Because you’re 20-something and not quite an adult yet but far from being a child, it is the perfect opportunity to do something beyond yourself. For me, it consisted of travel- and travel not for the sake of tourism or self indulgence, but for the chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
While many travel abroad and seek authentic meals, stay at luxurious hotels, enjoy tours of art galleries, and rent bicycles to maneuver through tourist filled cities…in Haiti I ate at the table of locals, slept in their beds, got lost in the mountains and banana fields, and worked hand in hand with the people of the country. The benefits of volunteering abroad are that you become emerged not just into the culture of the exotic country, but you get to build relationships and walk in solidarity with the people you meet. Meaning, you enjoy both the perks and hardships of their reality. Although it was only two weeks, I am proud to say that I lived without running water, 24 hour electricity, or any other modern conveniences I have come to depend on: a computer, phone, tv, a mirror, air conditioning, knowing the time, etc. And the perks: fresh fruit, naturally raised animals, swimming in a fresh spring, cliff diving, what community really is, clear nights, shining stars…and so much more. Furthermore, the “downfall” of living in another person’s reality only made me more grateful for the things I have and take advantage of…
Like running water… After watching women and children carry their weight in water up and down steep cliffs and mountains, how can I justify letting the water run while I brush my teeth?
After visiting a clinic and witnessing starving and malnourished children, how do I justify overeating or throwing away food on my plate? Has milk ever gone bad in your fridge? It definitely has in mine. That small amount of food could have saved a child’s life.
When visiting a blind man and a weak women in their stick and mud makeshift home, how can I ever complain that my closet or room is too small? I have a roof over my head, I have a pillow to rest my head on, I have never gone to bed hungry.
I live a very fortunate and sheltered life in every sense of the word. Most of us do not need to go to Haiti, Africa, or your local soup kitchen to know that. But without walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, or in many Haitian’s case, without shoes, it is impossible to even begin to understand what it is like to be born and live every day in extreme poverty.
However, in the face of poverty, the Haitian people couldn’t be more rich with love and hope. There is life in these people that is rare in the United States. How is it that we can have everything in the world, yet lack the kind of spirit that Haitians possess? I came to learn that a certain freedom comes with letting go of modern conveniences- that most of our complaints during the day truly are related to things that do not matter (money, computer, sporting events, phone, tv, a mirror, air conditioning, knowing the time..)
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, but for some reason I can not wait to go back. As I became more exposed to the truth of Haiti, the more I fell in the love with it. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to travel there and have the people in the communities we visited soften my heart and open my eyes. As cliche as it might be, I left with more than I arrived with in Haiti- and again, this did not consist of material related goods, but sights, stories, and a deepened sense of humility.
If you are interested in traveling to Haiti, or helping aid this wonderful nation in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me in 1207 Blair Hall. Haiti Connection meets Monday nights at 8 pm at the Newman Catholic Center!