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The Soul of Solidarity, Seth Donnelly

“COCKADOODLEDOO!” 7AM. 19 degrees North of the equator. Sunny. Hot. Humid. We all tiredly groan in our beds. The sound we dreaded every morning echoed through the halls of the house. It wasn’t a rooster. It was Seth Donnelly, our delegation leader, our “Chefla”. “Wakey wakey!” he bellowed as he walked by, heading for the boys’ room next to wake them up too. This was one of the many recurring rituals of Mr. Donnelly’s we learned to love while my delegation was in Haiti. I wiped the morning sweat off my brow as I forced myself off the rock hard cot. I groggily grabbed for my now warm water bottle and tiptoed over two of the other five sleeping girls in the room. After using the toilet, I silently prayed to myself in hopes we would have running water that day before pushing the lever on the toilet. Flush. Thank God. I thought about what Mr. Donnelly might have planned for us today as I brushed my teeth with the warm water from my bottle. The running water from the faucets wasn’t entirely safe. Every day he had something planned for us. Whether it was visiting a school or a grassroots organization, he never ceased to surprise us. We would drive at least thirty minutes to each meeting in a van and a tap-tap (decorated Haitian trucks). I had never had motion sickness before until I rode on the unpaved, rocky roads of Haiti.

I remember the day I left for Haiti. My dad was leaving that same day for London on a business trip. As a parent would be, he was worried for me and tried to convince me to travel to London with him instead. I reassured him I would be fine and told him that I wasn’t going to change my mind. To this day, I don’t regret my decision. I loved every minute of that trip and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. And it’s all thanks to Seth Donnelly. Without him I may have never been able to be a part of the difference he is making in Haiti. There’s so much to Seth Donnelly that I wish people could see. When freshmen walk into his classroom, they see him as the awesome history teacher who supposedly lives in a Costco and steals peanut butter Puffins from Whole Foods. These rumors coming from stories he jokingly tells in class. There’s something a lot more altruistic and dedicated underneath the teacher. “When I hear someone say his name it just makes me happy. He is compassionate, really driven, and he’s always happy. I’ve never seen him upset,” said Rachel Norton, president of the Students for Haiti Solidarity club at Los Altos High School. Not only Norton, but also many

students, parents, and teachers who are involved in this club feel the same way. Donnelly is the heart of the Solidarity club. He created it, runs it, and educates each student. Even when I first joined the Haiti Solidarity club, Donnelly changed me not only as a person, but he helped open my eyes to how we can ever hope to achieve change in Haiti. The most important thing Seth Donnelly has ever taught me was: When you want to see change in the world, solidarity is stronger and longer lasting than charity. Donnelly is involved in one of the most important support movements for Haiti of our time. People think pouring money into donations will solve all the problems, but they need to be more careful which charity funds they write checks to. Usually only 15% of

your donation is actually given to those in need of it. (Alan Hoffman, How Much of Your Donation goes to Charity, 9 On Your Side, Charity Watch). Every time Seth goes to Haiti, he brings thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies, clothes, supplies, and money to give to each grassroots organization he visits. When the kids see the happiness on the faces of the Haitians when Donnelly comes around, it only makes them want to help more. They want to be a part of the happiness he brings. Donnelly has inspired graduates to start other Haiti clubs at the different colleges they all went to. And other schools around the bay area caught wind of the LAHS Haiti club and decided they wanted to start one too. The club has slowly started a ripple effect that is getting more people involved,

meaning a stronger movement is growing. Educating youth about Haitian issues and US involvement is very important and that is part of what Donnelly does. He teaches them solidarity just like he taught me. Donnelly has taken different groups of students from the club with him to Haiti twice a year for the past three years. Even before the delegation trips, he has been extremely involved in not only all the Haitian movements, but Puerto Rican movements as well for over fourteen years. During my interview with him, Donnelly told me how he first got involved. “…My good friend, Dex Balding… got involved in the Haiti work [in the bay area] and then I kind of followed him in. He’s my close friend and he was going down to Haiti the summer after the Coup that overthrew

Aristide in 2004 and there was very little documentation being done at the time about the human rights violations that were occurring in Haiti after the Coup.” Donnelly and Balding had gone to Haiti on a fact-finding mission to figure out what was happening to the political activists. They were able to attain access to prisons to talk to different arrested activists and ask them what had been happening since the Coup. “So that trip motivated me to go back the following summer to continue similar work and it was on the second trip in 2005 that I met Rea Dol and we became very close through human rights work… It was the focus of subsequent trips began to shift more and more to getting resources… to these various grassroots organizations such as SOPUDEP. And then again after the earthquake there’s this whole

new phase now of taking students.” Recently, over the past summer, I joined Donnelly on a delegation trip to Haiti. We carried over ten thousand dollars worth of medical supplies for the Aristide Foundation, a medical school for aspiring Haitian doctors. We met with public school founders, community organizations, and many influential grassroots organization leaders. It was a trip that truly touched my heart. All my life I didn’t think that I ever had the power to do anything big like this, but now I know I have the power to do anything and for anyone who truly needs it and will appreciate it. Donnelly is going to continue with these delegations, changing more and more students for the better. And I hope to join him and continue visiting the country I fell so deeply in love with. One thing my friends and I noticed while we were on our trip in Haiti was that everyone we met greeted Seth with the greatest pleasure we had ever seen. He clearly had a good history with them and has made a giant impact. Many of them referred to him as Brother, which is a very endearing term in Haiti, unlike the word “bro” people often throw around in the US. Even after so much has already been done, there is

still much more work ahead. For starters, the new building for SOPUDEP is still under construction and completely relies on the Haiti Solidarity club for the funds to buy supplies in order to continue to build. I have visited and even helped in the construction of the school myself. The workers don’t have any sort of mechanical equipment; it’s all being done by manual labor. Donnelly stated, “I think the… primary, immediate goal for our community here… is to support SOPUDEP (our sister school) develop and build its new site, which we’ve been doing, [and to] develop ongoing exchanges where we keep going and visiting.” I could see the excitement in his eyes as he described the relationships he has seen build between the

kids and the Haitian people during each trip. And even after the school has been built, Donnelly hopes to continue to help generate classes and better learning environments, “…Certain departments like the science department can help SOPUDEP develop science labs and like you’ve mentioned, that you might be able to help them develop a photography program. That we help reallocate resources to SOPUDEP so they can further develop a school that meets the variety of the needs of the children and their families.” And furthermore, for the general population of Haiti the pressing need for safety and stable housing remains unmet (Winter, “Haiti News”). Donnelly hopes to see change in this too. When I spoke with

him, I could hear the determination in his voice. It’s clear that SOPUDEP is his main focus. I believe Seth has already made more of a difference in both Haiti and the US than the Red Cross or any other organization could ever hope to achieve. It’s truly inspiring to see the enormous amount of change one man has made. “It’s kind of like a wink, where you are like, things here are important, but everything’s in perspective and what’s really important is our work of solidarity, and not just with our friends in Haiti, but also with each other, Creating a beloved community, a community where we all nourish each other… two different wings of the same things, which is love,” Seth Donnelly. September 13, 2012. By Taylor Peterson