Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Haiti: Up Close and Personal, "Merci Jesus"

Katie Thompson, a soccer player and communication arts junior at Gordon (pictured here with two new friends), recently returned with a team of students and faculty from a service trip to Haiti in June. Here's what she wrote in response:

"As the plane was getting ready to land, I looked out of my window and saw hundreds of blue squares. It took me a second to realize I was looking at the tops of tents and tarps—and that's when it first hit me that I was actually going to Haiti.

All in all we had a really successful week of work. We stayed on the grounds of Partners in Development (which was a pretty nice place to stay and we were fed really well!) and helped them with their housing program. The team would split into two groups each day and go to two different work sites. At one site the team was able to dig the entire foundation for a house and lay the cement; at the other site we were sifting sand, making cement, making cinderblocks, and then sending that finished product to the mason who put up the walls.

The way everything is made by hand was incredible to me. Here in the U.S. we have major factories to make cinderblocks, etc., but in Haiti we used an old machine that produced two cinderblocks at a time. One of the Haitians we worked with spends all day, every day, making cinderblocks by hand. For me that was just unbelievable. So the work was hard, but it was rewarding to see the progress we had made by the end of the week.

The poverty and destruction that I saw is hard to describe in words . . .

The town we worked in, Blanchard, wasn't really affected by the quake. However, on the first day, we traveled into Port-au-Prince, and that was probably one of the most mentally draining days we had. It looked as if the earthquake had just happened. Everywhere I looked I saw massive piles of rubble. What had been huge buildings were just piles in the street. The streets were dirty and filled with garbage, and along many of the sidewalks were makeshift tents where families were living.

We also got a chance to see the Presidential Palace and that was quite a site to see. We passed a lot of tent cities as well, and it is still hard for me to imagine that thousands of Haitians are living in those small areas crammed with tents. Blanchard was more rural, but the poverty was still very evident. Most families were living in tents, tin huts, or if they were fortunate, a one or two room home. The worst living conditions I saw were in a field on our way to the work site. The field was full of "homes" that were literally sticks or poles standing up covered by sheets. It was really hard to see that, especially knowing that it rained almost every night. Stiil despite all of the negative things, I actually encountered a ton of joy and hope.

Every day the same group of kids would come around the work site, so we got to play with them quite a bit. It was great to get to know their names and to have them calling us by name at the end of the week. They were happy, energetic kids who just loved having us around. Almost all of the Haitians who I encountered were very friendly and thankful for us coming to help. I found that the people, especially the mothers, take great pride in what few things they do have and they continue to have hope for a better future. It was also great to see "Merci Jesus" (thank you Jesus) so many places we went. Many of the people rely on Christ alone, and that was something that was a great lesson for me. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go to Haiti and I'd love to go back at some point. I'd encourage anyone interested in going to try to make it happen! I think they would love it. And there is lots of soccer to be played too!"

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