Last July, I went to Haiti with a group of medical volunteers to work in areas that are considered to be more remote places of the country. Haiti is the 5th poorest country in the world, with a GDP per capita of less than $2,000 (source). I have served both domestically and internationally a number of times, but often seem to find myself on trips that focused on building and construction. That is definitely a need, but my heart has always pulled towards serving children. Despite needing to save money for India, I really felt this was something I needed to put my resources into. I am so glad that I did, and would love to share this trip with you.
Humanitarian work can be tricky in such an impoverished place, and it’s important to serve in a way that will lift up the local community rather than crusade in thinking we hold all of the answers. I knew that partnering with Know More Orphans, a ministry of Altar 84, would be a way to serve with meaning. I’ve known the co-founder and his wife for many years, and knew their hearts for serving Haiti in a sustainable, long-term way. In 2015, Altar84 launched a huge healthcare initiative that would allow their partners in Haiti to serve hundreds of vulnerable children. This trip to Haiti is just one tiny part of this large initiative, and I encourage you to check them out if you would like to know more.
The importance of sustainable service was clear within moments of arriving in-country. The view from the plane as we descended was striking. As we entered the customs hall, we had to purchase a card for $10 that basically was the equivalent to “this is what the foreigners who come here to help have to pay to enter.” It was explained to us that after the earthquake and the subsequent influx of humanitarian effort it caused, the government realized they could capitalize by requiring this extra tariff.
After arriving and getting a good night’s sleep, we got straight to work the next morning in a small village called L’Estere. We set up a series of stations where the children were documented and given a de-worming pill, then were weighed and measured, followed by receiving a medical screening, then a vision screening. Here, and in all the areas where this initiative is happening, volunteer groups will continue to return and do this same documentation and screening for these children. It’s not “parachute in”, then leave and not return until some other organization takes interest in them. It’s a long-term commitment and the people in these towns will continue to receive regular visits and medical care.
It’s striking to me how often I am asked, “there is so much need in your own backyard, why do you go to other countries?”. First, few people in America are given the infrequent opportunity to access healthcare, and on a dirt-floor no less. Further, only caring for the people around you and only caring for people far away from you are both dangerous ends of the spectrum. Deciding who to serve should not be dependent upon where they live.
After a delicious lunch prepared by the women in L’Estere, we traveled to Calas. There we set up the same rotation of our clinic in yet another dirt-floor building constructed of rusty corrugated tin.
The next morning, we piled in the van, and we drove to the next site. And we drove. And we drove. And we drove. It took a good 3 hours or so to get there, with half of that being an ascent up a mountain with no paved roads. It was pretty intense. We kept thinking, “we’re almost here!” but then we just kept driving! We all kind of just wanted to either puke or laugh, but I think we all agreed that our time in Trivie Bayonet was worth the commute. (Just a note, no one ever quite decided how to correctly spell this village; don’t even try googling it or finding it on a map!)
Once again we set up our clinic a tiny dirt-floored building. The hardest part of this clinic was the little ventilation that was circulating through the building. It really gave new meaning to the word “hot”. It was more sweatbox than anything else, but this was a special place, and the heat was a small price to pay for our afternoon in this tiny, far-flung village.One of our translators, Ken Ken, said that the kids wondered “what was wrong with us”, making reference to our light skin. After we wrapped the clinic, we all enjoyed spending time with the kiddos.
The man in the photo below is Pastor Chuck. His heart beats for Haiti and its people. I have so much respect for him. He is kind, humble, generous, and spoke so much Gospel truth in these 4 days, which was something that my then-home church was not adequately providing. Grateful for this guy.
I let the kids play with my camera, and here are a couple of the photos they took. I really love these.
Food and water sources in Trivie Bayonet.
On our final full day in Haiti, we went to church and heard a message from Pastor Joseph and from Pastor Chuck. Chuck preached an amazing sermon about how God does not promise prosperity, which of course flies in the face in the false gospel that so many evangelistic preachers are spouting out these days. Click here for a clip of this sermon.
After church, we set up our final clinic, which was to further document and serve the children living in the orphanage, which also served as our home base while in Haiti.
The photo below is Dr. Paul Batson, an optometrist in Birmingham, Alabama who is a long-term partner with Altar84’s Haiti initiative. My role during this trip was to work with him on giving vision screenings, and then send any child who seemed they might need additional screening over to him for a more in-depth test. He’s a great guy.
The man in this photo was actually our security guard during our entire trip. During this clinic though, he greeted the children and handed them toothbrushes. So sweet!
This is my friend John Menke, who had just graduated college and was in his first year as a nurse, playing games with one of the kiddos at SCH.
Below is Johnny Grimes, Altar84’s co-founder and Director of Global Works. Another great guy who is doing great things.
I met John as a 10th grader. He was in the youth group in the first years that Zack and I were in youth ministry together, and it’s been pretty cool to watch him grow from a teenager to young adult. I loved that we go to work together in Haiti, just as we did in Costa Rica and in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee in previous years. This trip would not have been the same without John quoting the movie Hot Rod to me. Ancestors protect you, John.
Here are a few more photos I’d like to share of our time at SCH in Désarmes. In addition to running a church and an orphanage, they also have a Christian radio station. All of these things are considered public service works, and therefore require extra licensing and taxation to operate. It was difficult to learn that there are so many extra hoops that Haitians who desire to serve their people have to jump through, to the point of even being penalized.This little one stole my heart and my lap.
Water, handed out in plastic bags. Food was always the same and always delicious. I especially loved the smashed and fried plantains.
Our group gathered here each morning and evening to fellowship and eat. I had known only 2 of my fellow team members before this trip, so I really enjoyed getting to know each of these people.
Grateful to serve with this great initiative and alongside these good people, and hope to return one day soon!