One of the core tenets of Dallas International School is being globally-minded, not just in education, but in all aspects of life. Due to this deeply held belief, DIS strives to give back and serve not only around the local community, but around the world.
Since 2013, members of the DIS community have traveled to Haiti under the leadership of DIS parent Jodi Shelton and others to help build schools in impoverished areas of the country through a partnership with BuildON, an international nonprofit organization.
Recently, it was announced that the newest school completed by DIS and BuildON volunteers would be dedicated to the late Tracy Kozah, a fixture of the DIS community who served as the director of public relations and development at the school for over a decade. Tracy traveled to Haiti to help build a school in 2014 and was instrumental in formalizing the partnership between DIS and BuildON.
To learn more about the experience that DIS volunteers have when they go to Haiti and help build these places of learning, we sat down with Eric and Valerie Corticchiato, DIS parents who have been to Haiti three times with their daughter, Lea.
Tell us how the whole process works. What do you do on a day-to-day basis while you’re there?
Valerie: We live with host families while we are there. They give us their space that they have and we use their facilities. We do lots of work and we also do a cultural experience.
Eric: We are helping them build a school so they can get educated, which will really help them for many years. You learn to really work, even if you’re not necessarily a construction expert. It contributes to their momentum. The villagers sign a covenant saying that they will continue to build and finish the school once the volunteers leave.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned while you’ve been down there?
Valerie: Material things will make you happy for a temporary period, but it’s really all about education and relationships. The Haitian people seem to be just as happy as we are. In reality, the school is what’s going to help them be happy. When you work there, you come back with an enthusiasm from being there and it’s contagious.
Eric: You can be very happy with a lot less material things. In the long term, education will make you a lot happier than material things will.
Valerie: You definitely think about all the things that you have and you become more grateful. We waste so much water every day and they have to carry a bucket of water everywhere they go, for example. You take things for granted.
Eric: Yes, it’s important to learn not to waste. Learning to conserve water and other resources is key. When you don’t have the resources available, you learn to conserve because you have to.
What are some of the lessons that you’ve seen the students learn as they’ve gone to work?
Valerie: It’s good for the kids to learn the benefit of helping others who need it most. Also, it’s nice for the kids to learn by being in a third-world country and they’re unable to use their cell phones and technology but they still have a good time and they’re still happy.
Eric: It’s important to show the children the lives of people who have a lot less than them but who are still prioritizing education to get out of poverty and to get a head start in life. The kids also learn perseverance when they come because the work requires both physical and mental strength. They all show that strength by coming down.
How and why did the idea come about to dedicate the newest school to Tracy Kozah?
Eric: The reason why we are dedicating the school to Tracy is because of what she did. She participated in 2014 and was really one of the links between BuildON and DIS. She really deserved that recognition. So we brought the idea to the group and they all voted unanimously to dedicate the school to her. A plaque will be placed there on the school sometime this summer.
Why is this partnership between DIS and BuildON so important?
Eric: There is a cultural aspect to it. You learn the Haitian culture, which is very similar to the French culture. That helps make the connection between them and us that much more special. In my mind, there’s no doubt that the partnership will and should continue on. It’s important to continue the tradition. We’ve seen new people and younger students participating in the trip each year. Hopefully they will continue passing the torch.