Students and members of Seton Hall’s Division of Volunteer Services (DOVE) came home on Jan. 15 after a week-long mission trip to an orphanage in Haiti. Students went as part of the Releasing the DOVEs program. This trip marks DOVE’s return to the Maison Fortuné Orphanage Foundation in Hinche, Haiti, a year after the country was hit with a cholera outbreak as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
DOVE has been sending students to Maison Fortuné since 2007, where they live and volunteer. According to Michelle Peterson, the director of DOVE who co-founded the Releasing the DOVE’s program in 2004, the daily interaction students have with the orphans allows them to help the children be themselves.
Peterson, who has been to Haiti five times before, said that students need to expose themselves to the hardships Haitians have endured.
“As a mom I can’t imagine the pain in making the decision that someone else should raise your child because you simply can’t afford to,” Peterson said. “We see starving children and nothing compares to their desperation. We don’t want lose hope so that’s why we continue to go.”
Amanda Cavanagh, DOVE’s assistant director, attended the trip for the first time this year after going to El Salvador with DOVE.
“It was a mix between this really emotional, traumatic visual of the country in general and then this good emotional love and acceptance we got from arriving at the orphanage and being with the kids,” Cavanagh said. “It was a mixed experience, but it was very eye opening.”
Along with spending time with the children at the orphanage, every morning volunteers went to a hospice care home, where most children spend their entire lives living with preventable diseases, according to Peterson. Peterson and Cavanagh both explained that that was the most difficult part of the trip.
“Our students come back pretty impacted,” Peterson said.
Despite the service DOVE provides for the children, constant natural disasters, such as Hurricane Matthew and the 2010 earthquake, have seen the number of children double at the orphanage.
According to Peterson, the orphanage housed 100 children prior to the earthquake – there are now more than 250 boys and girls living at Maison Fortuné. Peterson recalled how many of the children were scared to be indoors, many emotionally and physically scarred.
Colleen Caty, DOVE’s graduate assistant, also attended this year’s trip. Though she said she enjoyed the experience, Caty said it was difficult to reflect on her experience without ignoring the poverty throughout Haiti.
While at the orphanage Caty was able to see first-hand how the lack of basic resources continues to affect the children.
“Once they found out that I’m becoming a nurse they would always come to me,” Caty said. “One kid waited for three hours for me to come because he needed a Band-Aid. It was great to help him in the moment but it’s hard because what’s he doing this week when they don’t have a group of volunteers?”
Yet, this is all in a normal day for Haitians.
Seton Hall students experience this annually and according to Peterson, some students feel like they need to change their major and do something different – some go back. Releasing the DOVEs offers this chance to students. DOVE welcomes all students to volunteer and get involved to make a difference in Haiti.
“I think that our students need to understand and see the poverty so we can be a part of the change,” Peterson said. “Hopefully a part of the future for the children in Haiti.”
Nicholas Mariano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.