In just a few weeks youth and adults from across the US will join efforts with youth and adults from across Haiti to host our 5th annual sumer camp, Fet Bondye Bo Lanme, in Jacmel. This year will be Megan Haarberg’s 3rd year participating. As you will see in her reflection below, many people often travel to Haiti with a mission or purpose and return with the realization that they are the ones transformed.
This morning, my alarm blared before the sun was even up demanding that I get ready for work. I grabbed tight at my blankets, not wanting to step out into my room that was left icy cold from the air conditioner the night before. Two years ago, I would have spent the entire morning whining about this situation. Two years ago, I would have been upset that my shower is too hot, my room is too cold, and I had to get up too early. What’s funny is that these things we complain about on a day-to-day basis are such blessings. Imagine waking up with no bed, no air conditioning, no job or education, and no shower. What’s even funnier is that people I know who lack these things wake up with a smile on their face every morning, thanking God for another day. People I know here in America curse these things and complain their way through the day. I was one of them.
In 2012, I agreed to go on a mission trip to Haiti. While I was excited, I felt more anxious and terrified than anything. I went into this trip with some good, and some shallow, intentions. I wanted to make the lives of children in Haiti better. I also wanted to tell people that I did. However, I had no idea that these couple of weeks spent in a completely different world would change mine. In the end, these children made my life better and all I wanted to tell people was how great they were.
Haiti is an incredible, beautiful place, which can sometimes be hard to explain to people who have never been. Most people who have no experience with Haiti don’t have very positive stereotypes of the country. They assume it is a filthy, hopeless, depressing country. However, the brothers and sisters I have made in Haiti exude life, joy, hope, and love. I have never known a group of people that inspired me more than the St. Joe’s family, with their stories of rising above, and the incredible group at Wings of Hope.
Spending a week at the VBS camp is something I think about every day. As this will be my third time in Haiti, I often catch myself wondering, “What can we do to make it better this year?” What’s most exciting is that every year, it does improve immensely. We are then blessed with the most exciting, entertaining, and inspiring group of children I have ever been fortunate enough to know. These children don’t complain that they didn’t get their favorite color of something or get angry that their food isn’t prepared right- they carry their water bottles and projects with pride. They eat with gratitude. Some children even sneak food into their pockets to share with their families at the end of the day. If that doesn’t put things into perspective, I don’t know what will.
While the camp is incredible, so is Wings of Hope and the Central Plateau. Talk about people with incredible spirits. If you have ever had the pleasure of singing a song with Steve at Wings of Hope, or allowing Josephine to braid your hair, then you know what true, genuine happiness is. A happiness that will resonate within you for the rest of your life, as it did for me. Perhaps you will see poverty at the Central Plateau beyond what you could have ever imagined, and listen to the stories of strength by those who live there. Suddenly, mundane issues back home become irrelevant.
In Haiti, there are no cell phones. You don’t get to play on a computer. You don’t sit in front of a TV and center your focus on celebrity gossip or the latest episode of The Bachelor. You become present. You enter a world where all you have to get you through is the people around you, and a bond forms that I have never experienced in another place. Sharing a couple weeks in Haiti with someone is like sharing your soul with them. The people I have met in Haiti, those who live there and those I traveled with, are easily the most incredible group of people I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with.
At the end of the exhausting, hot, humid days, I would ask myself, “Am I even making a difference?” I finally got my answer last year after an exceptionally long camp day when my group arrived back at the Temporary Shelter for the night. Some children who lived nearby and were members of our group in the camp came running up to greet us, asking us to sing the camp songs. We broke out into renditions of “blessed be,” “sa se yon jou,” and more. Finally, it was time that we had to go inside. As we got ready to go to bed and dark just began to fall, we heard little voices singing at the top of their lungs outside. As my friend Danielle and I stepped out onto the balcony, we saw a little six year old girl from our small group trying to teach other children around her the camp songs with incredible enthusiasm. When we stepped out on the balcony, she jumped for joy and asked us to sing along. So for the next long while, we went through every word and hand motion until our voices were nothing but a rasp. That night, I realized that the camp really did hold a special place in the hearts of these children, along with mine.
Returning to America is never easy after a Haiti trip. Many people assume that I would be excited to get back to a soft bed, a shower, and flushing toilets. But often times I dream of being back on a concrete rooftop, staring up at the endless stars to the sound of roosters and donkeys. I dream of singing camp songs in the blaring heat with children of an entirely different world than mine. I dream of the smiles on their faces, children and adults of Haiti, that I have yet to experience anywhere else. I dream of being surrounded by my giant group of brothers and sisters, spending two weeks of nothing but sweat, exhaustion, inspiration, and unconditional love.