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Serving Haiti

April 2013

On a cool March morning, seven Ambrosians embarked on a trip to Haiti that had been a year in the making.

The story below is an account of their journey through the eyes of Jean Hess, the SAU staff member who organized the trip.

 We left St Ambrose at 3 a.m. on Friday March 8, and arrived in Port au Prince, Haiti at 5 p.m. that evening. Our St. Ambrose group consisted of Sherry Spillman, Ally Hunter, Claire Opar, Jessica Smith, Anna Danielson, Katie Rosato and me. Also with us were folks from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Maryland. After a three-hour bus ride to Grand Goave, we arrived at our destination, Lifeline Christian Mission. We were welcomed by Lifeline staff members and sat down to a delicious meal.

Saturday morning, we went to Carrefour, the epicenter of the 2010 Earthquake, to visit one of Lifeline's orphanages. The children met us at the gate and immediately welcomed us into their home. They put on a little talent show for us and we sang a song for them in English. Our main reason for visiting the orphanage was to measure the kids for clothing and shoes on behalf of their sponsor families back in the U.S. After learning about the orphanage and getting the kids measured, we were able to spend about two hours of free time with them. Some of the SAU students had their hair braided by the orphans. The visit was enjoyed by all.

Next we unpacked the supplies we had brought from the States-a total of 33 duffel bags weighing 50 pounds each! The staff of Lifeline kept saying how grateful they were for all of the items we brought and the replenishment of their supplies.

Saturday afternoon, the group accompanied several team members who met their sponsored children for the first time. In the afternoon, we all went for a walk in the village and toured the city. Along the way we were able to stop at the newly built Catholic church in Grand Goave.

Sunday morning, we all attended church at the mission and it truly was an exhilarating experience. The Haitians sang from their hearts for more than hour and then our team sang a song. We had little time to prepare but we sang their favorite, Amazing Grace. The Haitians knew the song in Creole and some sang along with us. 

Sunday afternoon we enjoyed some free time at the beach. Several team members traveled to an island by boat and gathered seashells and snorkeled Back on shore others had the opportunity to try fresh coconut for the first time. You will have to ask them how much they enjoyed the coconut milk!

On Monday, we started right after breakfast and headed up the mountain to build the houses. Not only was the team excited, but also the Haitian families who would be getting a new home very shortly. As soon as we started off the highway, we knew we were in for a very challenging day. The uphill climb was about a 60-degree angle and the downhill angle to get to the building site was even steeper. All I can say is 'Thank God for four-wheel drive vehicles!'

The first team got started right away with sifting rock to separate the gravel from the powder, which would both be used. The mountain of gravel never did seem to go down that first morning. By afternoon the team was in full swing, mixing and using a "bucket brigade" to carry and pour the cement for the foundation and floor.

began by visiting the site where the other half of the team was building a home. This site was proving to be even more challenging due to the up- and downhill angles, but the team held up to SAU standards with their camaraderie and spirit. Tuesday's work was even harder as we hauled cement blocks-and each home takes 650 blocks! After stacking the blocks, we began to shovel the sand for cement mixing. The home began to go up "block by block."

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
began as usual with breakfast and reflection time. We split into two teams and began working with various ministries including the infant and toddler nutrition programs, painting the clothing pantry, the shoe closet, giving out baby layettes in the villages, and visiting with church members who have asked for prayers from us.

One special treat for the St. Ambrose group was to deliver items given to us by our SAU athletic programs. The most exciting thing was to present the Lifeline girls basketball team with repurposed jerseys, shoes and new basketballs. They were so excited that they were giggling!

On Saturday, our last morning in Haiti, we were treated to a 4 a.m. prayer meeting that has taken place every morning for the last 25 years. We walked through the village by flashlight and went to a fellow church member's home. Many of them brought an extra chair for us to be seated. We sang Amazing Grace once again and prayed with them. Afterward they all were hugging us and wishing us well.

That afternoon we had the privilege of dedicating the homes we had built, and meeting again with the families who would live in them. We presented each with a Creole Bible and some small gifts. A final meal; heartfelt goodbyes; and it was time to come home.

Student Anna Danielson adds a final reflection.
"Stepping out of the airport in Port au Prince was an enormous culture shock. There were people everywhere, noise, a different language being spoken, and bumps in the ground as I was trying to pull my suitcase across the pavement to the bus. I come from a small farming town and didn't know much about Haiti. 

"The minute we walked into the gates of the orphanage on Saturday morning and children were grabbing at my hands and asking my name and wanting to play with my hair, I fell in love. Haiti is beautiful in its own way, and I felt connected to the people in Grand Goave.

"When we returned to Miami I felt the same culture shock as I did when we arrived in Haiti. How could something I was familiar with just one week before feel so different now? Haiti impacted me in ways that I am still realizing. I can't wait to go back ... I need to go back! Haiti has become a part of me. Haiti has changed me."

Be sure to check out the Flickr photo album (link below)!

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