Today the SJJ Haiti team embarked on their journey to the island of Hispaniola to construct a court in Bethel, Haiti. We landed safely in Haiti in the early afternoon and after successfully navigating through customs the group was greeted by a roar from the large crowd outside the airport. The atmosphere was chaotic as we united with our trusty guide from Courts for Kids, Chris, who led us safely to our bus. We loaded our luggage onto the bus and made our way out of the airport through the city.
Driving through the city of Port-au-Prince was eye opening. Amidst traffic, a heavy pedestrian presence, and the clamor of commerce, the effects of the 2010 earthquake were still highly visible. Crumbled and abandoned buildings stood alongside storefronts, and the unfortunate socioeconomic impacts of the natural disaster was evident in several different places. Reconstruction efforts were visible, as well, but far fewer than one would expect after such a devastating experience.
Before heading to Bethel, the team stopped at the headquarters of Caribbean Harvest outside of the city. We met Dr. Val, the founder of the company and a worldwide leader in aquaculture, and listened to a presentation about the impact his fishery enterprise has had on communities in Haiti. After exploring the facilities and eating a delicious Haitian lunch, the team headed to Bethel.
We then made our way to the village where we were swept into a whirlwind of children who asked hundreds of questions we could not answer but only seemed to grow more enthusiastic each time. I was shocked by how willing they were to jump around and hug complete strangers and by the time we were done meeting them the day was almost done, we got some work done but communication issued didn’t allow for much. Overall, it was a very interesting and promising start to the trip.
Today the boys and I learned a very valuable lesson. Island time does not only apply to island vacations, but to all islands everywhere. When we met in the morning our Courts for Kids contact Chris told us that a bulldozer would be coming sometime around lunch to help us flatten the court. Until that time, we were told we could have a free day since we did not know if the bulldozer would actually appear at noon.
We all jumped into the lake for a swim, and we were joined by hordes of naked, screaming, laughing Haitian kids. After our morning swim, I was walking back to my house to change and I noticed Parker was the only one working with the locals. I quickly put my work clothes on and joined him. Others soon came to help even though it was our free day.
After lunch, a few of us made a trek up the hill to the upper part of the village. At the top we could see the entire lake as well as a spectacular view of the mountains across the lake in the Dominican Republic.
After our adventures in the upper village we came back down and had dinner. Then after dinner we heard the rumbling of a large industrial machine. The bulldozer had finally arrived and began working on flattening the court immediately. Late in the night under the light from a few vehicles, the bulldozer finished its work. We all went to bed soon after so we could be well rested for a hard day of work tomorrow.
The first thing that must be mentioned is how cool the night was compared to every other night so far; there was less complaining and more focus on the day ahead. It was definitely a blessing in disguise. However, after we chowed down on breakfast, we experienced a village uproar.
Yesterday, the villagers and the students, due to the communication barrier, had a misunderstanding about possession of some soccer balls, so essentially the kids thought we were giving them the balls to keep but we were not doing that (at least not until the end of the week). So last night the scariest man in the village collected all of the stolen balls. This morning, as he gathered up the local boys responsible all about 8 years and older on the front porch of our common house, the entire village, dressed in their Sunday best, gathered around to watch the public punishment.
After the fiasco, we began our work of leveling the gravel on to the court in order to pour the concrete. After about an hour of work we decided to attend the church service of the village that lasted three hours. It was a very intense service filled with strong faith and loud praise to God above, and towards the end of the service the bilingual pastor blessed us and the work that we came here to complete. We went back to work in the heat of the day, keeping each other in check by switching spots regularly to assure that we avoided overworking ourselves in the intense Haitian heat.
After lunch most of us proceeded to take a dip in the lake, savoring the sight of the gloriously clear day that highlighted the beauty of the lake and Dominican Republic’s mountains. The rest of the day was mostly eating, fellowship, and deep discussions.
Today pushed us harder physically, made us feel emotionally more connected and heartbroken for the village, and mentally made us reflect on how we are called to take action from what we have experienced when we get home. We have learned the we have to share our emotions with those at home so that they are moved to take action in the options that we present. We have also discovered that all of us have a special connection with a dog named Vamushen. As we head to bed tonight for another hard day of work, we all have had many thoughts and prayers for our loved ones back home today, so to all Moms, Dads, siblings, grandparents, best friends, girlfriends, friends, or anyone else who cares so deeply about us, we love you, miss you, and can’t wait to discern and discuss our feelings and experience with all of you.
The court is finally beginning to take shape today. All of our hard work during this week has begun to pay off. The days are not dragging on and on as they used to, and the end of the trip is in sight. In some ways, this can be an exciting thing. We will soon be able to be reunited with our families; unfortunately, it also means a permanent good-bye to the friends we’ve made while we’ve been here. We will be forced to depart from people like Nelson, Sheldon, Ricardo, John, Rasta, and many others that have been so totally and uncompromisingly hospitable to us on this adventure.
Today was one of the greatest days we’ve had since we’ve been here. We all had a very productive morning of leveling the rest of the court as well as beginning to pour the concrete in the afternoon. In between morning and afternoon work, most of the guys walked up the mountain to visit the upper part of our slice of Haiti. The view from the top is breath-taking, no other place can match the sheer natural beauty that Haiti and the Dominican Republic show us. The climb up the mountain is tough but entirely worth it.
The highlight was the interactions with the tiny puppies that call the upper village their home. The animals that roam around expose the deepest differences between American and Haitian culture. Where most Americans are loving and tender to dogs and donkeys, the people of the village throw rocks and hit them to get them away. This doesn’t make them bad people, but instead shows the vast difference between how each culture treats animals. When we show affection towards our dog friends, the villagers stare and laugh. There is nothing negative about these reactions, but I feel it is important to note.
It is my hope that these people continue to find happiness in the court that we are building for them. This is certainly the greatest thing I have ever done in my entire life, and I hope that I can inspire others to join me in caring for such an inspiring group of people. I love the team, I love the villagers, and I love this experience.
*This blog is the collaborative effort of many of the St John’s students
“I understand better how much needs to be done for this community, but at times I find if more difficult to understand what I need to do to help.” – Patrick
“I saw first hand how much this community values trust. No only did they share frequently with one another but they even go as far to leave keys in the front door at night. I can take this example of trust to my family and friends allowing me to a fuller enriched person.” – Cameron
“I have no understanding of how to further help [this community]. We need to do more than build courts or give clothes. Unfortunately after visiting such a poor community, I no longer know how to help.” – Aaron
“I learned that I live in an ignorant pocket of a hard world and that I need to do something to help change the world.” – Ahmad A.