SEVA trip testimonial
Devoted to Children Foundation Seva Trip January 2013
I’d been searching to do something meaningful for a while. I wasn’t quite sure what that was, but I knew that the countless hours I was volunteering for my children’s soccer club could be better spent elsewhere. I wanted to do something that made a difference, an actual significant difference in the world. I always talked about doing things for others, but I never really followed thru with any of them. When I came across on Facebook that a classmate from high school, Kristin O’Connell, had recently started an orphanage in Haiti, I was immediately interested and jumped in wholeheartedly.
In the days leading up to the trip, I started to have doubts about the safety of Haiti. In December, the US had issued an intense travel warning to Haiti that had been on my mind. When my flight landed in Haiti, I had to wait in baggage claim for 4 hours. It wasn’t safe to leave the airport on my own and it was expensive to hire a taxi so I had to wait for the others to get there so we could depart together. Other than all the people trying to take my bags to my car (so they could make a buck) every few minutes, airport baggage was boring. While I waited, I wondered what the other people on this trip would be like. I only knew Kristin, but hadn’t seen or spoke to her in 25 years.
Finally everyone arrived and we were off. The ride to Jacmel from Port Au Prince airport was crazy. First of all, there was trash everywhere. It was piled high all along the road for miles. There were people chanting and singing in the street in large groups throughout Port Au Prince and numerous times we had to turn around and try another route when we encountered yet another group of people blocking the road. When we finally got out of Port Au Prince, we needed to drive over a large mountain. For that part of the drive, you pretty much feel like you are on a roller coaster for 2 hours. Understandably, we had some car sickness, but nothing terrible. The ride was quiet for long periods as many of us observed living conditions we couldn’t quite comprehend. We were astounded by the hundreds and hundreds of tents that were people’s homes.
It was a long trip but we arrived at the hotel in Jacmel safely. I already felt happy about the others on the trip. Having been brought together with the common goal of helping these children, we bonded quickly. The rooms at the hotel are very basic, the showers are rusty, there is no water pressure and I had some issues with cockroaches and other bugs crawling around the floor, but honestly, after seeing the living conditions of most of the country, this was paradise. The outside grounds at the hotel are beautiful. The seating for the only restaurant is outdoors with an amazing view of the ocean. The service at the restaurant is slow so we learned to order an hour ahead of when we wanted to eat. I was happy to find the food at the hotel was excellent and none of us got sick the entire trip.
We spent most of our time driving around to our various destinations in what they call the Tap Tap. It’s kind of like a pickup truck with two benches in the back that face each other. After driving around in this for a while on unpaved extremely bumpy roads, you get what we started to call Tap Tap Ass. Tap Tap Ass does not feel good. In addition, since the majority of the roads aren’t paved, the dirt and sand from the road gets completely all over you. . We did not smell good. We all had to cover our mouths with a shirt or something to avoid breathing in all the dust. At the end of each day, I felt disgustingly grimy, covered in sweat, dirt and grime.
Meeting the kids at the orphanage was incredible. They were not shy in the least and were crawling all over me within minutes, hugging and sitting in my lap. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but they are so happy to just have you with them and spend time with them. We spent the first day sorting thru the wonderful donations from all of you. I was struck by the fact that the nanny, Nicole, quietly asked if there were any adult sized T-shirts and if she could have one. Looking at her tattered clothes, wondering how is it possible that this sweet woman who cared for these children is so completely thankful for a T-shirt? I’m talking a T-shirt with some yogurt company on the front that she was almost in tears that I had given her. It was heartbreaking, humbling and life changing all at the same time.
Later that day, we took the kids to the hospital for exams and blood work. It was a long wait, but as you look at these kids and you think, my god, they don’t have a parent to even take them to the doctor? You begin to not really care that you are endlessly waiting your turn as the reality is that you are everything to them at that point. You are the one who will hold their hand as their blood is taken and also the one who they will hug as they cry after their shots. It’s basically impossible not to love these kids. All the kids came back negative for Aids but anemic. They can’t afford meat so there diet is lacking in iron, making vitamins with iron a necessity.
One of the other things we did while I was there is scope out the land for the new orphanage we want to build for the kids. Right now, we only have room for 6 kids in our orphanage. We’ve been gifted some land by a local Haitian to build a bigger orphanage and the plan is to have 12 children. In order to build the orphanage, we have workers that have to go to the mountains to cut down palm trees, that will be used to build the orphanage. We were pleased to see the land had many coconut and mango trees which will be a source of food for them.
Part of the trip included visiting with prospective children to join the orphanage. Things in Haiti are slow. It is not like a meeting in the US where you schedule something, go down your punch list and finish. You’re meeting people at their house, which may be a tent, or a hut. We sat outside in a circle with a translator while we met the kids and observed their living conditions. In Haiti, there are a lot of parents wanting their kids to go into an orphanage because they can’t afford to feed them. Our orphanage is reserved only for children that are true orphans with no parents. At one point, we met with 2 orphan boys whose aunt had been caring for them. She was struggling with caring for them as well as her own children and had hoped we would take them in. Unfortunately, we had to turn away those boys as they looked well fed, well dressed and were attending school. This was in sharp contrast to 6 year old Alicia, for example, who was malnourished, not allowed to attend school and treated as a slave.
I loved all the kids, but formed a special bond with one boy, Darwen, right from the onset. He would constantly run up to me and grab my hand and it seemed wherever I sat, he would eventually make his way to my side and sit with me. We played soccer together, I read him bedtime stories, tickled and laughed with him. Every day, Darwen would search for me as we unloaded from the Tap Tap and run to me with a huge smile when he saw me. One day, as it got late in the day and close to leaving time, Darwen and I lay together on the floor as I read him a story. He didn’t understand it, as it was in English and he spoke Creole, but he sat with me anyway and listened as we went thru the pages. When he realized it was time for me to go, silent tears ran down his face. He got up and went to his room as he didn’t want to see me cry. I asked the translator to let him know I would be back tomorrow, which helped a bit. After leaving him, I sobbed the entire way to the hotel. How could I love this boy so much already? How is he so dependent on me this quickly? It was overwhelming on many levels.
Now that I’ve met these kids, there is no turning back. I plan to be actively involved in Devoted to Children as long as I’m able. I’ll be assisting in Seva Volunteer trips to Haiti as a way to raise funds to continue our work there. I’ve taken on the role as accountant/financial manager for the foundation and will be making frequent trips to visit the kids. Other than marrying John and raising my 3 wonderful kids, this is the best thing I’ve done in my life.
Lots of Love, Allison