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IE alumna offers hope to Haitian orphans

Photo of Lauren Neder with Haitian girls
Purdue IE alumna Lauren Neder (2nd from right) uses her IE skills to work with Haitian orphans on life plans and practical skills.
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Photo of Lauren Neder
Neder works to create hope for
her students.
Photo of sewing machine
Besides learning academic subjects, students like Annanouse are trained in practical skills such as sewing. They make their own patterns and learn to make shirts. As well as making their own school uniforms, these students make money by sewing for other students.
Photo of building contstruction
The school population has tripled in the past four years. Here, plumbing class students McKinley and Jude (top) install plumbing for drinking water. Tiling class students Louis Mark, Kerson and Orlando (bottom) practice laying tile. (All photos provided by Lauren Neder)
A Purdue IE alumna is using her industrial engineering background to make a difference in Haiti, offering hope and practical support to orphans.

Lauren Neder (BSIE 2014) volunteers as the Professional School Director at Imagine Missions in Haiti. The organization is located in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town about eight miles northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince. Imagine Missions operates an orphanage, a primary school for 300 students, and a professional trade school for 120 students. The primary school has grown more than 300% in the past four years.

Neder supervises 18 professional school teachers who teach 15 different disciplines, hosts bi-monthly meetings with them to review their classroom objectives, and manages the school supply inventory. "Before my Director assignment, Imagine Missions was purchasing school supplies internationally," Neder explained. "I have since proposed buying locally to save on shipping costs, avoid logistical nightmares, and boost the Haitian economy."

Her work also involves fundraising for the organization. "I am supporting the professional school teachers by generating sponsors for their individual classes," she said. "Since Imagine Missions is a nonprofit that is 100% funded by charitable contributions, it is important that we have the funds for their supplies. We currently offer three sponsorship levels."

In 2019, Imagine Missions will launch an e-commerce store where students' work will be sold internationally to support the professional school as well as to help students establish their own savings account for their future. Neder is using her IE training to help organize the e-commerce store.

"I am in the process of setting up a supply chain for our handmade goods to be purchased and shipped anywhere in America," she explained. "I'm involved in all aspects, all the way down to the raw material being purchased, what the packaging will entail and what the thank you note will say. It's so fun to build something from the ground up, and I'm so thankful for my Purdue IE degree because it gives me the base knowledge to do this."

Besides doing academic training and supply chain logistics, Neder believes mentoring practical life skills makes a difference. "I meet one-on-one with students and create what we call their life plan," she said. "The student and I set both short and long-term goals with action items for their immediate schooling education and career futures. Some action items I am working on include: researching universities, creating resumes, and investigating Haitian scholarship opportunities."

She first learned about Imagine Missions while at Purdue, when she went on a church "service trip" during her junior year spring break. "I signed up for the trip, went to Haiti and fell in love," she reminisced. "I went again the spring break of my senior year and become more invested in Imagine Missions. I loved how all of students were treated like one giant family."

After her initial trip to Imagine Missions in 2012, she made nine other trips to Haiti before moving there in June 2018. These trips included organizing a yearly summer camp that she and friends planned for the orphanage residents, participating in two annual Imagine Missions Board of Directors meetings, and visiting once just "because I missed my Haitian community so much".

One of Neder's main goals is to offer hope. "Hope is not something that many Haitians have been fortunate enough to have," she explained. "Jobs are scarce in Haiti and the future isn't something that many Haitians get to dream about because they live in perpetual survival mode – just trying to find food and work each day. That's why my goal is to offer hope - which I know is not a S.M.A.R.T. goal like I was taught in school! But I want to be able to create hope in our students. I want these students to set that spark of hope within themselves that with hard work, dedication, and figuring out their strengths they will be able to achieve their goals. I want our young adults to dream big – move out of survival mode and create a sense of pride and worth in themselves. I want them to know they are valuable and that their future is so bright. The ultimate goal is that our students find jobs, become self-sufficient and change the future for Haiti." 

It's not always easy living and working in a non-American culture. "The biggest personal adjustment is accepting that I need other people to help me do my job since I don't speak Creole [a mixture of 18th-century French, Portuguese, Spanish, English, Taíno, and West African languages] well enough yet, and I always have to find an interpreter if I want to communicate with the teachers and students," she said. "I know how important good communication is, so it's humbling for me to be so reliant on other people for that part of my job."

What are some lessons Neder has learned so far while working overseas? "Being a team player, letting others support you, and playing on the strengths of your team are all good lessons that I know will help me in whatever career I find after this season."

Writer: DeEtte Starr, starrd@purdue.edu

Source: Lauren Neder, laurenneder@gmail.com