Author: Sarah Pease
Tags : Caribbean, FTF Scholarships, Students, Teens, Volunteer
The first time I went to Haiti I was 16 years old. I traveled down with a church group, and taught an English Camp during the summer for two weeks. Ever since, I've loved the country and the people. I returned to Haiti last summer, when I was 18, a year after the earthquake that devastated a nation. Again, I taught the summer camp and helped take care of children staying in the orphanage run by Maranatha Childrens' Ministries, a program run by the Tlucek family, who moved to Haiti to help the impovershed children. One important thing I learned during my trip to Haiti last summer was that traveling is not always perfect, and therefore it's vital to stay calm. Both my flight from Boston to New York on the way down, and my flight from Port-Au-Prince to New York on the return trip were cancelled and heavily delayed. I stayed two nights in New York hotels unexpectedly. However, by remaining calm I was able to plan and call the right people so that I was still able to be picked up upon my arrival in Haiti and my return to Boston. Although useful, those lessons were minimal in comparison to the lessons I learned when actually in Haiti.
FINALIST 2012 YOUNG TRAVEL WRITERS SCHOLARSHIP
Although the people who live there are poor in materialistic ways, they were abundant in humility, kindness, and love. I knew these children and other Haitians we encountered for only two weeks, but they completely changed my perspective on life. I realized I acted selfishly concerning my life at home, taking for granted everything I'd been given. I'm not rich by any means, but in comparison to the people of Haiti, I've been abundantly blessed. They've lost everything dear to them; their homes have collapsed, with rubble crowding the streets, and hundreds of thousands of their loved ones died in the earthquake that ravaged the country in January 2010. The city streets frequently flood, making traveling by foot difficult. Many of the children I spent my days with lived in Cite Soleil, the poorest slum in Haiti, where kidnapping, violence, and theft are rampant. The most heartbreaking thing I've experienced was dropping a 3-year-old little girl named Esmeralda off at the tent her family lived in, with the unbearable stench of sweat and feces, and teenagers and men alike exchanging drugs mere feet from where we were standing.
In spite of those circumstances, the children that came to English Camp every day, ranging in age from 3-14, were the brightest, sweetest, funniest children I've ever met. They always came bounding in with wide smiles, offering hugs and jokes, eager to interact with me. They were also grateful. We fed all the children lunch, which is often the only meal they received in a day. We also played trivia games at the end of the day, with small packs of cookies as the prize. Typically, we made the children finish them so we didn't have to go pick up the trash in the road from dropped wrappers, but one little boy refused to open his cookies. When I asked him why, his friend told me that he was saving them to bring home to his older brother, who couldn't come to English Camp because he had to work. It is this touching generosity that made a lasting impression on me.
Besides the inspiring attitudes of the joyful people I encountered, I was also impressed by the beauty of Haiti. From the very beginning planning stages of my trip, everyone had warned me against going to Haiti, because of the rampant malaria, widespread tent cities of displaced earthquake victims, and general poverty that plagued Haiti. The neighboring Dominican Republic is much more tourist friendly. However, I travelled from the gorgeous beaches to the tall mountains, from the peaceful countryside to the bustling city streets of Port-Au-Prince, and I've never been so struck by the beauty of a country. The ocean water is crystalline, with soft white sand and an abundance of seashells. The mountains were forested, and filled with friendly locals as well as goats that were eager to meet new people. While the countryside was quiet and serene, with views of both the mountains and beaches, the city was marked by a loudness that was consistently cheerful and bright, and street vendors sold everything from tin art to the most delicious mangos I've ever eaten.
It was this diverse beauty that charmed me, as well as the open and loving nature of the Haitians I encountered, were what made my time spent in Haiti the best experience of my life. In fact, I loved it so much that I'm returning this summer for 2 months to teach the English Camp as well as be more involved in the orphanage.