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Chris Workman Shares his Story on his Trip to Haiti

My Trip to Haiti


Early in the morning of January 25, 2012, I left Petersburg, Virginia for Ronald Reagan National Airport. From Washington, DC we travelled to Miami, Florida and then onto Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After a short while, we caught a twin-engine turbo-prop to the little village of Anse á Galets, Haiti, which is located on the island of la Gonave (pronounced “logging off”). It took about fifteen hours to get to our destination.

The trip was sponsored and organized by the United Methodists Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM). I was a member of a team composed of nine people from all over Virginia. Members of my team came from the Charlottesville area, the Roanoke areas, the Manassas area, and of course the Petersburg area. We were the third of three teams to visit Anse á Galets in the month of January 2012. Each of us had to come up with $1100 for this trip, but most of mine was reimbursed by individual gifts and by support from the three churches I attend. Since most of the $1100 is used for our plane tickets, our food, our accommodations, and associated services, UMVIM matches our contributions in order to support the mission project at hand.

Our project was to assist the Haitians in construction of a church at the local Methodist school. The school accommodates about 150 kids, and was constructed by the same process as the church-volunteers helping the local Haitians build. Not only did we supply much needed labor for a week, but the UMVIM contribution noted above paid for the cement, wood, concrete block, rebar, tools, sand and stone, fuel, generator, and the workmen’s pay.

While we were there, we were put up in one of the school’s office buildings. Five men in one room and four women in another room. Electricity was supplied by a generator. Toilet accommodations consisted of a flushing commode and a shower stall. Other that the toilet, there was no running water. We took “bucket baths” when time allowed. A barren was filled each day, by hand, from water drawn from a well. Dip the bucket in, and rinse under the stars. The shower stall was an opened-roof room with a swinging door located on the end of the building. The Haitians rarely take showers.

Our work day consisted of hauling water to the site, sieving the pile of soil into fine and course aggregate, mixing up concrete, hauling the concrete to the work site, and unloading and hauling concrete blocks. The actual construction project we were involved in consisted of putting up a wall on the second floor of the church. When we ran out of materials, we would interact with the children by reading to them, singing to them, and playing with them. Their ages ranged from about five to about sixteen.

The Haitian official language is Creole, but communication with the villagers was really not a problem. We had several translators, and many of the children could understand some English. In addition, many of the common words in Creole are easy to pick up. I read several chapters in a Creole book to the children just by sounding out the words.

The Haitian women at the school fixed us three meals a day, washed our clothes, and cleaned our rooms. Meals consisted of beans-and-rice, as staple, watermelon, pineapple, fried fish, oatmeal, coleslaw, plantains (similar to a small banana), spaghetti, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes. We also had bread and pastries.

La Gonave is a very dry place. They said they hadn’t had rain in years. As noted above, some water is obtained from deep wells. Some of these wells ruptured during the earthquake two years ago. During the afternoon, we would walk into the village of Anse á Galets and purchase tools or plywood. We bought a pump at the local hardware store on one such trip. This gave us a chance to meet other Haitians not necessarily associated with the Methodist Church. We found the Haitian people to be very friendly. Although we stayed in our group with a translator, we felt very safe in the village. We even had a chance to run down to the ocean twice. The water is crystal clear, the sky is blue, a nice breeze is usually blowing, and the beach is covered with conch shells and well-worn coral and white rocks.

Once the construction supplies (mostly block and cement) were all used up and the rented wood for the scaffolding was picked up, we flew back in the nine-seater turbo-prop to Port-au-Prince for one more day. We stayed at the Methodist Guest House overnight and were treated with a cold shower and a hot breakfast. Before leaving, we took a bus tour of the city. Although the place is still a mess, with thousands of people all crowded together, I noticed a lot of improvement since my last two trips. I only saw two damaged buildings, with many more being repaired. I didn’t see any starving children playing in the filthy open sewers, as was noted on earlier trips. Much of the rubble had been cleaned up and some of the sewers had been cleaned out. Many more are still full of garbage.

Back to the airport in Port-au-Prince, through many security checks, and on my way back to the United States of America. A week in Haiti is a long time. It’s hot, it smells, there are lots of bugs, very few places have electricity, you can’t drink the water, and you have to bring nearly everything you need. I’m looking forward to my fourth trip in the near future!