Wednesday, October 30, 2013
(The following is excerpted from an article written by Janet Papenfuss on her trip to Haiti doing speech therapy. The full article and photos can be found in the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration quarterly newsletter published the week of October 21, 2013.)
Serving people in a Third World Country through Peace Corps volunteering has been on my "bucket list" long before the term "bucket list" was ever coined. Since the age of 18 (yes, that makes it a 40-year old dream), I have felt the call to do things, and to go places out of my comfort zone, and to try to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate-and by doing so, to make a difference (or even changes) in my own life. So you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon an article in one of my professional journals requesting speech therapy volunteers to go to Haiti for Global Therapy Group, an organization founded by an amazing physical therapist, Donna Hutchins, following the 2010 earthquake.
The founding of this group is a story in and of itself (I invite you to visit the Global Therapy Group website and click on "Donna's Story").
After reading the story, I laughed, cried, and literally jumped up and down. By the end of the day, I contacted Donna, filled out all the paperwork, committed to a month of service, booked a flight, and arranged for all the immunizations I'd need. By the next day, I had arranged for a house and animal sitter. I had recently renewed my passport and had just received my tax refund, so that went to fund the trip. I also discovered that, by some small miracle, my home mortgage was actually paid a month ahead! Now how did THAT happen?
Things came together so quickly and easily that I knew deeply it was God's plan for me.
The feeling I carried inside me up until the day I left was so uplifting and positive that I felt like I was floating or being carried by Holy Hands throughout my days. Even when my family, friends, and the U.S. Embassy website reminded me that Haiti is a very dangerous Third World Country, I was not deterred- not even a little bit. The clear message was that this is what I am supposed to do, and if something negative happens to me there, that also is God's plan for me. Before I left, a woman I knew only slightly couldn't believe I was traveling to Haiti alone, and offered to go with me and stay for three days just to make sure I was in a safe place. She is a nurse and had been there multiple times. Again, proof of Divine providence.
I like to think I made a difference in some of the Haitian lives I touched, but as is so often the case, I was touched so much more by the people I came into contact with. I have never been around a more patient people. Since we could not get the concept of "appointment times" across, the people who came to our clinic would wait to be seen, sometimes for hours in the heat. There was no such thing as a waiting room, much less a sign stating, "If you haven't been seen in 15 minutes... , " as we have in our clinics here.
There is a pride and dignity of appearance that is important to Haitians, no matter their impoverished living conditions. In spite of the heat, rubble, dust, and garbage in the streets, our Haitian patients arrived clean and in clean clothes, and some of the little girls in what appeared to be communion dresses. If when waiting the children became dirty while playing or eating a snack, their mothers had a change of clothes for them before they came into the clinic. I mention this because it seems so incongruous to me-most people do not have running water, much less a wash machine, and even the wealthier people do not have hot water (my host family included). Shoeshine boys and "car washes" (hoses attached to a barrel of water) are seen every hundred feet or so along the streets or roads, in the middle of dust and rubble. It seemed a pointless endeavor, but for the Haitians, is very important, and somehow they arrived at their destinations clean and put together. I, on the other hand, could never quite look as good.
I know that this was not simply something to cross off my bucket list, because I'm going back. I'll be carrying this bucket with me until I can't carry it anymore!