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Thursday, March 29, 2018

March Break Awareness Trip to Haiti- last day in Port au Prince

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There’s nothing like hearing the wail of a rooster to start one’s day off on the right foot. It felt almost second nature, after hearing this natural alarm clock, that we would all be opening our eyes expecting to see the beauty of the Haitian sunrise and that we would feel well rested heading into our Sunday festivities; however, upon groggily coming to our senses, it did not take long to realize that it was 2AM and the neighbourhood roosters decided to host a singing contest in the middle of night. This was the beginning of our Sunday of the 2018 Rayjon Haiti Awareness Trip in Port Au Prince.
This reality of Haitian city life did not hold back our good spirits as we headed into our first full day in the Port Au Prince region. The theme of our day was the virtue of caring. This was one of the days of our trips where many had particular expectations for. Many on the trip as well did not know that it would become arguably the most impactful day of our experience.
We began the day with a mass at the Missions of Charities Headquarters in Port Au Prince. The Missionaries of Charity is one of the most well-known religious orders in the world for poverty alleviation. The surroundings at mass were simple- a picnic shelter, altered into a chapel, equipped with blankets acting as walls against the harsh Haitian morning sun. There were benches acting as pews on top of concrete slabs and ceiling fans that worked overtime to make sure its patrons felt as comfortable and at home as they could. As we were in close quarters with hundreds of young and old Haitians, sisters and brothers to the Catholic Church and visitors like us who were in awe of this beautiful and vital location for Haitians, the mass was a humbling reminder to us of the beauty of community gatherings, no matter the location and the people we were with.
We were only meant to stay at the Mission for mass; however, fate had a different plan for us. We found our way back into the nursery behind and, for many of us, had a life changing experience. The mission of the sisters, at this location, was focused on childhood malnutrition. We were given bowls from the sisters, soon after entering the nursery, and found ourselves, for about forty minutes, taking part in the unexpected task of feeding malnourished infants, some of whom were not expected to survive outside of the mission. Never has severe poverty been so tragically apparent to us and yet never had many of us been so drawn in to help where we could. By the end of our time we all experienced moments that were both communal and personal. The love and care of those who helped the infants in need, no matter what illness or level of health they were in, was a style of love and caring that is hard to explain, and even harder to discuss amongst other people. It was pure.
As we made our way from the mission towards the mountain areas outside of Port Au Prince, we found ourselves in a completely different environment and situation. The 35 degree heat radiating from the city dissipated as we ascended into the clouds and into the 10-15 degree afternoon weather found in the mountain town Kenscoff. We all felt an odd sense of being back in Canada as we saw spruce-like trees, along with more greenery than we had seen most of the trip. The climate felt welcoming and we knew we were about to enter into another special experience.
We found ourselves at St. Helen’s Home at the end of the windy roads up in Kenscoff. In Haiti it is said that 1 in 10 children are orphans. St. Helen’s Home houses around 500 of these children who are raised and educated on site. This orphanage was not just a single building but an entire property, the size of a small town! Leaving our cameras and phones in the car, our entire time in Kenscoff was unscripted and left up to the children to create. Some of us got involved in playing sports while others braided hair and painted nails. Drums were brought out to put on a show for all to enjoy and colouring books were being enriched with new colours each second. At the same time, some of us met particular individuals who felt open enough to personally share a bit of their stories and the lives they live. We were all surprised by the beauty of the location and the festivities taking place; however, we all knew these children were dealt raw deal in life’s natural lottery and that life is wasn’t always sunny. It was tough to leave that afternoon but those children’s smiles and laughter will always remind us all of time so well spent with younger kids who dream of a brighter tomorrow.
We were all exhausted by the time we made it back to St. Joseph’s Home for Boys that evening and were as well hoping that all the neighbourghood roosters were just as tired; however, the impact of the day had not escaped us. Throughout the day we saw the virtue of caring in many different forms, some in the most tragic of circumstances and others in the lightheartedness of friendship and fun. But each act of caring made a difference in a life, whether it was in one that we felt we knew for a lifetime, for a week or for even just a few moments. This day transformed all of our trips heading into our last full day in Haiti.

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