Mia Alto took a one-week trip with her mother to Haiti this past October to help serve in an exciting venture. Mia said: “The opportunity to serve others made this the best experience of my life.” Read Mia’s compelling first-hand narrative and check out the videos below.
I wasn’t sure about what to expect before arriving in Haiti. When we got in the van to drive from Port-au-Prince to Hinche, I was shocked by the extreme poverty the Haitians were living in despite the beautifully green, mountainous terrain. The basic necessities like water, electricity, paved roads, sewer systems that we take for granted hardly exist. The homes consist primarily of one-to-two rooms with as many as 12 people living there. Portions of the road are unpaved, or remain in disrepair, partially blocked by the rock slides. During the long drive to Hinche, something that stood out were children walking to and from school with neatly pressed shirts, shorts, pants and skirts. Parents and guardians, despite the poverty in which they live, understand the importance of educating their children and getting them to school. They do this because their kids are the hope for Haiti’s future.
As we exited the highway onto a bumpy dirt road surrounded by lots of vegetation, we approached a metal gate. We entered Center of Hope Haiti’s complex, and we saw an oasis in the middle of severe poverty. There are two state-of-the-art new school buildings which are designed to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes, along with the new soccer field, the orphanage, cafeteria, community center building, and the central quad. However, the most important aspects are the children. They are the light in the middle of all of the poverty in a nation often forgotten by the world.
In the morning, the children are there in their neatly pressed uniforms, with big smiles on their faces and eyes wide open as they start the school day. Some have walked more than 1.5 hours to get to school. They start school at 7:30 AM by raising the flag and singing the national anthem and other Haitian songs. The kids are more excited to go to school than any other group of kids I’ve ever seen.
During the few days there, I observed the children learning in the classroom; but, like all kids, they love to play. The boys’ favorite thing to do was play on their new soccer field. We also introduced all of the children to American football, yoga, and simple games such as Simon Says and Duck Duck Goose. They found joy in everything they did. The children have so much positive energy and gratitude that it’s contagious.
On Sunday, a boy named Eber knocked on my door. He said, “futbol,” and I knew what he wanted to do. I grabbed the soccer ball from my room, and we passed and showed each other different skills we knew. Eber and I had to have played for at least an hour — pure fun. Then the four orphans came out to play with us, and they all said, “Futbol! Field!” We all ran as fast as we could to the soccer field and started playing a 3v3 game. Then multiple kids came in through the woods and from the road, and eventually we were playing a 7v7 game.
We all headed into lunch together, along with the boys who joined us but do not attend the school. The orphan’s caregiver gave me and the four school boys big plates of food. Right when she put the plates in front of the five of us, we turned five plates of food into 10 plates of food for everyone to share. That could have been the only meal of the day or weekend for the boys who had just come to play. After lunch, we immediately went back out to the soccer and played more soccer. We laughed and played until there was barely any daylight left, and the adults told the boys to go home and the orphans and me to go back inside. The boys and I washed up and then drew and colored until it was time for the boys to go back to their room.
That day, I learned about all you don’t need to have conversations and connect with others; you can just play and laugh together. It is the simplest and the most fun way to get to know another person. The Haitian boys with whom I played all day spoke fluent Creole and knew a little bit of Spanish, French, and English. I only speak English with a little Spanish, so there wasn’t much language among us. But we connected with laughter and play. It was never awkward, even though we couldn’t speak much with each other. Instead we acted out our thoughts, and each of us helped each other to understand. I learned so much from the boys that I couldn’t have learned any better from anyone else.