Today’s blog post was written by Helen Shaves, GHF ’17.
We woke up to a delicious breakfast of pancakes and fresh watermelon and banana – something we had all been craving. After our incredible breakfast, we began organizing the TOMS shoes that we planned on distributing later that day at Medan Belize, a village located on Lake Azeui, the largest lake in Haiti. We also made foot scales, created by tracing the bottom of all of the different sizes of TOMS shoes we had, providing us with a form of measurement. Finally, we cut out pieces of paper that we used as tickets that stated everyone’s shoe size after they had been measured. Because the project was one that would last all day, Ryan made peanut and jelly sandwiches for lunch and we brought a giant jug of drinking water along with us that we eventually finished off.
We loaded into two Operation Blessing, International SUVs at 9:30 AM and had our first real experience in Port-au-Prince traffic, a chaotic mess that was only perfectly suited for motorcycles that could fit in between the stop-and-go flow of all the cars and colorfully-painted trucks. After we drove off the main, paved roads, we moved onto extremely rocky, bumpy roads leading into the village. As we neared it, the beauty of where the community was located struck me; the lake was crystal blue and looked like a resort location in the Caribbean.
Once we drove into the middle of the small village filled with houses constructed from metal scraps and tarps, little children swarmed around our truck, smearing the mud from their hands onto the windows in an attempt to see us foreign visitors a little better. We unloaded the many boxes of black TOMS shoes underneath an open shelter that provided shade and also served as a place for the locals to make fishing nets.
The mass of people excited at the prospect of a new, or only, pair of shoes quickly swelled as we set up the different stations to streamline the process; Ryan and Natalie measured the residents’ feet, Justine created the tickets and handed them to the person who had just received their measurement, Ms. Massey served as crowd control, and Mr. Boland, Graham, and I distributed the shoes to people with tickets stating their shoe size.
Many very little children received their first pair of shoes along with some of the adults whom actually reached tears because they were so ecstatic. One woman even put on her brand new shoes and began dancing! Although it was a struggle to get them to place their feet correctly on the measuring scale and some people proved more difficult than others (attempting to get more than one pair), it was the most rewarding thing ever to see their smiles. It felt amazing knowing that their feet would be protected from the harsh grounds of Haiti that they had to hike on for many miles to fetch water every day. Wearing shoes is critical to prevent parasitic infections, as well. We ended up running out of certain sizes and finished off the project by skipping rocks into the breathtaking lake with some of the younger boys (sporting their brand new shoes, of course).
We packed up and moved to our next project site – a newly constructed school located in the village that was very well built and nicely aired, but needed painting. It is a joint project between OBI and the Clinton Foundation. We worked with a couple of professional painters, thankfully, because our skills were somewhat lacking. The choice of paint was Carolina blue (much to Mr. Boland’s delight) on the inside and out with white windows that Justine, Ms. Massey, and Mr. Boland sanded from the inside.
We had some trouble with the rollers and our lack of experience, but the professionals went over our work again with a second and third coat. After two hours and the back of the school painted, we headed back through the hectic traffic of Port-au-Prince to OBI headquarters. Today was one of my favorite days so far, because the smiles I saw were priceless and it was evident that we made a true, immediate difference that will be life-changing for many people in need.
After a wonderful Haitian dinner of chicken, rice and beans, and salad (and too many Starbursts for dessert), we watched the brief documentary “Baseball in the Time of Cholera.” We will be meeting Joseph and his teammates tomorrow morning, so the documentary gave us some background information before our meeting. We recommend you check it out here!
Highlights of the Day:
Graham Barbour: Handing shoes to the people and watching as their eyes light up with joy.
Nathalie Danso: Painting the new school in Medan Belize
Ryan Fulmer: Taking pictures with the children in front of the lake.
Justine Kaskel: Watching the little girl show off after getting her shoes.
Helen Shaves: Physically handing the shoes to the locals and seeing their radiant smiles.