I can’t believe this day has finally come. After months of fundraising, planning, and anticipating we’re all here in Haiti. It is the most surreal experience to speak and dream of doing something, and then actually live it. I had no real idea of what Haiti would be like; after all, all I had ever known of this country was through text and film. What I have experienced on my first day in Haiti has surprised me, amazed me and touched my heart in so many ways.
When we first came to the Haitian border after our 3 to 4 hour journey from Dominican Republic I was instantly aware of the change between the two countries. First step was to get our passports and papers processed by the Haitian customs. As we got out of the bus to get some fresh air, it was instantly clear that our presence was noticed by all the locals. It is later that I found out how rare it is for a group of Caucasians, “blons” as the Haitians call it, to be seen in Haiti. We began lining up to get processed. The female officer would call out each name of the passport and match our face to it. As she did this I noticed her smile at every single person that came up to her window. A smile on a custom officers face is something that I am not used to in Canada or the United States. Her smile instantly put me at ease and I felt my anxiety fade away. I was ready to begin my journey.
Walking through the border in the blistering heat is something I will never forget. I kept looking around me and thinking I cannot believe I’m in Haiti!! It really felt like an out of body experience. There were fewer guards than I had anticipated. The extreme difference in the environment, infrastructure and scenery was shocking from what I have grown up with in Canada.
Once we crossed into Haiti, we got on another bus to drive to our hotel. During this ride we all got to see a glimpse into some of the lives of the people. As I looked out the window I noticed children running around, parents working, people walking along the street. The condition of the houses that the families were occupying was incredibly heartbreaking. At times I could see 6 to 7 people in a house the size of my bathroom at home. It is one thing to hear about these conditions, but to actually see them as a tangible reality is really an emotional experience. Out of all the quick glances, one struck me the most. As we drove by one of the houses I noticed a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, run to a man who seemed to be his father. The boy bear hugged the man’s leg and did not let go. It was in that moment I saw in front of me what we hear all the time. We as people are all the same. We all have families, we all love our families and all we want is to love and be loved. We are all of the same worth and we all deserve basic human necessities and amenities. The people of Haiti are just like us, but why is it that they suffer and live in such unfair and brutal conditions? I knew this question would come back to me again and again every step of my journey.
Once we arrived at our hotel in Cap Haitien, I was so surprised at how beautiful, clean and well kept it was. My own pre-conceived notions were confronted and crushed. The staff were equally beautiful and extremely gracious helping us settle in. Although I was happy, I also felt a conflicting sense of guilt because of the beautiful space I would be living in compared to many Haitian families a few minutes away from me.
Once we were settled in, we went to visit the school we would be working on for the next few days. The walk up the hill to the school is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is yet another example of what people go through everyday in this country. Once we got to the school I instantly saw the breathtaking view of the mountains, ocean, and Cap Haitien. It is something that cannot be described in words, and it encompasses the beauty of Haiti. The entire school was made of stone, cinder blocks, and cement. I could already tell how much work and effort had gone into building the two classrooms and principals office that holds 177 children. I was astonished that so many children fit into such a confined space. And yet they come to learn, they want to grow and build a better future for themselves. These tiny rooms are the hope for so many families. I could also see the work that still needed to be done and I knew how much work it would take. I am so excited to be a part of it and leave my fingerprint on the school in Cap Haitien.
After the school visit we went to explore the town. Walking through the village I was confronted by level of poverty that I have never before seen. It was so hard to walk by and not be able to do something for them right away. There were so many children and parents peering through their doors to watch us walk by. We waved to as many as we could to say hello. So many would light up and wave back saying, ‘Bon Soir!’ Somehow the people of Haiti are surviving, they are living. They get up everyday and work for a better day. They open up their homes and smile and wave at a group of foreigners walking through their town. The spirit and strength surrounds you at every corner. The people of Haiti live in conditions that no human should ever had to experience. I never really truly understood this statement until I walked through the village.
I cannot wait to keep exploring this beautiful city and learning from the amazing people who call it their home. I hope to bring hope and show the people of Haiti that someone cares. Someone in the world out there has thought of them. Everyone deserves that. Everyone in the world should feel that they matter, and that their suffering has not gone unnoticed. As much as I am excited to help with the construction of the school, I am equally excited to learn from the people in this city. It has become very clear to me that the Haitian people have many things to teach me. I am in anticipation of the lessons and adventures that await me. It has been less than 24 hours that I have been in Haiti and I have a renewed understanding of what it takes to live with purpose, live with love and to live different!
Star, Hero Holiday Volunteer, Haiti 2013