Much like the typical millennial, in the past two years since I’ve graduated college I’ve spent a lot of time comparing myself to my peers who appear to be doing better than I am in many aspects of life. (Thanks a lot, Facebook). A good friend and I spent last weekend discussing the plight of our generation: We are never satisfied. We realized we know a number of people who work or have worked for top corporations they’ve dreamed of all their lives (think Apple, Google, etc.) and quit, hoping that there’s something out there that will satisfy them more … while still banking the same (or increased) salary.
Only recently have I really become cognizant of this millennial dilemma and started to reflect on my own situation: How blessed I am to have graduated from a solid university, to have found a job in my field so quickly after graduation and to have an amazing network of family and friends behind me every step of the way.
My travels to Jamaica earlier this month for the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Caribbean Hotel Summit only deepened this feeling of gratitude.
During the conference, I met Louise John, a trustee of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Education Foundation, and she shared with me a deeply moving story of students who refuse to give up on their dreams of becoming hoteliers.
Three weeks after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti took down a hotel school in the country, three of its surviving students made the decision to keep moving forward.
“They walked into the office of a general manager of a standing hotel in Port-au-Prince and said, ‘Hi, we’ve lost everything. We’re living in tents. We don’t want your money, but we want our education because one day we want to be a general manager like you,” John said of the three students.
After the GM gave John a call, she couldn’t say no to providing help to the hotel students impacted by the earthquake. The Education Foundation decided to set up a five-year fund for Haiti, which is separate from the organization’s traditional scholarship program for hotel students.
The initial group of three hotel students quickly grew to 21, and the Education Foundation realized more had to be done.
The team mobilized young Caribbean hotel experts to go into Haiti to provide training to the students. “They gave up their four weeks of vacation … left their families at home, went to Haiti and gave us four weeks of their time to do brilliant, brilliant work with these survivors of the earthquake.”
The volunteers taught the students skills in the following areas: housekeeping, front-desk management, IT, food and beverage, security, hotel management and security, among others.
Additionally, the Education Foundation developed an intense English program specifically for hospitality students. When the students took their Test of English as a Foreign Language through Michigan State University, no one scored less than 82%, John said.
Since then, 21 of the students have applied to universities and 18 have been accepted. “We’ve gotten calls from the colleges saying … the caliber of these people is head and shoulders above the regular applicants.”
More help needed
The program is not without its challenges, however.
“We’re now stuck because we’ve done everything we can on a shoestring budget, massive volunteerism. We can’t get through the next stage on volunteerism,” John said.
The organization needs $100,000 this year and another $100,000 next year to send the students on to college.
The idea is that the students will spend two years away at university, take a break for two years to work in hotels in Haiti, and then finish up their Bachelors’ degrees in the span of another two years. After that, they are to spend at least three years working in Haiti, John said. “The foundation is about sustainable tourism in this region and sustaining tourism in Haiti.”
I am in complete awe of these young students working so hard to fulfill their dreams of becoming hoteliers after going through such hardships. This story John shared certainly puts things in perspective after hearing countless anecdotes of quarter-life crises these days.
To learn more about what the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Education Foundation is doing to help hotel students in Haiti or to donate to the fund, please visit www.chtaeducationfoundation.com or email Louise John at email@example.com.