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