An opportunity arose for my husband and me to join a service trip to Haiti this past January. We traveled with 12 others, mostly from Seekonk and Providence, to be introduced to programs to help the people in various towns in and around Port-au-Prince. We support these programs through our church’s RI conference. Of the 14 individuals on this trip, only 6 had been on previous trips to Haiti– some only once, some up to 35 times. When I embarked on this adventure, I had no idea the immense impact it would have on me. Of the 14 individuals on this trip, only 6 had been on previous trips to Haiti– some only once, some up to 35 times. When I embarked on this adventure, I had no idea the immense impact it would have on me.
Upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, I immediately discovered this is a country of contrast. There is great beauty all around, and yet immense despair. The Haitian people are immaculate and clean, cleaner than some in America, yet they live in squalor beyond any I have seen in this country. Amidst this despair, the tent cities, ubiquitous trash in the streets and canals, the beauty and pride of the Haitian people emerge.
We did and saw so much during our 7-day visit. The people we met were amazing spirits. The countryside is so beautiful, where we saw the potential of the country. We went from Port-au-Prince to Ti Marche, a village about an hour north of the capitol, to meet the players of Flamen Nwa, a Haitian soccer team our organization sponsors. We watched an intrasquad scrimmage and talked with local villagers. We spent Sunday in church, as Sundays are a day of rest and worship in Haiti. Our “home” church in the township of Fontemarra on the edge of Port-au-Prince and then another member church 2 hours north along the coast in a small village of Archaie. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet and build relationships with the people of these two very different parts of Haiti – one is very urban while the other is quite rural. Again, the beauty of these people lead the way.
The day that had the most impact on me, personally, was the day we traveled to Gressier and Leogone, villages at the epicenter of the earthquake in 2010. We worked with a group of construction workers in Gressier to help build furniture for the students. We worked side-by-side with Haitians to build desks, but truly we were building relationships and respect. I worked with Kenz, a gentleman with great dreams of going to Engineering school in the Dominican Republic. He was waiting for approval of a Visa from the Haitian government – a very laborious and lengthy process unless you have political connections. He was a wonderful man and was quite impressed with this American woman who could use a drill (that would be me!). Kenz and I worked well together, while each person in our group partnered with another Haitian construction worker to complete the benches and varnish teachers’ desks.
While we were taking a break from the manual labor at noon, the children were finishing there school day. They gathered around us, looking for a small snack. I handed a sleeve of Ritz crackers to our group leader, Suzanne, who passed the crackers to the children. Their eagerness and polite manners was only icing on the cake to their immense gratitude. I felt like we were handing out gold coins… no, really just Ritz crackers.
There are quite a great number of orphanages in Haiti. What we discovered on this trip is that although the numbers of children in orphanages had increased since the earthquake, not all the children’s parents were deceased. Many “orphans” have living parents who cannot take care of the children and bring them to the orphanages to be cared for. After we finished at the school, we moved onto one of these orphanages, called New Horizons, located in the village of Gressier. This particular orphanage had quite extensive damage from the earthquake. Much of the current shelter is makeshift huts and donated tents. The director says she continues to struggle with providing enough food and shelter for the children. We went to this orphanage to work with the kids and make beaded bracelets & necklaces for the afternoon. It was at New Horizons where I met Francisco. Francisco is a 2-year old little boy who still has my heart. As we walked with the children to the “school” area, which comprised of a few benches under the shade of trees, I tapped Francisco on the shoulder. I smiled, held out my hands and he immediately reached up for me to pick him up. I lifted his little body up and he hugged me tighter than I have been held since my own children were his age. My heart swelled… his beautiful, bright brown eyes, and sweet smile amidst a runny nose will forever be tattooed on my heart and soul. If I could have packed him in my backpack, I would have without hesitation. Unfortunately, our understanding from the American contact for this orphanage is that the children at New Horizons are not adopted out to families.
We left New Horizons in mid-afternoon and headed to another orphanage, Operation Love The Children, run by an American and Canadian couple. This second orphanage was very orderly and clean. They are in make-shift buildings, as their structures were destroyed in the earthquake. The children go to school in a classroom attached to the bedrooms, here they learn English, French, math and other studies appropriate to their age and development. This is the orphanage where we brought the donations of baby items from the Lincoln community. The director of the orphanage was overwhelmed by the generosity of those “back home” to help support this couple in their mission to help abandoned Haitian children.
We worked with so many wonderful people and in so many different venues throughout our little service trip. We worked to help a little and honestly it felt like a tiny drop in a gigantic empty bucket – but a start nonetheless. While we were in Haiti, the emotions that overcame me were vast and deep. I felt some of the most intense happiness, love, pride I have ever felt as well as deep sadness and immense helplessness. On the day we left, I was so eager to get back to the US I didn’t think I would ever want to return to the squalor I had seen. What I discovered upon my return, is that the drop in the bucket in Haiti fulfilled my soul in ways I have never imagined. The fulfillment is not from the work or the travel, or the fact that I drank Coco-Cola and ate French fries for 3 days because I was so afraid of the sanitation of the food! The fulfillment came from the relationships I created with the incredible Haitian people we met, with whom we traveled and ate our meals. The fulfillment came from connecting with people who I see weekly in our church and for whom I gained such incredible respect and love. I am not sure when I will be returning to Haiti, but I do know I will be going back some day.