Northeast Pennsylvania UMVIM team in Haiti

When the word Haiti is mentioned in most circles, images of poverty and violence appear. However, poverty and violence are present on the very streets we walk each day, only we overlook and neglect the reality of life much as we would like to do with the small island country of Haiti.

A group of 10 individuals recently traveled to Haiti to make a difference, to do their part in helping those less fortunate. The group was broken into two teams, one of which had a local flavor. The local team consisted of Bob Stanley and Sally McGinley of Forty Fort, Ed and Jim Gavenus of Kingston, and Rev. Chuck Gommer of Sweet Valley, who was the group leader.

Crates of medical, school and construction supplies were taken, but the main purpose was to build a bridge between the two cultures and to help in the building of a school in the mountain village of Oolboltine. Education is a fundamental concern in Haiti with more than 50% of the country being illiterate. The public system has many problems and the private schools are too expensive for many children to attend. In a country where the average annual income is around $500 per year, sending a child to private school is not an option. Basically when given the choice between food, shelter or education, the latter suffers. The new school in Golboltine will give children a greater opportunity to learn and scholarships that were given will allow more children to take advantage of education.

The team traveled from New York City to Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti. A flight from Port au Prince to the city of Jeremie and a rough drive through the country side brought them to an area unpassable by any motor vehicle. They were greeted by excited school children who were sent to lead the way to Golboltine. Water and supplies were loaded on donkeys and the team began a 3 hour hike up the rugged, rock laden terrain of Haiti.

As the team approached their destination, more and more children lined the path, greeting them with smiles, hope and excitement. Members of the team were exhausted from their journey but with work to do and little time to do it, they went to the work site. Some helped construct the wooden plate used for the roofing, some carried mortar and rocks, and others worked with the masons building interior stone walls.

Working side by side with the Haitian locals, the mission volunteers shared laughs, smiles, and sweat. The volunteers quickly found that without power, Haitians are often forced to use the most primitive of hand tools, and construction of any kind becomes a long tedious task. Communication was also difficult. Creole is the language of the island and often the team had to learn to communicate in ways other than the spoken word. Difficult at times, but when in Haiti one learns to adapt, adjust and improvise.

Each day was ended with a wonderful meal and conversation. One took time to look at the stars, reflect on the day, and to think of his/her own life and just how fortunate we are. As you lay down for the night you were filled with the joy of the experience of the day and the hope of a better tomorrow. Not unlike the people of Haiti who live each day with joy and love and who rely on hope to continue in their struggles.

You wake to the sound of a crowing rooster and begin again. Sharing smiles, laughs, work, play, love and hope with those around you.

The team from Northeast Pennsylvania had the opportunity to take supplies, financially help the people of Haiti, lend a hand in the building of a school, and continue positive relations with our island neighbors. However, the greatest gifts were given by the people of Haiti. They shared their lives with us, took us into their homes, gave up their beds and food so we could be comfortable, and gave us all an experience that will last a lifetime.

Photos courtesy of Jim Gavenus

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