to their neighbors and friends. It was incredible to see what a difference one animal makes to a family in Haiti," Stockwell said. "The joy and energy of the moment made a lasting impact on myself and peers who got to share in this special event. Everybody was smiling, welcoming, just happy."

Stockwell noticed the friendships and partnerships being made as more and more farmers received their heifers. The donated animals were the building blocks that allowed these farmers to provide for their families. The Haitians weren't just passing on heifers; they were passing on knowledge about sustainable agriculture.

Stockwell said that's just what she and others were trying to do in Haiti.

"Honestly, the most important thing we did and learned in Haiti was to build partnerships," Stockwell said. "The people we met were just as excited to learn and share knowledge about agriculture and build friendships as we were."

Stockwell and other Purdue students built those partnerships as they worked in demonstration fields, planted cocoa seeds, met orphans and learned about Haiti's developing agricultural industry.

Stockwell recalled an important lesson she learned while helping prepare starter bags of compost to spread on soil.

"I would be using a shovel and digging, mixing the soil to be used for the bags, and a guy kept making motions, but I kept on shoveling," she said. "Then he showed me the 'right' way to use a shovel. It was fun, it was interesting. I remember thinking, 'I didn't know I was doing this wrong.'"

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​And she plans to pass on that lesson (and more) to the students who travel to Haiti next time.

Stockwell is helping prepare another group of students by sharing what she learned in their Haiti prep course. The goal is to sustain Purdue's partnership with Haiti and make sure it's a continuing program.

"You can only do so much in 10 days, and that's why it's so important to build strong partnerships," she said, referring to last year's class. "That way, channels for sharing can be open from hundreds of miles away all year long."​