My trip to Haiti was truly remarkable. The smiling, curious faces of the children amidst the less than ideal circumstances will not be easily forgotten. At each school, as soon as the children get over their initial shyness, they are holding both your hands and are clinging to your neck, arms, and anywhere they can hold on. The children’s craving for the affection of an adult really impacted me and caused me to think about how fortunate I was as a child to be surrounded by adults that loved and encouraged me.
My favorite part would have to be playing soccer with the boys. We would bring a simple new soccer ball and immediately the game would be on! I also had an opportunity to compete in a big match with one of the teams. It was a full pitch match with uniforms that we provided, coaches, and even a referee! The match was played on hard dirt ground without a single bit of grass and many of the boys had a poor excuse for soccer shoes if they had anything at all. We brought bags and bottles of water for all the players as they usually play under the hot Haitian sun without anything to drink until they get home. The boys ranged in size and age but each played with such enthusiasm whether they had the proper shoes or not. So much so, that I can say they sure didn’t take it easy on myself and the other Americans that joined in the game! It really created a special sense of belonging and equality just by doing something so simple like playing a soccer match together.
The last thing I would add is how shocked I was to learn that for many of them it was their first time visiting the beach. Even though they live on an island, almost all of the beaches are private and not open for the public to enjoy. We had the opportunity to have a beach day with them with swimming, games, food, and of course more soccer! The water was shallow enough to stand but many of the kids did not know how to swim so we tried to teach them. Seeing their joy at something so simple as splashing and playing in the water and the novelty of a grilled hotdog was humbling. How often do I complain about which beach to go to and how crowded it is and if I want to eat this or that.
To sum it up, I do believe we made a difference in the lives of some of the kids, but it is a mutual exchange, because I know for myself the experience in Haiti and the attitude of the people that live there surely made a difference in my thinking.