This post was written by Justine Kaskel, GHF ’17, to recount yesterday, August 8.
I woke up feeling strange this morning. Fever? No. Stomach issues? No. Then what? Oh, it was our last day in Haiti. I was feeling the beginning symptoms of SLH, Sadness of Leaving Haiti. The group packed their bags after eating breakfast (eggs, fruit, and toast), doing our best to clean the rooms we have been living in for the past couple of days. After getting ready for our flight home, we headed to the van to visit our last stop in Haiti, the Academy for Peace and Justice.
The Academy is the biggest and only free high school in all of Haiti. 1,500 kids attend the school ranging from 7th to 11th grade. One of the teachers who gave a tour estimated that the number would grow to 2,000.
We toured the school, dropping in on some classrooms to observe some vocational summer classes, such as electricity and plumbing. The computer labs were full of teachers undergoing a training. We saw many kids playing volleyball and basketball, with coaches instructing the proper technique to pass a volleyball.
The high school has an amazing facility, and we were all in awe at the structure. There were two wings of the school: one for 7th, 8th and 11th graders, and the other for 9th and 10th graders. A third wing is currently under construction and will be completed in time for the opening of the school year. Next to each classroom there was a sign with a person’s name on it. The names were people who have committed donations to the school for 5 years.
Many celebrities, such as Ben Stiller, Clint Eastwood, Penelope Cruz, and Daniel Craig, were among the names on the plaques. The school has only been open for three years, but it is already an impressive institution.
We headed back to Operation Blessing, International to say goodbye to everyone. We got our bags and headed to the airport, leaving Haiti after a week of learning, experiencing, and exploring. It’s a bittersweet moment for us all. Sure we will be glad to be back in air-conditioned houses, eating ice cream and chips, and seeing our family and friends again, but Haiti is something else. It has changed us in a way that being in the States never will, and this experience is something we will carry through our lives forever. Now we are sitting on the plane, watching the mainland disappear into a world of white. Orvwa, Haiti! I will miss your bustling streets in Port au Prince, I will miss your colorful houses, and exotic fruit, but most of all I will miss your culture and your people. I will miss the malnourished little girl who climbed into my lap at the Azil just wanting to be loved. I will miss the kids climbing on top of me to try on my crazy orange sunglasses. I will miss the village woman who helped us at the Toms shoe distribution, who went last instead of getting her shoes right away. I will miss Cecilia, an amazing host at OBI who taught us so much and welcomed us with open arms. I will miss the orphans in Hinche who loved my “tattoo” glitter pens, and my “skill” with gymnastics. I still don’t understand Haiti, but I don’t need to understand it to fall in love with it. I may be saying goodbye, but not forever. This is just the start of our journey in Global Health, and I have a feeling that we will cross the path of Haiti again.
Final Trip Reflections/Highlights:
Graham Barbour: When you visit a country for the first time, it corrects and solidifies an image of it that you had in mind before arriving. When we first exited the airport in Port-au-Prince to the last day, this image was constantly being altered, and corrected. Before we arrived, I was imagining a country full of ramshackle huts made of spare tin and trash, a country full of disease, and a country full of miserable people. This however, was not the case. Even though these images do exist in Haiti, it is a broad stereotype. In reality, Haiti is a lively country full of an incredible culture, and great people. Everywhere we traveled, people were very open to us and always willing to let us join in on a game of soccer, or just to have a great conversation. It is no surprise that Haiti receives so much foreign aid, because it would impossible not to help such a great people. When I look back on our trip, I realize that Haiti changes how I think of the world, because it creates a reference point on so many aspects of life.
Nathalie Danso: My first day in Haiti was all a blur. We were surrounded by new people, a new culture, and of course, new driving. It was so much to process but as the week went by I fell in love with Haiti. I no longer felt like a stranger in a new country but completely at home. Each day we spent in Haiti felt like 2. We did so much it is hard for me to pick a favourite. The Azil was the one that made the biggest impact on me, though. The state of some of those children made you wonder “how could this happen?” People in the US throw away tons of food each day and here are these children who are starving. The girl’s orphanage or the Toms shoe distribution were the most fun for me. The girls at the orphanage were very welcoming and it was nice to play games with them. The shoe distribution, even though hectic and crazy, was exciting and made you really feel like you had made a difference. All in all, the trip was amazing. It was a great learning experience and was a lot of fun. I hope we get to come back next year and hopefully with some projects and ideas to implement.
Ryan Fulmer: Traveling to Haiti was a life changing experience. Not only were we exposed to new situations and new culture, but we were inspired by life in Haiti, and the people who live there. Although there is a lot being done in Haiti as we speak to improve the nation, there is always more that we can do. It is our responsibility, as humans, to help those who are in need, and we have been humbled by the adventures we have had. Choosing a favorite part of the trip is very difficult, but if I had to choose, visiting the Azil, and the village of Medan Belize were probably the most memorable. I had carried a baby girl at the Azil around for hours, and distributed shoes to people in the village, but the sad part was that in both cases I had met these incredible people under the circumstance that they truly needed help. Over the next few days, I kept thinking to myself that I never wanted to see a little girl have to suffer like that again, and that it was unfair to see people living with virtually nothing. The poverty I have seen everywhere has changed my life, and now, more than ever, I am ready to make a difference.
Justine Kaskel: This trip to Haiti has been like nothing else I have experienced, and I love it. Everything we did was amazing and there was never a dull moment. I liked visiting the hospitals and comparing one to another. Seeing the operating rooms where people are saved. I really loved playing with the kids at the Azil and the village Madam Belize. Their smiles just melted my heart. My favorite part of the week? I can’t narrow it down to one. In the next four years that I am in this program I am going to do everything I can to make a difference for Haiti, and the rest of the world.
Helen Shaves: This past week in Haiti was like nothing I have ever done before – a complete shock, yet an extremely eye-opening and inspiring experience. It was fascinating to be immersed into a completely different culture from ours, and to see the ways of Haitian life. Originally, before I fully saw Haiti for what it is, I imagined it as a place of suffering where miserable people lived very desperate lives in a tough environment. Although some of this does exist in the country, I saw many sides to Haiti and its people. Haitians are a wonderful, hard-working, proud people that are full of hope and always ready to accept new challenges. I was amazed by the number of students I talked to that chose to voluntarily attend advanced schooling and aspired to go beyond and get a job or apply for higher level schooling. Seeing the kids at the Azil feeding center and distributing shoes to locals in Medan Belize were especially inspiring experiences, and probably my favorites within this trip. Actually being there to see their need and undeniable elation at the attention of being played with, or being given a life essential, moved me in a way I cannot explain. Ever since those two days, I have constantly been thinking about ways to better their lives and to just be able to see the unforgettable joy that will be in my mind and heart forever. Not only do I want, but I need, to change these beautiful people’s lives for the better, and I can’t wait to begin my mission.