Camp of Happiness

Nephtaly Pierre Louis is a HELP student who has participated in HTF’s Fet Bondye Bo Lanme summer camp for the last two years.  He currently has an internship writing for Voices of Youth, a UNICEF project that serves as a platform for youth to learn and share about social issues.  For his first assignment, Nephtaly wrote the following piece about HTF’s summer camp.  The original post is in French and can be found here: http://www.voicesofyouth.org/en/posts/un-camp-de-joie-pour-les-enfants-de-jacmel–2.

Last week I was in Jacmel, a beautiful coastal town in the south-east of Haiti. It is known for its beautiful beaches, such as “Ti Mouillage”, with powerful waves and an attractive carnival with parades of the most beautiful crafted masks of the country. However, at the background of this beauty, as it is often the case in Haiti, different aspects of poverty can be found. In fact, I was not there as tourist. I was committed as a volunteer in a summer camp organized for about 400 needy children in the area. During four days they could come have fun and learn new things.

This was my second time in this camp and during all my stay there I met people who asked me why I came back. I had to explain to them every time how my first experience had a positive impact in my life. I knew by asking this question that a doubt existed in their thoughts about my goodwill. I had also to explain them that I was a volunteer and the only profit that I will draw from this week was purely spiritual.

HTF (Haitian Timoun foundation), the organizer of this camp is a foreign NGO created by several congregations of the Lutheran Church in the United States. Three years ago, I would never have imagined myself so close to an organization like this. My point of view on foreigners in Haiti has always been bad, especially after 2004 because of the establishment of the MINUSTAH (United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti) that Haitians ironically nicknamed “TOURISTAH”. This military deployment on our territory remains the symbol of the domination of the international community on our society and our political lives. My opinion became more radical after the earthquake of January 12th, 2010 that devastated our country. Haitians have only heard about the huge sums of money that were promised to help them and which have never reached them in any form. They’ve seen for the first time in their country NGOs coming to exploit this situation and leave after.

HTF, on the other hand, has been committed for a long time to Haiti in its mission to foster hope and sustainability with dignity in Haiti. It works exclusively for this reason in partnership with programs run by Haitians. This camp was born from this vision after the earthquake of 2010. During this year of terror, it was necessary to provide to the children a way to overcome the trauma from the earthquake, especially in Jacmel where HTF partners are the most represented. The first edition was a success and since that the summer camp has become a major event for many children in this area over the past four years. In addition there are no decent and affordable means of entertainment available during vacation in Haiti. So this week was also a respite for many parents.

I applied for this camp for the first time because I like volunteering and also I wanted to improve my English as a translator. According to the poster, there would be about fifty young American children and adults who would also come to participate in camp with young Haitians to build relationships. With my mind still limited, I did not expect to get anything more from the experience. However, I was totally impressed by everything in this camp; the reunion of young Haitians with young Americans they had met in previous times, hugs, smiles … I understood from the first day that love and friendship can go beyond language barriers and many others. I realized that young Americans are not so different from young Haitians, and they also have a lot to learn from us.

For this year, when I heard that the organizers wanted me to be a part of this adventure again, I was excited to relive all the great moments from my first experience. I was amazed by the simple fact that the children remembered my name when I arrived. Last year I was in charge with two other American friends of the section of games; once again I did not want to miss their cry of joy during each party. By rotations by group, they took part in daily activities in the different stations including Science, Language, History, Games, and Arts and Crafts. An entertaining program integrated a daily theme to teach them to use their heads, hands and hearts to make sustainable initiatives. The last day was special. A group of participants (Haitian and American) marched through the streets of Jacmel carrying seedlings to a place called "Demontrey.” These hundreds of fruit trees planted is a message that the children have sent to the Jacmelians in order to protect their environment. I’m sure they are aware now of the deforestation ravaging our country especially in making charcoal (first fuel resource Haiti). In a week they will return with their parents for a meeting with the organizers to receive improved stoves. They will also be able to meet the makers of these stoves who will do a presentation about how to use these stoves.

Definitely, I was once again fascinated by the involvement of our friends from six different states of the United States during all activities of the camp. Despite the hot sun and the risk of dehydration and diseases, they were always present to support and work with the Haitian kids. Their interests have made these young people aware that there are people in Nebraska, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio who believe in them and they are not abandoned. Once they return to their country I hope they continue to be special ambassadors of Haiti. I am particularly grateful for many of them, who after their first experience, have come back with their parents, families and friends. Finally, because their harmony with these children they have made this summer camp the best ever held in the region.