Seeing Smiles And Sadness In HaitiApril 6, 2011
By Lindsey Boeser,
EDITOR’S NOTE: Fast Horse office assistant Lindsey Boeser recently returned from an eight-day aid mission to Haiti, where she volunteered at an orphanage and school through a humanitarian organization called Lifeline Haiti.
Words can’t come close to describing the intense poverty I witnessed in Haiti. You have to see it with your own eyes to fully comprehend how bad things remain more than a year after an earthquake ravaged the already struggling nation.
In the United States, we see poverty here and there. In Haiti, it’s everywhere. For the Haitian people, there’s no escaping it.
My trip to Haiti started on an impulse. For the past year and a half, I have been down and out, struggling through the grieving process from losing my boyfriend in a tragic helicopter accident. I finally decided it was time to stop focusing on myself and turn my attention toward others who are hurting.
This is when I spontaneously decided to join a mission team from my church headed for Haiti. We were the first group from my church to meet up with Lifeline Haiti. Our mission was to scope out the needs of the organization, give the children hope through the love of God and build additional structures to serve the people.
When we arrived in Haiti, we boarded our tap tap for the 4.5-hour journey from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel, our home for the next eight days. Peering out the side of the tap tap, I could not believe what I was seeing. We passed hundreds of thousands of tent cities, each home made out of tarps. Entire Haitian families were crammed into spaces the size of an average bathroom in an American home.
The streets were littered with towering piles of trash, baking in the 90-degree heat along with human and animal feces, making for a smell so strong, many could not bear it. There were people bathing in the rivers next to women who were doing laundry. Stray animals roamed the streets, including bulls, donkeys, dogs, roosters and goats. Animals were being skinned right on the streets and hung from the tiny tarp tents, where they sat in the hot Haitian sun until a few cents could be made by selling it for dinner. Children and adults ran after the tap taps with baskets of cold beverages on their heads in hopes of making some money off thirsty travelers. Many of the children were shoeless and without bottoms as their families couldn’t even afford food, let alone clothes.
Haitian families often spend their entire lives trying to pay off the $1,200 it costs for the tiny piece of land their tent home sits upon. Haitians make $1/day, if that. The average age is 18 and most children don’t live past the age of 15 as they die of starvation and disease. I’ve heard statistics like these before, but now I was seeing for the first time with my own eyes the truth behind them. I could feel my heart breaking more and more with each passing second.
We met up with Lifeline Haiti founder Bob Davisson, a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who has dedicated his life to providing schools, food, water and dwelling places for God in the hearts of the Haitian people. If you are in need of inspiration, want to change lives or make the world a better place, he is the man to go to.
We spent the rest of our trip with Bob traveling to all the schools and orphanages Lifeline Haiti has provided. At school, the children are given a school uniform that is often the only outfit they own. Most children walk up to four hours a day just to get to school. They are fed lunch at school, and for majority of the children, this is the only meal they get each day. Despite it all, the children see themselves as incredibly lucky and blessed to be given the opportunity to attend school.
One day during our stay, Bob received a phone call from a family who no longer wanted their 6-year-old daughter. He told us he is faced daily with situations such as this. Many families either can’t afford to feed their children, or one (or both) of the parents have died, leaving the child to extended family, who are barely finding enough food to feed themselves and their own children. To avoid arrest, there is an extremely long process to be gone through before a child can be given up to an orphanage. This little girl’s parents were no longer living and her family had been using her as a slave. Her closest living relative was an aunt who said she wanted nothing to do with her.
With our hopes up, Bob went to pick up the little girl and deliver her into the hands of the Lifeline Haiti Orphanage. When he arrived, the little girl had come running to the door in her best dress with a big smile on her face, so excited to be leaving and given a new life. Several hours later, Bob came back to us with the heartbreaking news. The aunt had changed her mind and decided she wanted to keep the girl for continued use as a slave. There was nothing we could do.
As hopeless as these living conditions may seem to an American, the Haitians don’t see it that way. They were always smiling and willing to share whatever they had, even though it wasn’t much. The people were so full of happiness and joy, I couldn’t believe it. They didn’t see themselves as poor, they saw themselves as blessed to have what they did. They were so overflowing with love, making it incredibly hard for me to come back to the materialistic world we as Americans live in. There’s no question visiting Haiti makes you think twice about how much money Americans spend on materialistic things that aren’t necessary to our survival while so many people are are starving because they can’t even afford one meal.
In wake of other recent natural disasters, I hope Haiti is not forgotten about. It is among the poorest countries in the world, making for a lengthier re-building process and a greater need for relief aid. Haiti is far from the end of their struggles and there is so much to be done.
I’m going to keep doing what I can to help Haiti by starting a fundraiser to raise money for a helicopter for Lifeline Haiti. There are several schools six to 12 hours away where children are starving to death. The only way they can be reached is by car on rough, mountain terrain. As a result, food and supplies cannot be delivered to them as often as needed. Having a helicopter would significantly shorten the trip, allowing for the necessary amount of supply deliveries to be made that are so crucial to their survival.
If you are interested in helping out or to hear more about this, please contact me at: lmboeser_at_gmail.com. Or check out Lifeline Haiti for more information about helping Haiti.