Going to Haiti was something I would have never planned on doing on my own, but when I became involved with a child sponsorship program that is based in Maine from which I picked several children to sponsor, I could not pass up the opportunity to join a mission team and go to Haiti and work with the children directly in Terrier Rouge and the surrounding villages with this organization. It is called "His Hands for Haiti" and it gives 100% of the money from the sponsors to the children because all the work is donated and done by volunteers like myself. The total cost to sponsor for one year and provide a child with tuition, uniform, books, and one hot meal a day (and for some their only meal) is ONLY $80 which can be paid in two payments during that year. That is less than my family going out for a night of a movie and pizza.
We traveled to Haiti from Fort Pierce, FL on the Missionary Flights Incorporated Planes, and what a pleasant experience to actually have your pilot come out and pray with you and the rest of the passengers for a safe flight, and that is just what we had. It took about five hours in all. The views from the airplane were breathtaking and the color of the sea was a green-blue that you cannot describe. There is nothing else like it. It is a color I now dream about. Most call it Caribbean blue; it is uniquely beautiful.
Stopping on the way at Exuma in the Bahamas, we refueled and again headed for Haiti. As I could see the Tortoise Island just before Haiti, the coastline of Haiti could be seen just beyond and was edged with lacy white caps along the island's coastline. Off on the horizon of the mountains that lie just inward from the sea, you can make out the shape of the "Citadel" the castle-like fortress which has great historical richness and is one of the most visited places of interest in all of Haiti.
Arriving in Cap Haitian air port is a culture shock right from the start. You cannot make your way from the terminal door to your vehicle without being swamped with men trying to carry your bags for you, or begging for money. "Misses, misses," they shout, "gimme gimme doll-lar". Some even train their young children to beg, but at least it gets you ready to take sight of the amazing poverty that becomes so evident as soon as you start driving away from the airport and into the city.
Cap Haitian is a small city smothered in garbage everywhere you look, along the road, across the road, down every alley you look down, along every bridge or gutter of stagnant water. Goats, pigs, and donkeys grazing anywhere they can in the city streets among the many peddlers who line their tiny, make-do shops wherever they can find room along the main road. Shacks and dirt and grime covers every square inch, and the concentration of it is just overwhelming. Anger is your first reaction and, as an American, you can't understand how anyone or any country can live in such a high level of filth. There is no place to escape it. Poverty is all that you can see. The roads are in horrible condition with ruts and holes and mud if it has just rained. There is no order to anything, no rules, no regulations. Just total chaos.
Needless to say, I was anxious to get out of the city, and as we finally broke away from it, the road to Terrier Rouge was different but just as devastating. The poverty spreads out into the countryside, with shacks and huts along the road displaying a lifestyle that you cannot even imagine is really lived in. Children run naked or half clothed and shout "blan blan" as they see your white faces, and the adults wave at you as you drive by, the dust from the road seeps into the car, and dirt is everywhere, the trees and bushes along the road are even covered with the dust, and the greenness of the tropical trees can only be seen from a distance. The mountain ranges that follow the road on the right side hover high and distant and, once in awhile, you get a glimpse of the blue sea on the left. It is hard to capture the beauty because the poverty is so shocking. There are people walking along the road with large parcels and buckets balanced on their heads, or riding old mangy horses and donkeys that look half starved. Yet, everyone always waves to you. Soon, we come into a small village, and again the poverty is so concentrated. My head was spinning as I tried to believe what I was seeing. The poverty would not be so overwhelming if it wasn't for the amount of garbage strewn about, and the lack of hope that seemed to settle over everything. But one thing seemed very evident, the people who lived here were beautiful to look at, and the children had a joy about them that seemed impossible to believe while living in these conditions. We found ourselves going from small village to countryside again and again until finally our driver announced that Terrier Rouge was just up ahead. Creole is the main language here and some French is spoken but rarely.
Terrier Rouge was like the other villages, but the main street seemed wider, and the houses less crowded side by side.
Before I knew it, we took a sharp right-hand turn and into a narrow alley, two young boys opened a large double gate and we were soon inside a courtyard. This was my new home for two weeks. I will tell you more in my next story.