I literally could not sleep on Saturday night (March 9th) as the time had finally come to accept the fact that THIS WAS REALLY HAPPENING. I was going to spend 8 days serving in Haiti! This is the second time in my school career where I had gotten the chance to travel somewhere that made people go… WHAT? WHY?ARE you crazy? Are you serious?!
The first place was back in 2008 when I decided to take Spanish classes in Guayaquil, Ecuador (you can read more about that experience here). Everyone thought it would be more appropriate to go to Spain or Argentina…but I’m a bit of a non-conformist. This time around, I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to Haiti until the week of. Considering that I don’t know how many opportunities I would have to have an all-expenses paid trip to serve, I considered myself not having anything to loose and everything to gain. AND I WAS TOTALLY RIGHT!
We landed in Port-Au-Prince around 2pm to the heat that typically greets you on most Caribbean islands. The only difference was that this heat was not humid in nature, but more dry heat. The mountains that surround the landscape are not green, but brown, but still very mystical in nature. The name given by the original inhabitants of Haiti (Carib tribe and Taino Indians) is Ayiti or Ayti (sounds like eye-ti) meaning “mountainous land” or “land of high mountains.” After we loaded all our luggage and everyone in two vans, we were on the road.
Riding through Port-Au-Prince, there was much to see. The streets were constantly busy; full of colorful and creative buses (the first car you see on the right side of the video), street vendors, lots of people going about their business, and dust for days (most main roads were paved, but not all of them).
When we finally reached the compound, we were in for a day of Haitian food (more on that in a later post- for the FOODIES!), acclimating ourselves to the compound, and getting to know one another. It was a nice relaxing Sunday. I tried to get some school work done with the hopes that our power didn’t go out. This compound, and trip, was not meant for divas or for people who are anti-bugs (I don’t think any Caribbean island is made for those who can’t embrace the outdoors). I’m pretty low maintenance for a chick 🙂 and was more nervous about mosquitoes than anything (thank God for OFF! and sleeping nets).
As I mentioned in my previous post, we stayed at the compound of the Haitian American Caucus, which doubles as a school for the community (shameless plug: If you’re interested in a long-term volunteer opportunity in Haiti, visit their website). Monday morning around 7:30am, we heard the children running around downstairs playing basketball and awaiting their Flag Ceremony, a daily routine likened to our Pledge of Allegiance. During the Flag Ceremony, the children sing a hymn and then recite their national anthem while being led by their director. The first day included hearing screening, dental screenings and infectious diseases education (on malaria, the importance of washing your hands, etc) and we also got the opportunity to help with the English language classes in the afternoon. It was a busy day, but so rewarding!
I just got back to my apartment a couple of hours ago, and I’m still on a high from Haiti. Even with the cold and rain that greeted me when I finally stepped outside of the airport, I’m still trying to savor every bit of my experience before the strict routine that is my week begins!
To sum up my experience, I LOVED ALTERNATIVE SPRING BREAK (ASB). I cannot even tell you what the best part was because everyday of the 8 days I got to personally know Haiti through exploration, team work, service and eating! Yes, eating. What better way to get to know a culture but through gastronomy! Food is life.
A little background on the trip; a group of 15 undergraduate, graduate and professional studies students were specifically chosen to stay at the compound (volunteer facility that doubles as a school) of Haitian American Caucus’ location in Croix des Bouquets. The interdisciplinary representation was as follows: 2 med students, 3 speech language pathology students, 3 clinical lab sciences students, 2 dental students, 2 pharmacy students and the remainder was a mix of theology students, political science and education. The Haitian American Caucus is an organization that was established months after the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010. It aims to empower the community through “education and comprehensive community development.” Their programs include: Ecole Shalom (the primary academy/school), an English language program, literacy program, a microfinance program, and a women’s empowerment group just to name a few. Our group was given the opportunity to serve in any capacity we felt lead to. HAC was our home base, but throughout the week we also got the opportunity to leave HAC and visit other grassroots organizations doing great and necessary work in Haiti.
About Croix des Bouquets
Is pronounced Kwadèbouke (sounds like Quadebookay) in Kreyol
About 15-20 minutes North of Port-au-Prince, 15 miles east from the airport
According to Wikipedia, Wyclef Jean was born in Croix des Bouquets and lived there until he was about 9 years old.
Most of the families living in Croix des Bouquets are devoted to agricultural work such as growing beans, sweet potato and corn.
For the next week, I will be posting a photo a day and will be sharing the story behind the photo. Please stay tuned!