My Haitian Odyssey
After 11 years, I finally said yes to my friend, Yvan Pierre, and visited his home country of Haiti. It took the 2010 earthquake to get me out the door, but I will never regret the journey.
Seeing pictures and hearing stories is not the same as visiting the country in person. I had to go and see for myself.
While in Haiti we ran a medical clinic, taught Sunday school classes, built shelving units, taught at the School of Evangelism in Cap-Haitien, and visited the earthquake-damaged capital. But the most important thing we did was build friendships with the Haitian people.
I can only describe the Haitian people as “beautiful.” In spite of pervasive poverty, they are joyful, industrious and proud. We saw them working hard to restore their capital and keep their work and businesses going, even while living in tent cities, cooking on open fires, and having to buy food and drinking water at hugely inflated prices.
The children of Bayonnais absolutely stole our hearts! Each morning as we began our day, we saw them arriving at school, and learned that some had walked two hours to get there. The school day began with singing in the courtyard. The children’s smiles, voices and attentiveness to every word and gesture reached deep into our emotions.
In the U.S we take education for granted. For Haitians it is a costly privilege. When it was time for class to begin, the students sat quietly, listened attentively, recited their lessons together, and took turns at the chalkboards to write their math and science lessons. With a very limited but dedicated staff the school manages to provide a strong education for more than 500 students – strong enough to gain the students easy entrance into high school.
Dottie had brought balls for the kids to play with. Sandie and Kelly brought jump ropes and drawing paper. I brought the one French song I know. Like children everywhere, these kids love to play! I can still hear them calling, "Kell-ee, Kell-ee," when they wanted Kelly to come draw with them. I was more valuable as an example of how not to speak French or Creole. While I was trying to sing my one French song, the kids would not sing with me – they just wanted to hear me sing so they could laugh at my accent. Haiti is a place of great tragedy, but the greatest hope for Haiti is not in our rescue efforts or aid. Haiti’s people want more than mere aid. They want us to know them, to build friendships and to keep them in our hearts.
If you have ever thought of going as part of a team or work crew, I say, "Go!" But go as a human being who wants to meet, know and love the people. If you give them the chance, they will prove worthy of your work, your heart and your life.
- Dr. Jesse S. McLain