Haiti – Reflections of a Relief Volunteer (Part II)

During these trips, and other Help for Orphans International (HFOI) trips to Haiti, we were able to deliver tons of food, tents, school uniforms & clothing, toys, school & art supplies, medical supplies, painted a mural, planted trees & garden, etc.  All of this would not have been possible without the dedication of HFOI volunteers and staff, but also important are the locals and government officials involved. 

There is the US Army Civil Affairs unit, who were absolutely amazing in helping us with food and logistics for the orphanages.  They even joined us at an Easter party thrown by HFOI at a local orphanage.  There is also the amazing people at WFP (World Food Program), UNICEF, IOM (International Organization for Migration), UN military and police (MINUSTAH & UNPOL), and other organizations that helped provide us with food, supplies, transportation, and security.

The locals were absolutely amazing, whether it be Haitians, Haitian-Americans, or ex-pats.  We stayed with our wonderful Haitian assistant and friend, Rudy, and his family on the first trip.  There was also the amazing 2nd trip when we stayed with Duckens and his beautiful fiancée, Martine.  Duckens was kind enough not to kick me out when I had an allergic reaction and had to be taken to the hospital at 3am.  Thank goodness our volunteers and Kevin, our perma-culture expert, took over the HFOI deliveries.  Then there was the time we went off-roading to find an orphanage that was not accessible by the main road.  Thanks to a couple of Haitian men at a school, we were able to find them and deliver food to the children.  Of course, I had to jump over irrigation ditches and what-nots in my cargo skirt and flip flops.  Thank goodness for G, our right-hand man and volunteer, was there to help.  He was also there to get us out of our broken-down truck adventure…my, oh my, was that fun LOL.

The media can go on and on about how Haiti is rebuilding too slowly.  Some also have their misconceptions on the work-ethic of Haitians.  The general public can place the blame on local & international government, NGOs (non-government organizations), locals, etc., but the truth is nothing gets done with blame and fear.  It all gets done with positive reinforcement and the relentless pursuit of ideals.  I was there, and I’ve never seen people work so hard to help others.  Those government workers that we chastised were living in tents and conditions that you could only imagine, unless you were there.  Some of them were working 10-14 hour days, away from their families and friends for months at a time.  Haitians are some of the hardest-working and determined people I’ve ever met.  I’m personally grateful for all the work and hospitality that all have shown me in Haiti.

Haiti is an experience…a surreal, amazing experience!  I can’t wait to go back to Haiti, converse with its people and hold the children at the orphanages.  Never mind the long hours, the sweat, the tears…it was the joy, the purpose, the children…they are all worth it.  I arrived in Haiti on my birthday, prepared for the worst and found the best…in humanity.  I could not have asked for a more phenomenal birthday wish…to live a life full of such purpose is happiness.  Just don’t feed me any more MREs (ready to eat meals) 😉

All this talk about how inefficient the rebuilding process has been; or our own forgetfulness due to our own problems or concerns, we must not forget that we live on this planet as one.  A person can not survive without another, or its other living things or environment.  Instead of blaming each other and using inefficiency as an excuse to not continue to help, we should be acknowledging what has been done and continues to be done.  Haiti still needs our help…will you stand together with me and help?

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Photos Courtesy:  Kevin Rowell, Isabella Garcia, Help for Orphans International

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Haiti – Reflections of a Relief Volunteer (Part I)

Haiti…an amazing country with beautiful people.  It may not be what you thought you’d read from a volunteer who was part of the relief effort, but Haiti was a surreal experience…and continues to be.  Despite all the media blitz of what’s gone wrong, I’d like to tell you what’s gone right.

Truth is…Haiti is an amazing place filled with hope and promise.  My trips to Haiti were part of Help for Orphans International’s (HFOI) relief effort.  I first went as a volunteer, and a friend of HFOI’s founder, Sarah Ehrlich.  Sarah was in Haiti within a week of the January 12th Earthquake, securing supplies and materials for orphanages throughout the country.  I saw an email she had sent with photos of her, the HFOI crew and supporters, and the children they were helping.  I had just received my US passport, and thought “why not?”  I had missed my opportunity to help with the relief efforts of the Indonesian tsunami; and my being born and raised in Indonesia, I saw Haiti as my chance to make up for it.

Haiti was my first trip outside the states since I was 12 years old, and as an American citizen.  I knew what I was getting myself into.  I was warned about sleeping in tents & sleeping bags, not being able to bathe properly, barely eating…oh yes, and the disposable undies.  The nine vaccinations all in one sitting didn’t deter me, the rest of what’s-to-come was certainly not going to deter me.  I paid my own way for my first and second trip to Haiti.  HFOI paid for my expenses on the ground, and with the help of my amazing friends and family, I was able to raise money for supplies and food for the children of the orphanages.

Felix (friend & photographer) and I arrived in Haiti on March 5th, via bus from the Dominican Republic.  Despite the drama of having the wrong bag, holding up the bus for an hour, standing out in the rain waiting for our ride while being “bull baited” by boys, the whole adventure was quite hilarious.  If you know Felix or me personally, you probably already heard the story.

 That first trip to Haiti was an eye-opener.  A country that was in rubble…you can smell the burning bodies and trash in the evening.  You can see the devastation in the streets.  You can also see the hope in the eyes of every Haitian you meet, old and young.  I saw the desperation on the streets, but I was blown away by the determination of Haitians to rebuild.  You see children, part of a youth organization, carrying sticks of wood and pushing wheelbarrows full of building materials.  Families already stacking bricks to rebuild their home.  I saw the hope and promise in the children’s eyes, and that was enough to make me go back for a 2nd trip.  My first trip was roughly 10 days; the second was about a month.

Have you ever had a bunch of children singing your name…even when you weren’t there?  Have you ever seen the faces of 120 kids, all at once, running to hunt for Easter eggs for the first time in their life?

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Photos Courtesy:  Felix Kunze, Kevin Rowell, Help for Orphans International