My trip to Haiti this year was a completely unexpected miracle that expanded my view on the world. This year the family trip was supposed to be a three week fiesta in Europe – “exploring the world” (as my dad puts it). The trip to Europe was something that I dreaded, as it was robbing three weeks of my time to volunteer, work, and study for all kinds of upcoming tests. Unfortunately, there was nothing that I could do to change my father’s mind about it. However, about six weeks before we were supposed to depart Boston for the City of Lights, my grandmother passed away in our home. After days of mourning, apologizing, sympathy notes, condolences, and a wake, my dad fulfilled his long-time promise to his mother and took her body back to Haiti to bury, along with the rest of his immediate family. The trip to Europe was completely out of the question now, and I silently thanked God.
I was excited to visit Haiti. It wasn’t meant to be a vacation, but I hadn’t been in eight years and I couldn’t wait to see my family again. I couldn’t wait to taste fresh mangoes and avocados once more, splash in all sorts of beaches, and ride horses. But when I entered Port-au-Prince, Haiti for the third time in my life, it was nothing like I had remembered it eight years ago. The earthquake of January 12th, 2009 really hit hard and the aftermath was still evident. Driving down the streets, one could barely breathe. People and trash polluted the unpaved road. Merchants were everywhere, running after cars just to get a coin for a living. And the worst was the fear the cholera clung to everything. I had to watch what I ate or drank, who I greeted, and beaches were positively not an option. I was struck by shock at how dangerous my family’s country had become.The first night I spent in Port-au-Prince I cried when I thought of the many opportunities that I have back in the States, whereas here in Haiti, most people are illiterate.
Two days after our arrival, we packed our bags to visit the countryside where my parents grew up. I absolutely loved it there in Bainet. The air was fresh, children and adults mingled, and nearly everyone was somehow “mon cousin ou ma cousine”. My somewhat limited Creole and French and their lack of understanding anything I said created a huge language barrier, but I understood everything they said so our conversations weren’t too bad. In Bainet was a love of life and everything natural, and everyone seemed to enjoy everything. My views changed for the better when I visited a school about a mile away from where I was staying. The school was not really a school but a meek home with two little rooms, so most classes were held outside. There was a little over forty kids in school that day, but the Dean told me that on days that it drizzled, most kids did not come to school. The kids had to walk to school, miles and miles away from home sometimes, on a dangerous thin path where any wrong slip could end their precious young lives. Even worse, most kids did not have ANY shoes, in a school where sneakers were required. What I loved about these kids was that they were so eager to learn, that despite money problems, too small uniforms, a lack of shoes, and empty bellies, they showed up for an education every good day. This awed me so much it brought me to tears.
When I got home in the States I opened up an organization called Shoes for Haiti, and my brother Sneakers for Haiti. We are accepting any size shoes for the children in Haiti who’s never owned a pair in their lives. When I’m older, I plan on opening a health clinic, but for now I’m sticking with shoes. Haiti is my country, and I refuse to let anything go to waste under my eyes when I know there’s people, not only in Bainet, not only in Haiti, but everywhere, in need.
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