Today was the third full day of our amazing adventure in Cap Haitien, Haiti. Each and every day in this region has provided me with what seems like a million new insights and memories that I want to hold onto and grow with. I personally have never experienced first-hand what it is like to visit other countries, unless you count driving ‘across the border’ to the United States for a day of shopping! This trip has been such an experience for me, beginning with the simple fact of taking my first long-distance plane ride, down to the first time coming face to face with extreme poverty.
When I heard of the earthquake that rocked Port-Au-Prince and the surrounding areas, I was immediately struck in a way I had not been before. Earthquakes in the news were not necessarily anything new, but hearing of the unthinkable toll it took on its inhabitants due to the unstable infrastructure that existed prior to the tragedy was unfathomable to me. When one thinks of a natural disaster occurring, the first thing you assume will happen is that aid will be dispensed, and an attempt to rebuild would begin to take place. But what does a country do when its hospitals weren’t even adequate prior to the disaster? What is a country to do when its government was already riddled with corruption? What do the people do when they had nothing to begin with to “rebuild”?
At that time I only knew the facts that the news told me, and that was enough to make me want to donate all I could. Then, when I heard my sister Karly, who had previously worked with LiveDifferent on multiple aid trips, discuss the idea of trying to organize a group to go to Haiti, I was immediately on board. I didn’t have a passport, I had never been anywhere further from home than I could drive to, but I was absolutely certain in my heart that this was something I needed to do. I had always taken for granted that if natural disaster were to occur close to home, that help would be provided, that structure to dispense aid would be in place, and that I would not be left to fend for my own. I now realized that the people of Haiti did not have that privilege, which was an injustice I could not simply ignore. I knew upon committing to the trip that I wanted to be prepared, and I wanted to arrive in Cap Haitien with a thorough knowledge of Haiti and its history, as well as its current situation. So I began to devour as much information as I could, from the material recommended by LiveDifferent, to history books and current events, to convincing my Art History professor to allow me to integrate Haitian history into my final term paper, which would allow me to continue my research while still keeping up my role as a student.
Stepping off the plane in Cap Haitien, I felt prepared. I knew to expect filthy streets and starving people. I knew to expect the smell that is inevitable when you do not have consistent electricity and water. I was prepared to see things that would be very difficult to see, and perhaps feel the fright associated with an unstable government and rogue army. What I did NOT expect to see was beauty. And yet despite the fact that, yes, all those things are a fact of life for the people of Haiti and were here waiting for me, I have still been struck every single day here by the beauty that endures. There is a beauty in hope, a beauty in love, and a beauty in life, and somehow, without any of the materials that we may assume are necessary to grow these things, they exist and flourish. Today while driving on a dirt road, we passed a stretch where trees were literally growing out of the rocks, with their roots hanging down from the rocky mountain. I couldn’t help but feel that they really symbolized the people of Haiti – these trees had no soil, no nutrients, and probably had to work very hard to access water, and yet there they were, green, lush, and growing. The people here may not have what we think of when we think of a home, and they may have to put effort we cannot even imagine into acquiring food and water, and yet here they are, full of hope, full of love, and full of life. I have encountered more smiling faces, been hugged by more children, and been taught more about what it means to hope and live than I ever would have thought imaginable.
Instead of seeing myself coming home with visions of sadness, I have been taught while here how to truly see beauty. While I may be here building a school to teach children reading, writing, and arithmetic, I am the one who has really been taught a lesson. Life can grow from tragedy, love can flourish in sadness, and hope can shine where it seems it should be hopeless. Trees CAN grow from rocks.
– Jayme, Participant, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday Haiti