An average American citizen is bombarded with technology each day, whether one owns it or not. It can be possibly argued that this breeds apathetic tendencies among us as humans, where images on screens seem too far to experience, or it seems too far of an effort to go beyond our texting thumbs, or live outside. At Universities, books and educational supplies and rows of computers grid our very environment, like our dorm room beds, and paved roads.
When someone, specifically an American, travels beyond the boundaries of comfort, even just for a brief moment, the experience is monumental. Through my two trips through Seton Hall’s Division of Volunteer Efforts to Hinche, Haiti, my path led me to a world without such luxuries just a three and half hour plane ride away, and it changed me.
This past January I have returned from my second trip of Maison Fortune, an orphanage located Hinche, Haiti. In 2011 the initial culture shock of going to a destitute country such as Haiti hit us American students like a brick wall. At that time Haiti was still rebuilding from their earthquake and traffic, as well as the airport structure itself, was still recovering, as well as the people.
In the first fifteen minutes you are flooded with images of beautiful mountains and trees contrasted with the unpaved roads, half-built houses, unfamiliar smells, and roaming children. Beautifully painted tap-taps (a version of our cab system) and colored, hand painted houses and signs were distinct in the Haitian flavor seen throughout the towns. The pride and resilience in the midst of Haiti’s suffering though, is seen.
The first trip represented a type of spiritual awakening. Due to Seton Hall being a Catholic University, the group holds Mass every day. Religious or not, it was a time of reflection each day and active discussion. This practice of reflection I brought back strongly from my first trip and through my second trip it has only reinforced. Many people ask what we do during these service trips.
And so I reflect:
We can’t say we built a bridge. We held babies, rubbed elders’ feet, sang lullabies, taught English, braided hair, read to toddlers, and danced with elder women. It’s about learning to hold a stranger’s hand, make a baby stop crying, help a friend through a transition, make connections through cultures and make someone smile. So in a way, we did build something.
This past January I took more into account of the possibility of not being able to return to Haiti. It was a difficult concept to grasp since I have been writing letters and keeping e-mail contact with a few of the boys in Haiti: Livenson, Jilver, Peterson and many others.
On my second trip I received more than I gave. I was reminded of the power of touch, community, and hardship of others. Thinking about not returning again made me truly question the changes I can make in my own life to keep those spirits of those Haitian children like Jilver and Peterson alive in my life. Sponsoring a child’s education, taking the time to listen to others, donating time to those less fortunate, are all small things one can take on in their own life and locality.
One doesn’t have to be in another country, or even another state in order to experience something impactful and beyond oneself. My path led me to Haiti, but others may have discovered these lessons in Central Jersey at Seton Hall, or volunteering at a local garden, shelter, nursing home.
The environment is irrelevant. As long as you are actively learning, understanding, and contributing in some small way to maintain education, compassion, and peace… you are a part of the bigger ripple of progress.