nine days ago we hopped on a plane. a few hours and a few planes later, we ended up in Cap Haitien, and then an hour-ish and a bus ride later we arrived in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, a stone’s throw (well, if you have a good arm, anyway) away from the Dominican Republic.
our mission wasn’t like a lot of mission trips you hear about – we weren’t offering medical care or installing a clean water well or building a house or anything like that, we weren’t even doing any explicit preaching – our mission was to celebrate. to celebrate the graduating class of 59 (i believe that was the final count, anyway) at Institution Univers. eighteen-to-nineteen year olds whose families have given a lot to ensure one of the better educations in all of Haiti (i believe i read somewhere that IU is a top-ten private school in Haiti, which you may think doesn’t say much but it’s pretty dang good.) seriously – some of these families put education ahead of food in their family budget, to give their kids a springboard to better opportunities. the work isn’t over for the students after graduation – they still have a government exam they have to take which, if my understanding is right, will determine whether or not they can get into certain universities in Haiti (getting in anywhere else is another issue entirely.) anyway, we could keep going on about the adversity of the education system in Haiti, but that’s not (exactly) the point.
the point is, the students we spent every day with are bright, brilliant, and unbelievably mature for their ages. they showed us around town, translated at every turn, knew things about their country that i sure as heck didn’t know about the USA when i was 18, and made us feel welcome in Haiti, on their streets, and in their school. our job was to celebrate them, and celebrate them well. that was our mission. love was our mission, cliche as that may sound.
so, we showed up and met Marie-Claire, whose job title i’m not entirely sure of, but she’s basically the boss. around the school, a lot of people wear a lot of hats, so instead of trying to tick all of the boxes accurately, i’ll just say she’s the boss. or one of the bosses. Marie-Claire let us know everything we needed to do – walls we needed to paint, places we needed to sweep, trash we needed to pick up, cobwebs we needed to clear out, and sometimes she just gave us a project and let us decide how to do it. major objective #1 was to be as helpful as Marie-Claire as possible, take things off her plate, stay out of her hair, make her life easy.
Marie-Claire had orchestrated some extra volunteer help in the form of some of the 12th graders (IU has 13 grades, so these are their juniors) and they were fantastic, and actually did a TON of work. they took the stage apart, cleaned the floors, took the reins on a lot of the painting, and ended up helping with a big part of decorating, too. we got to see Haitian industry on display, and/or, as Marie-Claire would tell you, the Haitian desire to set a high bar for next year’s graduation on display (as in, if the 12th graders worked their butts off this year, then next years 12th graders would have to work hard for their graduation.)
we attended the graduate’s dinner on Thursday night (i think it was Thursday night, anyway) which was, in a way, a talent show – they had a variety of dances, songs, etc that they performed for their classmates which was, again, an incredible display of maturity, solidarity, and support. i don’t think i would have danced or sung for my classmates here because students here are looking for someone or something to make fun of, but they openly showed off how talented they were and everybody supported each other. oh, and we got to serve them food. that was cool.
on Friday morning (again, i think it was Friday) we wrote notes to put on each of the graduates’ chairs – notes about how brilliant their accomplishments were, how proud we were and how proud they should be, and wishing God’s greatest blessings upon their future endeavors. we also made other decorations for the gym – frames with each graduate’s name and photo in it; flowers made out of tissue paper; etc.
Monday and Tuesday morning, we spent time at the school doing something a little different – some of the ‘undergraduates’ at IU were training to be translators for summer camp, and we were helping a great friend named Abby do that. basically, our job was…talk to them. read stories in English and have them translate it to their classmates in Creole. Converse. talk about Haitian culture and American culture and what our lives are like. talk about Haitian politics. get-to-know-you kind of stuff: would you rather live in a place that’s hot, or cold? know every language, or play every instrument? what’s your favorite movie? favorite song? this ended up being loads of fun, because again, the students were happy we were there and we were happy to be there and they loved hearing about America and we loved hearing about Haiti.
that was the bulk of our work, or at least all that felt like work. the rest was honestly loads of fun, and it involved just being around. meeting graduates, eating mangoes with them, walking with them around town and having them show us what Haitian life was like, singing songs, eating dinner, playing games like zip-zap-zop, and all around making merry.
to everyone who made this trip happen, by prayer or by financial support, thank you, thank you, thank you. we had a great time, we did work that matters, and we built relationships that are sure to last throughout our life on earth and ultimately into eternity.