In February of 2009, I learned several things about my life, through a trip to Haiti. First and foremost, Haiti is a poor country. Over 80% of the people are unemployed, and have no way to get a job, or provide for their families. I learned that I had won the “lottery of life,” according to my Physics teacher. Out of the 6.7 billion people on this earth, there’s a 0.5% chance I’d be living in the United States, and an 80% chance I’d be born in poverty. Frankly, these odds suck.
Honorable Mention 2009 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I was astounded when I first stepped into Haiti. The heat hit me first, and the smell second. Most of the country is filthy, much worse than any place I’d been in the States. Most Haitians was homeless, in a way. There weren’t any real houses. Huts and sheds, but no houses. Worse yet, the people who lived near water were evicted each year due to floods, and back in the streets until their homes were no longer submerged in water. The people themselves are usually thin, sitting morosely on street corners with nothing to do, or eat.
My grandparents, father, and I stayed at an orphanage in Les Cayes, sponsored by the ESPWA foundation. It was a much nicer facility than what the many people of Haiti had to live in, and it made me feel immensely guilty. While the many children of the orphanage lived in the “village”, a closed off area of houses a little ways away from where we stayed, we lived in what looked to be a much more clean and safer housing. Our food was also richer, and there was nothing more awful than sitting at the table and seeing children out of the corner of your eye, wanting the food in front of you.
I spent my days in the free ‘Klinik’, and helped my grandparents. My grandparents, both doctors, would see patients one after the other, and teach me to recognize some of the signs of third-world diseases. Worms was easy to spot, as the children would have large bellies, but too-thin limbs. Scabies was also pretty easy to see, as the bugs wormed their way under the skin and multiplied, they left large bumps on the hands and feet. I helped by finding, sorting, and distributing the medication. I would pack baggies full of Gaviscon for heartburn, and hand over numerous tubes of Elimite cream for scabies. Sometimes, we gave out ibuprofen for pain, two pills morning and night – for pain. Ibuprofen? I keep a bottle in my purse for those mid-morning headaches, and some take it for, well, actual pain? It’s astounding how some people in this world can receive so little care.
The entire trip brought a lot of confusion, guilt, and helplessness. We were only in Haiti for 2 weeks. 2 weeks out of a lifetime. How did anything we do in Haiti make any sort of difference? Sure, a few people will sleep a little more comfortably at night without scabies itching under their skin, but they still live in complete poverty. They starve, and have little access to education or resources. I felt such confusion that things like this go on in the world, outside my quiet suburban town. I felt helpless, because I knew that I hadn’t made any sort of impact in my 2-week trip. The people of Haiti are still starving and sick, and I’m back in Massachusetts, my biggest worry being the writing of a college essay.
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