In July of 2000, an American Airlines jet touched down on the tarmac of the Haitian International Airport carrying sixteen American teenagers from a small Detroit suburb. I didn’t know then how this small, impoverished country would deeply impact my life.
By far, the hardest part about staying in a third world country is grappling with the magnitude of squalor in which the Haitian people live. Over the last ten years I have learned that one cannot see the benefits of their own society without another for comparison. I know America. I know all its shortcomings. But until I saw how much water, even rainwater, meant to these Haitian villagers, I could not truly understand, or even appreciate, my own situation. Yes, it’s true that most Haitians don’t even realize the depth of their poverty because they have nothing to compare it with, but that is not an excuse I can accept.
I go to Haiti to improve the lives of Haitians with the gift of water, but every time, I come back knowing they have given me even greater gifts: a new understanding of love, mercy, and sacrifice. I have seen men fall to their knees thanking God that we’ve come to bring them water. Women kiss us and children laugh and try to “help” us by playing with the power tools. It is not uncommon to open the clinic in the morning to find baskets of food: potatoes, carrots, sugarcane, onions, mangoes, and coffee. This food, these gifts that they give us, is their ONLY source of income and yet they give so generously. One cannot walk away from that experience unchanged.
Each year my heart becomes more intertwined with the people and culture of Haiti. Since 2000, the country has changed dramatically. Roads have been improved, the government has endured several changes, and an entire city in the Southwest rural mountains has received clean water systems. And now, the country lies decimated by an incredible earthquake. Yet there is hope in the chaos. Despite the fact that Haiti is indisputably the poorest, most neglected country in the Western hemisphere, there are thousands of people like me who cannot sit passively and watch this horror. Their blood, sweat, and tears are a part of me and I cannot deny the change they’ve made in my life.