When Haiti was struck by a massive, devastating 7.0 earthquake in 2010, Shaelle Etienne, a senior in high school, felt the reverberations in her own Connecticut home. At two years old, Etienne had relocated to the U.S. from Haiti with her family, as political refugees. So now Etienne set out to help the citizens of her shattered home country by starting up a fundraiser.
The penny war Etienne set up in her school’s cafeteria quickly raised enough money to send care packages to Haiti and even encouraged other surrounding schools to take the same initiative.
“I’ve always known I wanted to help people,” says Etienne, now a senior political science major. “But when my fundraiser raised a couple thousand dollars and began spreading to other schools, I thought this was really something I wanted to keep doing.”
Etienne has visited Haiti many times since her family moved to the U.S. She says that the trips have taught her the value in organizations that can provide sustainable resources for those living in poverty.
“There are so many sad stories,” says Etienne. “But there is also so much hope and life there. That’s what I want to focus on.”
Etienne, now a UConn senior, has combined her passion for nonprofit organizations and her background experience with human rights issues in her majors in political science and human rights.
“Shaelle is a dynamic student, whose passion for human rights and social justice issues is evident in all she does, in the classroom and beyond,” says Associate Professor of Political Science Shareen Hertel, Etienne’s academic advisor.
Etienne says that Hertel’s Globalization and Political Change course developed both her strong writing skills and understanding of international organizations, which prepared her for an internship at Love 146, a New Haven-based NGO dedicated to the prevention of child slavery and the rehabilitation of children who have escaped slavery. An essay she wrote for Globalization and Political Change about the influence of NGOs in stabilizing the Haitian government even helped her to land the internship.
“Love 146 will go in schools and talk about vulnerability factors and the resources available to help,” says Etienne. “That’s what I really like about Love 146. It’s not a sob story. They focus on empowering victims to heal themselves.”
At Love 146, Etienne also worked with their partner organization, Amistad America, Inc. The organization sails around the world to share the history of the Amistad anti-slavery revolt and educate people about the modern-day existence of human trafficking.
Etienne says she used the strong writing skills she refined in Hertel’s class to write a historical script about the Amistad that will be presented on the ship’s summer tour.
“There were approximately 20 million slaves passed through the Atlantic slave trade and there are approximately 20 million people enslaved today around the world,” explains Etienne. “Slavery today is just hidden.”
Etienne says that her favorite part of interning at Love 146 was sailing on the Amistad and presenting her material to a diverse crowd of listeners, from local politicians to elementary school groups.
Looking to the future, Etienne says that after her experiences working with Love 146, she will seek employment at an NGO and consider applying to obtain her master’s degree in social work. In filling out job applications, Etienne says her mentors at Love 146 have helped her understand how to put her best foot forward in entering the job market.
“To have integrity in everything I do, they’ve really taught me that,” says Etienne. “You shouldn’t sell yourself short.”
By Samantha Ruggiero ’14 (CLAS)