April 1, 2010
10-061

Kate Elliot
Communications Specialist

Spring into Service: Students Aid Haitian Relief Efforts

VALDOSTA -- Junior Rebekah Tuten is one of a handful of Valdosta State students who traded spring break diversions to serve amid the relentless devastation in Haiti. The speech communication major assisted doctors as they attended to dehydrated babies and birthing mothers; she cleared debris from homes and engaged refugee children in faith-building activities.

Tuten traveled with about 22 people -- from pharmacists and nurses to pastors and fellow students -- as part of a mission trip through Crosspointe Church, a contemporary church in Valdosta. This wasn’t Tuten’s first spring break mission trip -- she has served in Estonia and New Orleans -- but it was without question the most tragic and eye opening. The 20-year-old said the humbling trip her has made her more conscious of waste and more appreciative of the blessings in her life.

“I have never been anywhere with this much widespread poverty and limited access to the basics of life. I took care of a little boy who had a 109-degree fever because of dehydration,” said Tuten, who is a member of the VSU Ambassadors. “I am still trying to let things sink in from the whole experience; and when people have asked me what I learned and got out of the trip, all I can think about is how we get caught up in our own lives and forget there are people in the world who are less fortunate.”

The team spent most of its time working with a Haitian children’s mission in Fond-Parisien; but the group also ventured to the capital city of Port-au-Prince to rebuild churches destroyed by the January 12 earthquake, which resulted in an estimated 270,000 deaths and millions of people without homes.

Somewhere between building sidewalks, playing with orphaned children and painting houses, Tuten’s life changed. The energetic coed from Forsyth County, Ga., said she is now a more faithful and hopeful person. In the worst of times, optimism and support beamed through gloom and hardship.

“One memory that sticks out in my mind was when we went into Port au Prince, and we stopped by a church to see what we could do to help out. It was a four-walled cement block building with no doors, but the church was having a service with about 15 people inside singing and praising,” she said. “These people deserved to be complaining and in bad moods, but they were worshiping and praising even in the trials that they faced. It was extremely humbling.”

The member of Kappa Delta sorority said it is important for people to give of their time and talents when they have the opportunity. Tuten’s service abroad has deepened her commitment to dedicating herself to impoverished regions; and she recently decided to pursue a career working with children in refugee camps or victims of abuse.

“I feel like when I have time off from school and work and everyday activities that I could be using my time and energy towards something that will have a positive effect on others. I felt like God was leading me to go to Haiti and placed the opportunity in my life for a reason,” Tuten said. “Before you know it, you might not have the opportunity or ability to give your time to serve others. If you are fortunate enough to have the funds and ability to go somewhere and serve, you should. It turns out so rewarding in the end.”

Tuten is just one of the many faculty, staff and students who volunteer their time to noteworthy causes. For more information about volunteer opportunities at VSU and in association with the university, e-mail Ann Lacey, director of Volunteer Services and Parent Services, at aelacey@valdosta.edu or call her at 229-259-2514.