A Thanksgiving in Haiti
As many of you know, I just recently spent my Thanksgiving break in Haiti, alongside my sister. Going into the trip, I could foresee that Haiti would change me. I expected to leave there feeling blessed for the life I’ve been given and feeling thankful for such little things we take for granted, like clean water to drink, hot showers, and indoor plumbing. So although I’d never been to a third world country, I excitedly packed my belongings and headed to the place that would quite literally rattle me and humble me so much so that I would return to the United States feeling like my ability to change the world, and it’s ability to change me, was in such closer reaching limits than I could’ve ever expected.
On the car ride home from the airport, I mentioned to my sister that I didn’t even know how to or where to begin telling people about the week we had just had. I had no idea how to explain the chaotic lifestyle there, yet the strong sense of community Haitians have. Or how they live off of so little, yet their hearts seem so full. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure how best to tell this story. I think it’s best experienced and I highly recommend you do! But for those of you wanting to someday go volunteer in a third world country and just haven’t yet, or for those of you who admire those that have, here’s the story of our week…
Days One and Two:
After a long first day of driving in vans through the mountains of Haiti, to get to our hotel in Ouanaminthe, we were more than excited and ready to meet up with part of the family that GFP has supported for years and come to know as their own. We eagerly arrived at the elderly home, Bon Samaritan, on the morning of day two and were greeted with such genuine smiles and tight hugs, I felt like they had been waiting upon our arrival for days. Little did I know, that nearly all the Haitians we would meet that week would bless us with the same warm welcomes. We stayed there for a while passing out treats, eye glasses, chapstick, toothbrushes, and therapy supplies. Despite the language barrier, you could just tell that all the elderly people living at Bon Somaritan were so grateful for the company and all the supplies we gave them. We left our elderly home shortly after several of the women and men thanked us in song and dance. And let me tell you, the joyfulness that was so present in those few minutes left our hearts full and already longing to spend time with these beautiful people again someday.
Our next mission for day two was stopping by a school in Ouanaminthe and handing out candy and small gifts to the classes. Once there, we met up with a few of the children from the other part of our GFP family and walked to their house. This house was built by Global Family Philanthropy and is now the home of 9 kids, two house parents, and several other house moms that help to support and raise the children. Personally, meeting this wonderful family and knowing that we make a difference in their lives was everything to me.
For the last part of day two, a group of 6 other girls and I crossed the border to the Dominican Republic with a UN officer. Although the DR isn’t quite as poor of a country as Haiti, life there seemed fairly similar. There were people sitting on the streets trying to sell food and watching the world around them, as people on motorcycles flew by. Women walked along the streets, carrying baskets of food or laundry upon their heads, as people were bathing themselves and washing clothes in a nearby river. I honestly can’t say enough about those two hours we spent in the Dominican Republican though, because shortly after we had crossed the border, a young boy decided to join our group. He was dressed in filthy, torn clothes, and walked without shoes. He became one of us that day, even getting a hot meal at a restaurant and a new pair of shoes, thanks to Chuck, the United Nations officer. ( I think I stand for all of us that went to the DR that day, when I admit I really can’t say enough nice things about that man.) By this point, that little boy seemed to take a liking to me and held my hand tight wherever we went. I showed him how to take pictures on my camera and held his hand tightly in mine. Unfortunately though, by the time we were walking back to Haiti, a group of other boys started walking with us. Although I couldn’t understand their language, it was very clear to me that they were giving him a hard time. They were probably jealous he was fed a meal and given new shoes, but my heart still tightens every time I remember the look in his eyes when we had to cross the border without him, leaving him to fend for himself, not only from those other boys but also everything else in his life. I don’t know his story. I don’t know if he has a home to go to at night or if he has a brother to grow alongside with. All I know is that that little boy changed me more than we could have possibly changed his life. I reflect on that day feeling both so full and yet so empty. I wish I could’ve done more. And I wish I could do more for all the other children living a life just like his. A huge part of going on this trip though is realizing that we can change the world a little at a time, whether that’s by buying a little boy a pair of shoes or holding his hand tightly in yours, so that just for a second, he feels safe and cared for.
Days Three and Four:
Day three was Thanksgiving and we spent the first part of our day with a large family that lived just down the street from where our hotel was. They live in this tiny shack with only a couple beds for them all. The entire family came to our hotel so that we could play with the kids while GFP found a way to buy the property their house was on, to make life just a little bit easier. We also provided them with some new toys and clothes for their children, extending our hearts out to them in every way we could.
The second part of day three consisted of our GFP family and kids coming to the hotel for a Thanksgiving party and celebration for my sister’s birthday. We shared a delicious meal cooked by women who work at the hotel and each made it a point to be thankful to have had the opportunity to spend that day with such a beautiful family in Haiti.
On day four, all the volunteers made our way to Derac, the poorest city in the poorest country in the world. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so humbled. The people there live in these tiny boxes(some can’t even step out of their homes due to old age and injuries), some go entire days without being able to feed their families, and the majority of children in that city all have large bellies and yellowing hair, due to malnutrition. We walked through the houses, feeling the heaviness of their hardships in life, but also felt happy to have had the chance to visit them and give them what we could. From there, we walked over to the elderly home in Derac, with a huge group of Haitian children all clinging on to our hands. Once at the elderly home, we handed out pillows, medical supplies, treats, and some even did some quick therapy workouts with the people living in the home. We even discussed future plans for digging a well. They were more than happy to see us and to be given such supplies. To end day four, we traveled to a nearby city, Malfety, to check in on the clinic there, paint a new mural on the wall, and hand out first aid kits. You could see that GFP was making a difference in those peoples’ lives. I’m not quite sure though if the people of Haiti will ever know just how much of a difference they make in all the volunteers’ lives. It’s truly a wonderful thing to be a part of.
Day Five and Six:
For day five, half the volunteers went to the GFP children’s home and played with the kids all day, installing a swing in the backyard, painting the walls of the house, and doing a thanksgiving art project with them. The other half of the volunteers, all either physical or occupational therapists, went with Heather, an American women who now lives in Haiti and has an outreach program for children there. The therapists spent the day going to individual homes to meet children and their families that could benefit from therapy. They provided the families with ideas on home therapy programs and ultimately gave the families their support.
On day six, as our trip was sadly coming to an end, all our volunteers and the entire family from the GFP children’s home ventured to the beach in Cap Haitian to spend the day together. It was an exciting day for all of us, even though we had to say our goodbyes to our GFP family. We left each other upset that our week in Haiti was already through, but happy knowing we would see them again someday soon.
Haiti was nothing I expected it to be and surpassed everything I could have possibly hoped it would be. The people there have some of the biggest hearts I’ve seen. They’ve learned to be genuinely happy, despite the hardships life brings their way each and every day. Hardships most people in the United States can’t even begin to comprehend. It’s simply inspiring and makes me want to be a part of something so much larger than just myself. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to volunteer with and meet such incredible human beings. Haiti has absolutely humbled me and changed my heart more than words can express. So, until next time Haiti.
Lots of love,