Jan/Feb 2017 Haiti Trip Wrap-up
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We're home! Well, most of us are home--Taylor Manning, who was with us for both weeks of last year's trip, went back to Haiti in the summer and spent four months there, learning Creole and teaching English, and when she accompanied us on the trip last week, she planned to stay for at least a week longer. I'm sure she would appreciate your continued support in prayer.
It was a whirlwind week, as you may have surmised, if you have been following our progress all week. When we wrapped up on Thursday, we had laid an estimated 3000 blocks on the perimter and partition walls of the second floor of the new school--it was quite a lot of work, and we were both happy about our accomplishment, and thankful to have been a part of it all. But we were also weary, and the prospect of a morning of R&R at the beach on Friday, offered to us by Robenson Gedeus, Director of Kids Alive Haiti, was welcomed gladly. So on Friday morning after team devotions we loaded up in a couple of vehicles and began the 45-minute drive through Cap Haïtien, up and over the mountain ridge, and down to the ocean to a lovely little resort called Cormier Plage ("Cormier Beach"). There was a lovely breeze coming off of the ocean, there were places to relax under shady trees, and plenty of sunshine for those who wanted to bake a bit more in the tropical sun. Some swam, some snorkeled, some (like yours truly) preferred to stay out of the sun and read. After a nice meal at the restaurant near the beach we changed into somewhat dressier clothes and drove back up and down the mountain and arrived at the Kids Alive children's village just in time for the traditional Friday afternoon chapel service.
The chapel service is a worship service planned and led by the school kids--there is singing, Scripture reading, and when teams are there, a special talk by at least one team member, thanking Kids Alive for our week, sharing words of testimony, etc. This year, Richard Erickson represented the team, with John, our team host, as translator. He encouraged the children to work hard for their teachers, to take advantage of the opportunity to get a good education, and above all, to pursue their relationship with Jesus. Richard invited each team member to come and tell a bit about themselves, and then ended with his own experience of becoming a follower of Christ. Also during the service, the school principal introduced a brand new child who had just arrived at Kids Alive, and the kids made her feel welcome, promising to encourage her and be her friend and help her become part of the Kids Alive family.
Afterwards there were many goodbyes, final photo ops, and more than a few tears as team members bade farewell to the children that they had come to love dearly in the space of just a few days. We loaded up in the tap-tap and headed back to the team house, where we enjoyed another fine meal prepared by the school cooks, and afterwards, a very special treat: a private house concert by the Real Boys, a group of boys from the children's village, ages 17 to 20, who write and perform music (and rap) and have recently recorded a CD. I'm not sure any of us were completely prepared for how good these boys really were. Their melodies were creative, their harmonies were tight and beautiful, and their lyrics (translated for us after each song) were full of positivity about the future, hope for their country, pride in their Haitian identity, and expressive of their love for the Lord. We were blown away.
The fact that these young men had been able to develop their musical talent, and the fact that they each had bright hopes and dreams for the future, is evidence of just how significant the ministry of Kids Alive is for the kids they serve in Haiti. Haiti is a hard place to live, and the average person on the street lives in a kind of cultural fatalism, resigned to the fact that things are never going to get any better, but they have to continue to scratch out ways to survive. These Real Boys were as full of hopes and dreams as any young person you might meet here in the U.S., because Kids Alive gives them the gifts of the love of a family, education, vocational training, and the opportunity to meeet Jesus in a life-transforming way.
After the concert, we had a team "debrief" session where we discussed what we had learned during our time in Haiti, and once again, the tears flowed freely and sweetly as team members reflected on their interactions with the children, with the Haitian work crew, and as we pondered the disparity between the life we are accustomed to in the U.S. and the facts of life in an extremely impoverished place like Haiti.
After our debrief session, some headed to bed, or began to pack for the trip home, while others read, rested, or played a few more hands of "Boots," our traditional team favorite card game. The next morning we had the luxury of sleeping in a bit longer, as the tap-tap wasn't scheduled to pick us up until 10:00 a.m. We packed up and cleaned up, and many of us left behind clothes and shoes that we had worn all week at the work site--these items will be cleaned and distributed to people who need them. We left behind our extra snack foods, we swept up and tried our best to leave the team house as clean as it was when we moved in, and soon we were on our way to our last stop before returning to the airport: the tourist market.
The tourist market is a row of shops where all sorts of craft items are available for purchase. The sales tactics are high-pressure (sometimes a vendor will do his or her best to physically drag the customer into his or her shop), and the standard operating procedure is price-bargaining. For those who enjoy haggling and negotiating, it's possible to get great deals. As for the rest of us, well, we pay the full asking price and probably look foolish to the vendors, but c'est la vie, eh? Many of us purchased souvenirs and gifts for folks back home, and even those who stayed behind in the tap-tap didn't escape the high-pressure sales efforts of vendors who came right to the truck to make sales.
After the market we drove to the airport, experienced a few moments of chaos as Haitian men competed for the privilege of carrying our bags (in hopes of a good tip, of course), and then we checked in for the trip home. The airport in Cap Haïtien is fairly new, and quite nice by Haitian standards, but it's not like the airports in the U.S. When the boarding call comes, you line up and begin a long walk across the tarmac to your plane (passing a Haitian music group that is performing outside the terminal for tips), and then climb the stairs to the cabin door. For some of us it was a chance to get one last dose of the Haitian sun and to reflect again on what it meant to us to be there, and to be headed for our normal life in the U.S.
Our flights home (Cap Haïtien to Miami, Miami to KC) were mostly uneventful, aside from a delay in Miami, caused by a malfunctioning jetway, requiring us to change gates before we could board. We arrived in KC before 1:00 a.m. on Sunday, and were back in Lawrence by 2:00 a.m., tired, sleepy, and thankful.
It is not possible, even with a lengthy post like this one, to adequately describe for you what our trip to Haiti was like. We can't possibly describe in vivid-enough detail the examples of extreme poverty we observed, nor the various ways that Haitians exhibit great ingenuity to deal with the fact that they don't have access to goods and resources like those commonly available here. A wheelbarrow that lost its wheel at the jobsite was put back into service with a few bits of wire and some creative repair--there is no Home Depot or Lowes to run to for a replacement. A young Haitian man, Stanley, a member of the work crew, didn't have a hat of his own, so he wore a hat made from a paper cement bag. If you saw the little lean-to kitchen where the cooks prepare meals for 100 community kids each weekday, your jaw would drop. (A new kitchen will be part of the new school, by the way.) The photographs we will show you do not do justice to the beauty of the smiles of the children, and you'll just have to imagine the sounds of their laughter and play, and the sound of their language. We don't have the words to describe the love that we feel from the kids as they rush to hug us and jump into our arms and hold our hands, nor the love that we have come to feel toward them, and how difficult it can be to say goodbye and turn away to leave for home.
We also can't describe our gratitude for your prayers of support and protection while we were in-country and traveling. It was a great encouragement to know that you had us on your mind while we were away--you were on our minds, too. We hope you will continue to pray for Haiti and for the people there that we have come to love so much. We hope that some of you will come with us the next time we are able to make the trip. We'll do our best to tell you our stories and we'll show you our pictures, and we hope you'll understand our tears as we try to tell you what Haiti means to us.
From the bottoms of our hearts, thank you. Mési anpil.
Also, a big thank-you to Bethany Engel, our office administrator, for all sorts of logistical help prior to the trip, and for collecting the many texts and photos and turning them into blog posts for us while we were gone. Major props to Carolyn Heacock, for basically planning the whole trip, booking flights, organizing all of our documentation, working directly with the Kids Alive national office, all kinds of other administrative support, and for keeping the Haiti prayer team informed about what was happening with the team. We are in your debt.
And finally, special thanks also to Dr. Paul Brinckman, who trained our vision screening team and provided equipment and supplies for us to use in the vision screening project.
Pastor Doug, on behalf of the team