Newspaper Article about Adventures in Haiti

Mission trip to Haiti finds people there STILL STRUGGLING
by Sherri Phengchard
From 10ht0630amb2.myadventures.org

Litter and rubble still cover the streets of Haiti where despite a massive relief effort little has changed for the people of the Caribbean island nation devastated by an earthquake six months ago.

The mountains that stretch over Port-au-Prince, a city of 700,000, seem strong and eternal, arching their backs above the human turmoil of this broken capital city of Haiti.

On the opposite side of this city, to the south, the cobalt blue Gulf of Mexico laps resolutely. The shore is a smelly trash dump; its natural beauty is now deformed and hidden below refuse.

Port-au-Prince is nothing like clean, organized Waxhaw, my hometown where on January 12, 2010 I sat, warm and secure, on my couch, watching in shock as televised images streamed past of the killer earthquake that shook Haiti apart. 

Six months later, I chose to go to Haiti from June 1-30 with my husband on a relief trip with Adventures in Missions. When I first tramped through the garbage-encrusted streets of Haiti, I felt as though the earthquake could have happened yesterday. 

Along the city’s main avenue, flies swarm above the rotting and decaying waist-high trash. The refuse, dust and ashes mingle to create the nose-crinkling aroma of Port-au-Prince. The rubble-strewn sidewalks teem with people sitting, standing, and waiting, jobless, empty of purpose.

But as I climbed the concrete steps of a new orphanage, and peered out its third story windows, I couldn’t see the disheveled city. All I could see was the ocean, reaching out into the unknown. The perspective from on high gave me hope that this destruction won’t last forever.

The playful Haitian children remind me of this, especially the orphans, and kids who lived in the tent community. 

As volunteers, other than doing construction, and passing out food, our team of ten from America and Canada, plus two native Haitian translators who partnered with us, entertained up to 200 kids, ages 2-16, at our after-school children’s program. 

We were among of the hundreds of groups constantly streaming in and out of Haiti helping with cleanup, providing medical clinics, or loving on orphans.

We lived at our Haitian Pastor Jean Claude’s home, which was more like a house from a Dr. Seuss story, with extra rooms and beds always popping out of nowhere for the 30 or so Haitians and visitors constantly stopping by. 

Each day we would walk a quarter of a mile down the sidewalks that were like obstacle courses to the dusty tent community. Children would grab our hands as we walked up the path to the school made of wooden beams, a concrete slab and tarps. 

We would rearrange the desks and benches as kids around the village heard through word-of-mouth that we had arrived. 

And every day I re-discovered the definition of chaos. 

Kids would ram into each other, fall down, get up and laugh while we played duck-duck-goose on the dusty concrete floor. They swarmed us instead of forming lines when we tried to teach the line dance Electric Slide, and only loved to shake their booties during the Macarena. 

They laughed so hard at my teammates who oinked like pigs during our Prodigal Son skit that they couldn’t hear the translator, and when the daily program ended we would have to extricate ourselves from gripping arms and legs. 

But eventually they transformed from a mass of active Haitian children, to names and favorites: Jenny the tiny girl with the big smile, and Webby the boy who loved to dance. 

Sometimes when I held their hands and spun them, as the room around me would blur, and their laughing faces remained in focus, I was reminded how those faces are Haiti’s next generation. 

They could be the ones to raise this country from devastation to peace; they are part of the hope I have for Haiti.

On the last day children were called to sit down for the announcement. They were squished along wooden benches on each wall of the building, staring at our sweat-soaked team in the middle of the cleared off floor. 

Our translator told the kids we were saying farewell and returning to North America, the land the Haitians always spoke of in dreamy voices that has A/C all the time, and big houses that never fall down. 

After hearing we were leaving, the strangest thing happened. The kids of chaos were silent. Silence was something we had never heard in the school where we met. 

We had a surprise for them, something sure to get them excited, Tootsie Rolls. When other volunteers visited our kids they would pass out clothes and toys, and the kids would turn into wild animals, fighting over simple toy whistles.

But today, as our words of farewell sank in, and we passed out the candy, they still sat there, barely glancing at the candy, but gazing at us with longing eyes. Then I went to each child, delivering individual hugs. I mumbled I love you, and I truly felt that.

Over and over, child after child clung to me tightly and said, “I love you! Bon voyage! I love you!”

The fix for Haiti won’t come quickly, but every Sunday in their church, which is also the school where we played with the children everyday, I was reminded that Haitians are surviving as they wait. 

Our team always sat in plastic chairs, in the front row waving folded paper fans on our perspiring faces while listening to the words “Merci Jezi! Merci Senor!” 

Over and over sounds of frantic praise filled the air for four hours. The hundred or so Haitians of all ages in the tent village’s makeshift church were shouting non-stop thank-yous to God. 

Most in the tent community had lost not simply their homes in the earthquake, but childhood friends, mothers, brothers and neighbors. And even before the earthquake, they had hard times.

But their voices rang out with such authentic joy it muffled the cries of ugliness in the city surrounding them.

How I hope these children cling to this joy. I want them to become like strong mountains that rise above turmoil and gain a perspective as endless and wide as the ocean as to how far their country can go.

Read more: The Enquirer Journal – Mission trip to Haiti finds people there STILL STRUGGLING