If given the option to travel over Christmas break, one most likely would not choose to spend a week in Haiti.
But I can assure you that spending a week in Haiti is unbelievably beneficial. I spent this past January 8-15 in Haiti as part of the Division of Volunteer Efforts’ mission trip. I was among 12 other students on the trip, led by graduate student Mark Cantine, Campus Minister David Peterson, the Rev. Jim Ferry, and Seton Hall graduate and nurse Anne Touhill.
Our mission, as Michelle Peterson, director of DOVE, reminded us was not to change Haiti, because that is impossible for one person to do. Instead, our challenge was to change ourselves.
Our group landed in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and traveled through Haiti’s beautiful countryside to the Maison Fortuné Orphanage in the town of Hinche. There are over 250 children living in this orphanage, all welcoming, warm, smart and energetic. We played for hours with the children, whether it was soccer matches with the boys, or clapping games with the girls.
Many of the children speak multiple languages. They grow up speaking Creole and learning French, and also learn English and Spanish in school. The notion of understanding and speaking so many languages is dizzying to me but the kids at Maison Fortuné are incredibly smart.
We would also travel each day to the Azeal, a hospital/hospice center in town to visit the elderly and to play with the babies there. This location was an especially emotional one: the babies living there are all sick or malnourished, and the elderly are often left at the Azeal by their families alone after long, impoverished lives.
It would seem like a place of misery, but in reality, it reflects Haiti as a whole. The people of this country struggle with disease and poverty, but they are still able to live spiritually and personally positive lives. They live with patience, and I likewise learned patience through the trip.
I had been waiting to finally go to Haiti for over a year: I was accepted into DOVE’s program in October of 2009, but when the earthquake shattered much of Haiti’s stability in January 2010, I had to choose to delay my trip. There were many obstacles that could have easily led me to throw in the towel on going at all: the earthquake, followed by the outbreak of cholera and the political instability that still plagues Haiti. These just intensified my want to go, and made finally being in Haiti worth it all.
This long process of waiting to go to Haiti, and then the week I spent there changed my impression of the country. The orphaned children and the adults who care for them are all motivated and dedicated. Orphanage founder Jean-Louis and the Maison Fortuné Orphanage Foundation are in the process of building a tech school for the children, so that they can learn trades and become the future leaders of Haiti. The dedication of the children at Maison Fortuné is inspiring to a college student such as myself.
I encourage all students to apply in the fall for DOVE’s service trips. This trip really opened my eyes to the real Haiti.
Erin Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.