DOVE volunteers see need for change in Haiti

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.

DOVE visited Haiti and met with orphans, many of whom were affected by Hurricane Matthew.
Photo courtesy of Ian Galamy

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

Author: Staff Writer

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1 Comment

  1. Good morning.
    I, myself, have been a guest at this orphanage, but have a completely different experience to share. It’s almost as if we visited different places. You picture a very dire situation. I didn’t. I would suggest you read their latest newsletter, starting with a report from its Executive Director: I would then suggest you visit their web site:

    Then there is the question of sustainability. It’s great that you all are passionate about helping Haitians. The tough question/challenge for all of us who do, though, at the end of the day, is how has our involvement contributed to making Haiti a more independent country, not relying on NGOs and other countries.

    Does visiting Haitian children, playing with them, then going home alleviate disease and hunger in Haiti? I always wonder if the money I spent traveling and staying in Haiti is really well spent in making a permanent difference in Haiti? I also wonder how important is the impact on me of witnessing real poverty, considering I am only a visitor, soon to be back home to my safe comfortable world. Does my involvement become more about me, than the Haitians?

    There are a lot of books out about Haiti. Interestingly enough, most of the latest books all deal with the issue of sustainability. Empowerment vs. enabling. The two books which are most direct that changed my views from that of an old school approach are “Haiti, after the earthquake” by Paul Farmer and “Toxic Charity” by Robert Lupton. If you haven’t read either of these, you may want to consider it.

    Bottom line for me, when I say I want to make a difference in Haiti (anywhere for that matter) can that difference be witnessed in a measurable, sustainable outcome? If not, then I need to reset to zero and come up with a better strategy. I also know it’s important for me to learn all I can about developing nations and their strengths and challenges. Then I can better judge my involvement in their lives.

    In my experience with Haiti, learning about Haiti, networking with people who are involved with Haiti, I have learned it is a very complex challenge. For myself, I have come to believe that band aid interventions are not only ineffective, but can actually be creating more harm than good. I strive not to be an enabler.

    One of my fondest memories of a stay at MFO, was lying in bed, very early in the morning (thank you roosters and dogs) and hearing the joyful play of the children outside my window. I thought then, no matter what the situation, kids are kids. These kids in particular have never experienced the resources I have as an American. It was then I realized they may like my company, visiting, but they don’t need me. It’s a humbling experience for me, but one I need to wear close to my heart if I want to be of any use to a person who lives in a developing nation.

    I only hope on your next visit to the MFO, you can have the experience I had there, while being sensitive to the reality of the situation. I’ve learned a lot from the Haitians, as well as about myself with every visit I’ve had.

    God bless,

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