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{World Exploration} Haiti

aquin haiti scenery

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One of the most emotionally moving experiences I’ve had to date occurred in 2010.

But before I can tell you about what moved me, I have to describe how I came to be in that position.

On January 13, 2010, I woke up to find the world in turmoil after the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake in Port-au-prince, Haiti. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on the news. These people lost everything they had. Everything they knew had changed. They seemed to have lost things, dreams, loved ones, and most importantly, hope. I immediately wanted to find a way to help. As a college student, I didn’t really have the financial means to donate money to the cause so I began calling any non-profit I could think of. Red Cross, UNICEF, you name it, I called them. I even contacted my University volunteer departments to see if they were going to be helping out in any way. And I had the same conversation with all of them.

ME: ‘Hi, I’d love to volunteer to help with the Haiti earthquake relief efforts.’

NON-PROFIT: ‘Do you have any medical training’

ME: ‘Well no, but I’m willing and able to help in any way shape or form. Just tell me what to do.’

NON-PROFIT: ‘You will do more harm than good. Let us connect you with our financial contribution department.’

And so on and so on it went.

I was flabbergasted. Were they seriously turning away volunteers simply because they didn’t have medical training? I was willing and able to help (at my own expense too!) but I had no takers.

My first thought was to show up in Port-au-prince with a tent on my back and just walk up to an organization and say, “I’m here. Put me to work.” I was positive that if there was someone on foot, ready to serve, that no organization in their right mind would turn me away. My mother, however, protested to that idea. Because my travel plans have brought her to near heart attacks in the past, I relented.

So, I set about planning my own trip down to Haiti in a way that my mother would approve of. First, I contacted a bed and breakfast in Aquin, Haiti (a few hours outside of Port-au-prince) and asked if they had any damage or if they were still open for business (they had minimal damage and welcomed me with open arms). The owner of the bed and breakfast happened to know a director of a local orphanage that was feeling the effects of the earthquake. They had gone from 50 orphans to 450 overnight and didn’t have the space, food, or clothing to properly care for so many children. I spoke with the director, Julien, and he said he would love for me to come help out. I ended up getting a group of about 7 people together and off we went.

Once on ground in Haiti, my world was forever changed.

port-au-prince haiti earthquake 2010

The destruction was immense. So much worse than American media made it out to be. And yet, the country was so much safer than American media led you to believe too. I never, for a moment, felt fearful in a situation. Mostly what I saw was a community coming together in a time of tragedy. In some ways, it was beautiful.

I also saw a bunch of medical professionals rushing to aid Haiti which is absolutely wonderful but it left behind those that weren’t in need of immediate medical attention but had an emotional fallout, from being orphaned by the earthquake, for example. The definition of “need” is interesting in times of catastrophe. The psych aspect of people who are living through/have lived through tragedy (sudden, prolonged, etc) has to be attended to. Empowering people with tools to help them live through those times, those memories, that pain, is tremendous. I wanted to provide empowerment, freedom from the oppressiveness of the situation and possibly the pain and the memories (if only temporarily – and every second of freedom from these things can’t be weighed in gold), the chance for the kids to lend a helping hand, the chance for the kids to stay connected with one another, and the chance for the kids to write their own story.

It was then that I realized I really want to make a difference in this world. Not just in Haiti, but in many other places too. I also realized just how truly blessed I am. To live the way I do, to have my health, my family, my loved ones. To be able to wake up every day without feeling the threat of oppression, imprisonment, or being exiled. To have the freedom as a woman to become as educated as I want to be. Freedom. It’s a powerful word and it can mean so many things.

aquin haiti scenery

Haiti was an absolutely breathtaking country. It was an island but it had not felt push and pull of tourism in the same way it’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic has. There were times that you would be the only soul walking along a pristine beach. It would easily sweep you away to where for a brief moment, you’d forget why you were there. You’d forget the pain and destruction that would literally be right underneath you. For a single moment, you had peace.

As I spoke more with Julien, I found out that many of these orphans had never seen the beach before. Yes, they live on an island. But when you’re faced with the decision of buying food for the children or buying gasoline to take them to the beach on a field trip, understandably, food wins every time. So we decided we wanted to take the children on their first field trip to the beach. We hoped they would find a moment of peace in a  tumultuous world the same way we had.

blog-haiti-beach

Now, I’m a volleyball player, and you can’t get me anywhere near a beach without my wanting to play. So I decided, if anyone wanted to learn, that I’d happily teach them how to play. We only had one ball and one net (I had brought them down with me knowing that I had hoped to be able to set up a net and leave it their for the kids) and a lot of children wanted to learn so we definitely had to take turns. While I was teaching one group of kids, I looked over to my right and I saw a group of 3 girls hitting a water bottle full of sand around like it was a volleyball. They were so excited to be learning the movements, they didn’t care if they had an actual ball or not. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I also had the pleasure of being on the same team as a 13 year old boy, Dorval, and one of his friends who I swear will be on the Haitian men’s beach volleyball team one day. You can see him and his friend playing ball in the photo montage above this paragraph. He was amazing!

aquin haiti

The Haitian people are strong. They came together to help each other rebuild their lives. This was so inspiring to me. THEY are so inspiring to me. I’m inspired by their smiles, their faith, their attitude, their love, their support of one another, and their laughter in the face of tragedy. How little did they know about the impact they were having on me. They thought I had come down to help them, but they ended up saving me. I came back with a new outlook on life. A thought process that no longer included self-serving actions and complaints. My eyes were truly opened to the fact that Americans have so much more (not just material items) than most of the world. We are lucky to be awarded the freedoms that we have. We are lucky that we have access to clean drinking water and don’t have to worry about getting cholera. Yes, cholera was an actual threat in Haiti during this time. There were so many things I took for granted in my daily life. Things that I complained about. In fact, so many things people complained about that it warranted it’s own hashtag #firstworldproblems. And here were these kids, hungry, half naked, who just lost everything they had ever had and known, laughing, smiling, and genuinely happy to see us.

One of the children, a 12 year old boy named Jean-Pierre, stood up on our last day and told us with tears in his eyes:

I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. It meant so much to me that you guys came down here and showed us so many things. You showed us beach volleyball. This was the first time I have ever been to the beach in my life. But most importantly, you showed us that the world hadn’t forgotten about us. May God bless you all.

As I packed my bags that night, tears falling down my cheeks, I realized I would never be the same again. And I was a much better person because of these children who had touched my heart.

aquin haiti orphanage earthquake

What is something you’re worried about today that really just doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things? What steps could you take to let go? Share your answers in the comment section below.

Breathe. Live. Love. Create.

Lindsay

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