The seemingly simple question “How was Haiti?” is harder to answer than expected for an architecture student who went there to help make plans to build an orphanage.


Casey Poe, a senior architecture major, traveled to Croix des Bouquets from May 30 to June 9 with Engineering Ministries International, a Christian non-profit organization that provides engineering and architectural assistance to developing countries. Poe said she heard about EMI from other architecture students.


“What do you say to a simple question in passing?” Poe said. “It’s a lot to sit down and unpack, so it’s a hard question to really fully get out.”


Poe and her team developed plans for an orphanage and a guest house for a church there.


“They had ideas and they could see it, but our team was able to go down there and make it something they could actually really see and show people,” she said.


Poe said her favorite part of the trip was showing the pastor that the church’s plans were really beginning for the first time.


“He’s a quieter, more reserved man, but the girl that works alongside him was there,” she said. “I couldn’t really see the pastor’s face, but I could see her face. You could just tell in her face that she was really happy to see him happy. She even cried a bit. Afterwards, he said he was so excited. They had a few questions, but they said it was perfect.”


Greg Young, executive director of the Calgary branch of EMI, worked with Poe throughout the trip. He said she, like most college students that go on the trips, started off assisting everyone else, but moved up to doing projects on her own.


“Casey would initially sit in on programming meetings, walk the site, just discussing master planning issues,” he said. “The students would be there to be a part of all of that master planning process. I was able to hand her one of the buildings to work on. In this case we were doing an orphanage and a guest house, and so Casey was working on the guest house. I oversaw her production of that, but I gave her a chance to work on it and develop the idea, and let her go.”


Young said he’s worked with another Ball State student in the past — Meredith Nash, who went to Niamey, Niger, in 2011 to help design a school.


“I think that most of the students that we get are excellent students,” Young said. “Most of the time, they’re young people who have a desire to get out of their context and be able to experience something that’s challenging. I think Casey and Meredith both showed a lot of keen desire to learn and be good listeners.”


Poe said other members of her group had been to Haiti in past years, including immediately after the 2010 earthquake. 


“A lot of them that had been before said it was remarkably better than it had been a year ago, and it was way better than when the earthquake first hit,” Poe said. “There’s been a ton of improvement, but it’s definitely still in effect there.”


Young said he thinks a lot of people have preconceived notions about the places and people they’re going to help, but going can change their views.


“[Poe] was able to go there and meet them face-to-face, learn a bit of Creole and hear their stories and come back with a fresh perspective,” he said. “I think that’s very similar for Meredith. When she came, she had a chance to go to the poorest country in Africa.


“I think in both cases, they not only learned a new appreciation for home, but they also learned that people are pretty cool everywhere they go and that if they look for it, they can make a connection with different people, too.”


In addition to the personal development these trips can give, Young said they can give students a better perspective of what their careers will be like.


“A job isn’t just having a career and earning a paycheck,” he said. “There’s a chance even for architectural engineers to go out and be a part of something way bigger than they’re normally a part of.”