Wilma and Rick Sommer of Signal Mountain, Tennessee, have made a $120,000 pledge to support emerging community engagement programs in Haiti. Their gift will provide student support to ensure that any interested student will be able to participate in the programs. Students will join the work as summer interns, Spring Break outreach trips, or seminarians who choose to complete a cross-cultural experience in Haiti.
The programs are called Zanmi Kafe and Zanmi Foto. Zanmi Kafe is a tree planting initiative that provides farmers income from coffee bean sales as well as carbon credit. Zanmi Foto is a long-term photographic project designed to deepen community links, establish participatory databases and research projects, train students at the Centre de Formacion Fritz Lafontant in the use of photography for community development, and provide Sewanee students with collaborative, social and participatory documentary experiences.
“We have been following Sewanee’s work in Haiti, and we are very impressed,” noted Rick Sommer. “Wilma and I are committed to helping the university think about how it connects an environmental ethic with a humanitarian ethic, and both these projects speak to those good impulses.”
The Sommers have made several significant gifts to the University since moving back to Tennessee a decade ago. Among these have been the Sommer-Speck internship, which supports students in environmental studies, and a significant collection of first-edition southern fiction, now housed in the University Archives. “We are so grateful for the ongoing friendship and partnership of Willie and Rick,” said Jay Fisher. “They are true friends of the university and are inspiring to me.”
“This is fantastic news!” said Pradip Malde, leader of the Zanmi Foto project. “Many thanks to the Sommer Family and to Dixon Myers and Deborah McGrath, whose long term commitment and efforts are inspiring. What a great, great, great way to begin the year!”
Deborah McGrath, who initiated Zanmi Kafe, concurred. “We have been very well received by communities in Haiti, and we are building a long-term partnership that will bring enormous mutual benefit to Sewanee and our partners. We are so very grateful to the Sommers for their interest in and incredible support of this work.”