Staff Member Helps Haitians Improve English Skills

Russell Helms in Haiti photo

During his Spring Break this year, Eastern Kentucky University Creative Writing staff member Russell Helms discovered that students in Haiti are very eager to learn English and would welcome anyone willing to make the trip and contribute his or her teaching skills.

“Although I was only there for a week, what I experienced will stay with me the rest of my life,” said Helms, MFA Program Specialist with the Creative Writing Program. “I’ve never felt so welcome and useful than while teaching English in Port-au-Prince.”

More than 12 months have passed since the devastating 2010 earthquake and life in Haiti has gone on. An estimated 200,000 persons died in the magnitude 7 quake that hit Jan. 12, 2010. Although rebuilding and clearing of debris continues and problems, such as homelessness and a cholera epidemic, persist, people are seeking long-term ways to improve their lives – one of which is learning English.

“In Haiti, Kreyol and French are both official languages,” said Helms. “With the United States so close and with so many English-speaking groups in Haiti, Haitians really want to learn English. The students I met are very good with languages and fast learners.”

Helms volunteered through European Disaster Volunteers, a development group based in the United Kingdom.

“They are a great group to work with,” Helms noted. “They are out in the communities, teaching English, sponsoring youth soccer teams, providing healthcare, and implementing a variety of other useful activities.”

The day before Helms left Haiti, he heard news of the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan.

“That was just incredible,” he recalled. “The Japanese were much better prepared for such an event, but still the devastation is unimaginable. It makes me worry, though, that the people of Haiti will be forgotten in light of this new tragedy.

“I think an incredible opportunity for EKU students and faculty to make a real difference in Haiti is worthy of exploration,” he explained. “Although there are risks involved, the learning and service opportunities available are priceless.”

Many groups are looking for volunteers with varied levels of expertise, especially in health care, teaching and construction. To learn more about European Disaster Volunteers, visit

Published on March 26, 2011

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