Our family of four (myself, my wife, our teenage daughter and son) had the pleasure of traveling to Haiti this past June on our first Missions trip as a family. Since many people were asking "How was Haiti?", it seemed most appropriate to put something together to help share the experience. Unfortunately, words and photos will never substitute for the actual experience.
Our family became part of an eclectic group of twelve from University Fellowship Church in Eugene, OR to journey to Haiti to volunteer and help Chances for Children (C4C). C4C helps to solve the current orphan epidemic in Haiti one child, one family, one community at a time through food security, medical care, education, orphan care, job creation, and faith.
Our main mission was one that I never would have dreamt on my own: relate to a relational culture that has a different concept of time and priorities so that we or others might become of assistance to a well-known impoverished population. This is not easy for a task-oriented person. I would not have understood the importance of this without first reading a great book by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts.
We arrived in Port-au-Prince late in the evening. Our long heavy travel clothes immediately became too much in the humid air. It felt uncomfortable being the last travelers in the foreign airport being outnumbered by the local taxi drivers vying for our business. We obviously displayed our insecurities by huddling compact as a group in our new environment. The language was foreign, the buildings were crammed together, the smells were distinct, the sights were limited by the night, and we were now an obvious minority. Forty five long minutes later our ride was secured. In standard local fashion our luggage, a dozen large pieces carrying supplies, was secured to the van roof with ropes. We crammed ourselves like sardines in the van and drove off into the night all hoping we would end up at our hotel like originally planned.
The following morning, we were scheduled to assist with the feeding program partnered with Feed My Starving Children, at a village in Latapi about 1 hour north on traditional roads and another hour on a very bumpy dirt road with deep potholes and crevices. We traveled only 5 miles the second hour due to the very poor road conditions. The road paralleled a main country artery, a narrow canal. At this low altitude and proximity to the coast, the water flowed like slow chocolate milk with plastic and Styrofoam garbage collecting in every eddy. Before the uncomfortable, jostling hour in the van was up, the comments from our guide that everything happened in the canal was confirmed first hand. This included bathing, washing vehicles, washing clothes, brushing teeth, general bathroom use, and garbage transport. And we were reminded that this river was their main source for drinking and cooking water. The further we drove the more "national geographic" the scenery became; goats tied along the dirt built-up river banks, rice fields as far as the eye could see, locals bathing and washing motorcycles in the river, little homes along the road built of mud walls and old corrugated metal patched roofs, and young children standing naked near the side of the road waving as we passed slowly by.
When we arrived at the village due to a miscalculation in timing, we missed the opportunity to take part in the feeding program. Instead, we got to play with them. The kids were so happy to have someone visit and throw a Frisbee or play games. For the soccer players in our group, the kids’ fùtbol skills were impressive. Though none of the children knew English, “play” is a universal language. Our understanding was that prior to the feeding program arriving in this village, many impoverished Haitian children didn't eat real food for days at a time. To fill empty distended bellies, parents made cookies out of mud just to stop the hunger pains. Currently, the children in the village are provided one protein enriched meal of a rice product three times a week. Since the program began, signs of severe malnourishment have faded; distended bellies have shrunk, orange hair has turned to normal color, and weight has been gained. Another aspect to their improved health was a new water system that was funded and installed by C4C to serve families in the village. People in our group who had returned from a previous trip were so surprised by the change in the kids’ health within that year. It was very encouraging.
Next, a few hours’ drive through Port-Au-Prince led us up a mile-high winding road to the town of Kenscoff. The streets were crazy. The yellow dividing line in the middle of the road is apparently only a suggestion of where to drive and of how many vehicles could fit at a time. If the vehicles could fit in either direction, they would. Speed of travel was dependent on how many trucks were broken down blocking traffic, foot traffic volume in congested small towns, and how confident the driver was behind the wheel. We passed tap-taps (local taxis), open markets, and rows of roadside vendors all selling the same charcoal, commonly used for cooking. Garbage mounds were frequent in random roadside locations. Some piles would smolder to get smaller while giving off a distinct and unique odor. It appeared life could be beautiful in Haiti if poverty and disasters were not such an issue. Regardless, the people were typically friendly.
In Kenskoff, our destination was the crèche, an orphanage with approximately 47 children that processes adoptions. We would stay in the “guest house” across the street for the duration of the week. The children all appeared healthy and happy as they have access to two quality meals a day, a high caregiver to child ratio, a medical clinic also run by C4C across the street, preschool, and a private school next door for children over 5. Most all the children ages toddler to teenager had "forever families" already in the United States. Unfortunately, due to law changes, paperwork has slowed down the average adoption timeframe for when the families can bring their adopted child home to about three long years. Many of the children had a basic understanding of English so it was fun to have them practice their English with them and for us to practice our Haitian Creole with them. The kids got a lot of laughs out of our efforts.
We also visited the duet, an orphanage close by with children that cannot be adopted due to the government’s regulations, and that was an incredibly different story. Lightless bedrooms dark at midday made of cinder block walls that smelled of mold due to high humidity and leaking water in the rooms from the frequent rains. There were only a few windows in the small rooms made from spaces between the cinder blocks and no glass to keep out the elements. Roofs were made of corrugated sections of metal pieced together and covered with frayed blue tarps to slow rain through the multitude of holes. Multiple rusted metal bunk beds to sleep on in each room. The children's few personal belongings were lined up, neat and tidy. What amazed us was that regardless of the tough situation of their living environment, many of the children still had smiles on their faces and wanted to play. Though we saw how quickly their smiles faded when it was our time to leave.
Our "task" project back at the crèche was to prepare an area for a playground by smoothing it out and planting grass seed. This “simple” project became very laborious when the area was a barren space of clay, rocks and tree stumps and our only tools were a pick axe, a wheel barrow, a few shovels, and buckets. But luckily many hands and feet! It was great when the children would get involved. I pondered over the differences between our cultures, relational versus task oriented, when our younger cohorts would stop working rather frequently. There were a few teenage boys, about three of them who were too old to be in the orphanage, but didn’t have a job or anywhere permanent to live. They had been doing odd jobs for the crèche to earn a few meals. They would work with us and then after some time would frequently take breaks. I was beginning to think they were lazy and didn’t understand why they wouldn’t stay on task. My pondering ended the day I was hungry just before lunch and I stopped working to take a break. It was then I realized they were stopping because they had no energy reserves and did not get to replenish food store at lunch like I did. This was an eye opener.
Prior to the beginning of this touching journey I wondered why Haiti didn't have a good water system, clean streams, garbage service, etc. After a while it became clear that if I walked in their shoes, I would probably do no differently. Politics, human greed, and disasters appear to have created a trifecta of devastating blows that has left Haiti impoverished. The short description of our journey only gives a partial glimpse of our incredible and heart touching story. This was an opportunity of a lifetime and one that has left lasting impressions on our family. To find out more and get a bigger glimpse of our journey, and maybe have an adventure of your own, view the following links and photos.
Chances for Children: http://www.chances4children.org/
Feed My Starving Children: https://www.fmsc.org/get-involved/volunteer-now