For the month of March, I’ve been highlighting one of my favorite reasons to travel: TRAVEL TO SERVE! Over the past few weeks I’ve dedicated my birthday month to feature the stories of amazing individuals who have traveled abroad to volunteer their time to a worthy cause and organization. And now I get to share my own experience and perspective on why I love traveling abroad to serve!
In 2013, I had the opportunity to travel to beautiful Haiti with my Los Angeles based church, NewLifeLA. Just 3 years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, myself and 6 others, mostly pastors and church leaders, had the privilege to lead the first missions trip our church organized. We embarked on a life changing journey to Haiti, a country most of us didn’t know enough about and what we did know was negatively skewed by mainstream media. Unfortunately, not much has changed 5 years later when it comes to the media and perspectives on Haiti. Instead of recounting and dwelling on these negative images, I’m sharing my FIRST-HAND encounter and experience on the island that paints a different image of the people of Haiti.
We partnered with the Hope for Haiti Foundation (HFHF), a nonprofit organization founded by the most passionate person I’ve ever met, Jean Elade Eloi. Jean’s heart for Haiti and the village he grew up in (Zorangé) was infectious. HFHF works to impact Haiti by empowering its people and supporting efforts in medical care, education, spiritual and community development, and more. To date they have reached amazing milestones, from building a primary and secondary school, to opening medical clinics staffed fully with Haitian medical professionals. Together, its goal is to help Haiti help Haiti.
We even joked that Jean is basically the Mayor of Zorangé because of all the work he’s been able to do through his foundation and the overwhelmingly positive response from the community. I can honestly say Jean and the foundation’s administrative team made every effort to make sure we felt prepared and excited for our 9 day journey in Haiti.
HFHF hosts 3 types of trips annually (upcoming trips here): medical, educational, and vision trips. As a faith-based organization, NewLifeLA took part in a “Vision Trip” in order to assess how the church could contribute its resources to the foundation’s ongoing projects. Through our site visits to the school, clinic, church, and interactions with the friendly Haitian community, it gave us a preview into the work the foundation has accomplished over the last decade. From this in-person assessment, we were able to understand the goals of the foundation and how we can best serve and be a part of its future vision.
“…The solution to Haiti’s problems are found in Haitians themselves, but we will need partners to assist us along the way toward recovery” – Jean Elade Eloi, Founder, HFHF
While it wasn’t my first trip abroad, it was my very first missions trip and in retrospect, it was truly an awesome opportunity to rest, reflect, and adjust my perspective after my two year mark of living in Los Angeles. Through this unique opportunity of traveling with my church, we journaled together everyday to capture our time there and the things that God was revealing to us. Looking back on my time in Haiti, there’s two things that stand out to me, the locals in Zorangé highly value their faith and education.
- Faith: No matter how far the distance, people walked many miles to the church in Zorangé to hear the word of God because it was their closest option.
- Education: While they may not have a lot in this small village, parents still put education high on the list. Instead of taking their children out of school to work and help the family earn a living, they understood the power of education by sending them to school, often times on an empty stomach.
Matching this will and determination, the HFHF has been able to serve this community immensely by providing an education to youth in the area, offering lunch programs for those that are without, and building a church for locals to worship in. To see this direct understanding of the needs and the delivery of services in response has been a beautiful experience to witness.
Our trip was only 9 days but we were able to see “the 4 faces of Haiti” as Jean puts it.
Beginning in Port-au-Prince, the capital and most populous city in Haiti, my first thought when we arrived was how beautiful the island is and how welcoming the people are. Port-au-Prince was a bit overwhelming, however, given the number of people in the city and intense traffic but we didn’t stay long.
Before our arrival we were told not to overpack and just bring a carry on for ourselves! Granted we also brought school and medical supplies for the community but we honestly didn’t need everything we brought for ourselves. Even though we were warned, some folks couldn’t seem to pack light, ha! We were slightly embarrassed when we landed and a group of young men had to load our bags onto a truck to transport it with us Zorangé. Lesson learned for the next trip!
We spent most of our time in village of Zorangé, Jean’s hometown. We were told the journey to Zorangé was not going to be easy and for some of us it was a challenge. About a 6 hour drive (80 miles) from the capital, along a very bumpy road, we even crossed the river (several times), which was a bit scary. HFHF even recommends Dramamine for this part of the journey and it definitely came in use! Luckily, the views of the mountains were beautiful and we endured the ride.
While in Zorangé, we met with over 30 church leaders that came from surrounding areas to greet us and take part in some training/discussion.
We also visited the clinic, school, and church that the foundation built or was in the process of building. We also just enjoyed our quiet time and beauty of the area while getting to know the locals.
We explored on foot, taking hikes to get a better feel for the area and were even invited into friendly homes for a refreshing coconut break.
And when Sunday came around, we all had Church! At the time the church service was housed in the local school while HFHF was in the process of building a church in the area. Our Pastor gave the Word and we all enjoyed some fellowship, the love was so real!
Along the way we stopped at HFHF’s property in Bainet where we saw the effects of the earthquake and challenges they faced to rebuild.
Aside from the devastation, the views from Bainet were amazing! This is Haiti y’all.
We spent one night in Jacmel and got to visit Bassin Bleu which was a treat! These bright blue basins were some of the most gorgeous swimming holes I’ve ever seen. While it was a trek just to access the site, as you have to hike for 20 minutes, rappel down a 12ft rock, and cross a gushing stream, it was totally worth the awesome experience! We enjoyed swimming in the basins and viewing the waterfall at the end. We had a blast here!
Thank you for the beautiful memories Haiti! New LifeLA’s partnership with Hope For Haiti Foundation is just the beginning. Our hearts were forever changed and we look forward to establishing roots in an area with an amazing organization.
I hope you’ve been moved to visit Haiti and even volunteer abroad after hearing different perspectives throughout this Travel 2 Serve Series. If you’d like to learn more about the Hope for Haiti Foundation and get involved with one of their trips, I highly encourage you to visit their site at hopeforhaitifoundation.com and connect with Jean and the team! Tell them Fidel sent you 🙂
I know we were greatly touched by the hospitality and generosity that was provided by every Haitian we encountered; they are a hardworking people with such determination, resilience, and true sense of community.
Try something new and do good work.