Addison Hodge, a senior in international studies, spent a month in the summer of 2010 with his fellow Model United Nations teammates, living and working at a Haitian orphanage. He recounts his experience here and explains how the trip changed his life.
I spent this past July living and working in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. My days in Haiti can be divided into “before and after” my fellow UNC Charlotte Model United Nations teammates’ arrival. Fresh off a winning season in the international competitions that many college Model U.N. teams participate in, we decided we wanted to put the principles of our club into action: we embarked on a mission trip to Haiti.
Before the team arrived, I spent the days negotiating prices for the materials that the 11 other members of my team would need for the build. This proved to be somewhat difficult since I don’t speak Creole and very little French. Luckily, I had the help of two Haitians, Ely and Julio, with whom I stayed in Haiti.
On my second day in Haiti, I visited for the first time the Good Samaritan Orphanage, where the team and I would be working long days. The orphanage is located off a dust-filled, bumpy road in Port-au-Prince, and, as of July, it was home to 93 children. Most of the children were between the ages of two and nine, with a few teenagers and infants. The scene at the orphanage was one of great need. The four caretakers literally worked around the clock. Whether it was washing clothes, cooking or tending to a child’s need, they were always active. Most of the children have worms; some also have malaria, anemia or a host of other diseases that are common in Haiti. After that first visit, I spoke with the team back in Charlotte, and it was difficult to describe the situation. Yet, with all the destitution at the orphanage, the children still smiled, played and were excited to see a new face.
On my fifteenth day in Haiti, the team arrived. Julio and Lucien (the couple we all stayed with) were gracious enough to allow all of us to sleep in their home. Some of us slept on cots in the living room, and the rest slept in tents on the roof. We all showered from a bucket, which everyone soon began to look forward to at the end of every long day. Although our living arrangements were a bit different from home, we all slept well, ate wonderfully, and had more than we could have asked for in hosts.
We had two primary objectives: a physical infrastructure project and a social infrastructure project. The physical project focused on building a raised latrine system along with three private showers. Our social project consisted of teaching different skills to the children every day ¬¬— basic hygiene, arts and crafts, and English language classes. Both projects, physical and social, proved to be equally important. The latrine and shower system was needed because their old latrine system was within 10 feet of their water source, which threatened water contamination. We began to see that the hygiene and English classes were a great success, as the children started to wash their hands before meals and constantly wanted to speak and learn English. By the end of the week, we were all exhausted emotionally and physically. We had accomplished much, but there was still so much that could be done.
The teams’ fourth day, and one of my last, was by far the most difficult. A six-month-old infant girl who had been suffering from malaria died. That moment, more than any other in Haiti, showed us the reality that engulfs the country. When a six-month-old infant dies from preventable and easily curable causes, like malaria and worms, there is something fundamentally wrong. We all felt frustrated that we couldn’t do anything and sorrow for what had just happened. For me, the death of the child personalized the word “indifference.” Maybe the saddest part of the whole ordeal was that the infant girl was in a deadlocked adoption process. A Spanish couple had been in Haiti waiting to adopt her, but because she did not have a birth certificate, the Haitian government would not approve of the adoption, because technically on paper, she did not exist.
As the trip was coming to a close, I reflected on how I imagined the trip before I came to Haiti. It occurred to me that everything I read about Haiti in preparation for the trip was negative. What most of the media leaves out is that the people are amazingly strong willed, eager to learn, and have an overall constant drive in pursuit of the betterment of themselves and society — all qualities that I saw in my Haitian friends. As much gloom, destruction and extreme poverty as there is in Haiti, there is also a since of hope that permeated throughout, which resulted in a kind of positive attitude that I had never witnessed before.
My trip to Haiti reinforced my desire to work internationally upon graduation and supported my soon-to-be degree in International Studies. Looking back on my trip, months afterward, I miss being there very much, but I look forward to returning even more.
Model U.N. is constantly spreading the word about the Good Samaritan Orphanage. If you would like to know more or potentially get involved, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in the College magazine, Exchange.