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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Gift of Water...

Fe'm cardeau yon ti gout dlo. This is what I heard every single day for the last week. Please give me a gift of water... It's crazy how water is seen as a gift to some....

Last week I along with 15 other people took a journey to my motherland, Haiti. I would first like to say that I couldn't have gone with a better group of people. I think this is an experience that will bond us forever.

Before we arrived in Haiti we spent the night in the Dominican Republic. The experience there was great. The next morning we took a bus ride into Haiti and as we approached the border, it was like we entered into a whole new world... It's crazy to me that this is literally one island. We crossed no bridge, we just crossed a check point and boom we were in Haiti.

Going down the bumpy dirt road I saw faces of impoverished people bathing in the same water they clean and cook with. Ironically enough the picturesque view of mountains and ocean were beautiful, but the sight of people living in these conditions were heart wrenching.

As we approached Port-au-Prince it didn't seem all that bad. I knew it was a poor country, the television had prepared me for the shacks and the tent cities.... So I thought. We didn't spend long in PAP that day. It was only a pit stop to where we would actually be working. A town called Cabaret.

Upon arriving in Cabaret, it still didn't feel real. We unloaded the bus, ate and then began to pitch our tents. Unlike other mission groups, we did not get the luxury of sleeping in doors on a bed. We slept in tents outside on the rocks. If I had to make one complaint about this trip it would be about the rocks. Granted I am lucky to even have a tent to sleep in, but those rocks deprived me of sleep lol. But I digress...

Many of us had the outhouse experience on the first day. They had built a bathroom for us, that seemingly flushed, we had a shower that gave one strand of water. I'm sure most of us would have rather bathed in a bucket and used the bushes which many of us ended up doing any ways. Even with these amenities I believe we had the real outdoor experience.

The first day of camp was really a test run. No one knew what to expect, but we made it happen. The first day we received 110 kids. In the morning we had icebreakers where we would gather the children together. The icebreakers were basically a sing a long session. The children loved Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. The last few days we had talent shoes in the morning where the children would come up and sing or rap. We then divide the kids into different groups where they had a choice of arts and crafts, sports, English and Spanish language and games. Although we had planned to cater about 100 kids I don't think any of us took into account the water crisis.

The first day we had only enough water for one water break. Mind you these water baggies were only about 5 ounces (if that). We also realized that we had to give these kids with 2 meals a day. We were told that these children would come to us already fed, that was definitely not the case. The next day we provided breakfast (which was bread and butter with some juice) and lunch was usually spaghetti and ketchup or rice and beans.

Even with these improvements, providing enough water was still a challenge. We gave them 2 water breaks over a 7 hour period. 2 baggies per child per day is not enough water. I May have drunk 2 bottles a day and I still felt dehydrated at times. Every half hour a child was asking me to give them the "gift" of water. All I could do is say I'm sorry but there is no water... I think the reason I deprived myself of water was because I could not sit there and hydrate myself while knowing these kids are dying of thirst.

Every day we received more and more children. I believe the most we received was 175 in one day. Each day it got a little easier. The children warmed up to us and we did what we had to do with what we had. At the end of the day we can say that we made a difference. It wasn't about the food, or the water that we provided to the kids. It was the time spent with them. Several people from the community told me that they were happy with the job we were doing.

We are gone now, and the kids will probably go back to having less than one meal a day, but they will not forget us. They can't forget us. Someone stated that they never saw the kids take to any of the earlier groups the way they took to us. We are the only ones who focused on the children.

I do not say this to brag, but I say this to make a point. For those of you who said that going to Haiti was pointless and that there was nothing you could do, well you were wrong. We were a bunch of law students with practically no medical training or real experience with kids. We went to Haiti because we believed that we could make a difference. I am proud of our group for standing up and taking this risk. Most of the law schools canceled their trip to Haiti and opted to send money instead. I'm not saying that money is not important, but what we did with those kids will last them a lifetime.

The children were poor and they could have asked for anything, but instead they asked for water. Fe'm cadeau yon ti dlo... Give me the gift of water... Water is a basic necessity. It should never be considered a gift. We all donate to these fancy organizations thinking that the money we send will give these basic needs, but I was there and honestly I do not see where your money has gone. The children are still asking for water. They desperately need food. Malnutrition is real over there. Two year olds look like 7 month olds because they are malnourished. I spent the day in the medical clinic, translating and "triaging" and the things I saw I would never thought I would see... All because they are not getting the basic needs.

I know we cannot save the world and our one week trip may have been a tease, but if it did anything at all, it brought awareness. It is one thing to hear about the poverty and watch it on TV but it is another to live and breathe it. To see it face to face. To play with it. To sing with it. It is a different experience. Seeing these children in the dirt, half-dressed, diseased. it is just hard to swallow especially since I have a child myself.

This was definitely an experience to say the least. I hope that all you get an opportunity to experience what we saw. Watching it on TV will not get the job done. Whether it is Haiti or Togo I really don't care, just get out there and make a difference. You will be surprised at the good you can do.

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