David Peterson, a campus minister in Campus Ministry, traveled to Haiti the week before spring break to check up on friends and see if students can still travel there in May.
“I just felt called to go down there since it happened. I have a lot of friends down there and I’ve spent a lot of time there,” Peterson said. “I waited a little while because I didn’t want to be a hindrance, but then I found out a logistical way to get to where I wanted to go.”
Peterson said the landscape and physical aspects of the country hadn’t changed, and there was no destruction in the parts of the country he visited.
“They’ve been through so much, they have so little that they reached a point a long time ago where it just seems like it can’t get worse,” he said. Peterson said Haitians are still resilient, faithful, boisterous, spirited and very relaxed people despite the hardships they have had to endure.
The hope the Haitians continue to have is what struck Peterson the most.
“I thought it was going to be a lot worse, this country’s been written off so many times, and then to have this earthquake on top of everything else,” Peterson said. “I knew they were tough and they were hanging in there but they were doing a lot better than I thought.”
Peterson said he did see a lot of injured and limbless people.
Peterson said the Maison Fortune Orphanage, where students work on trips with the Division of Volunteer Efforts, started with 150 children, took in 60 new children while Peterson was there and is considering taking in 40 more children in the coming weeks.
He said that some children at the Maison Fortune Orphanage were afraid to sleep inside.
“A lot of the new orphans wouldn’t sleep inside because they were afraid of cement buildings,” Peterson said. “John Louis, the founder of the orphanage, tried to set up tents outside and kids were sleeping all over the place. There’s no psychological care down there, and that’s going to be a lasting effect.”
In addition to visiting the orphanage, Peterson and his uncle volunteered at the Azile Mother Theresa Home for the Sick and Dying.
While there they would interact with young children who were malnourished and needed to be held.
“You want to hold all of them, it’s tough and it’s mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausting,” Peterson said. “But the sisters who run it, the Missionaries of Charity, are unbelievable. They always have smiles on their faces and they just work nonstop.The tough part was those kids that aren’t crying, the kids who are just lifeless. Its tough holding them and trying to get a reaction out of them.”
Michelle Peterson, the director of DOVE, confirmed that there would still be a group going in May, regardless of the size. Some students have had to leave the trip, mostly due to parental concerns.
“I have never felt unsafe in Haiti, and I’ve been all over the country,” David Peterson said. “I just think there’s a lot of variables now. All people know about it are what’s in the news, so maybe parents are concerned. There’s a lot of students that really wanted to go that are torn between doing what their parents wanted and doing what they think they should.”
Peterson said it’s more important than ever to go now, especially given the central Christian theme of the DOVE trips.
“Where there’s a need it’s got to be filled, and there’s a huge need now,” Peterson said. “Being Christian is about walking with and suffering with someone when they need it, and these trips are Christ centered, they always have been and always will be, and to go down now after a disaster, to be present is what these trips are about.”
Peterson said the children are confident someone will be there to help.
“The kids know we’ll be back, they don’t know who or when, but they know you’ll be back,” he said. “It’s important to establish that continuity and solidarity with people. These trips are great about the ministry of presence. We can’t go down and fix things, but we can be present for the kids who lost their parents.”
Student groups on campus are encouraged to continue the team effort approach to fundraising for relief efforts in Haiti, as Campus Ministry has seen that has the most effective means of helping.
“It’s not too late for fundraisers, people probably aren’t giving as much now because it’s not in the media,” Peterson said. “There’s something holy about that country, there really is a need, and it’s so close to us, right in our backyard. The biggest thing they need right now is money.”
Stephanie Bower can be reached at email@example.com.