editor’s note: Judith travelled to St Vincents School with a team this summer, and brought sewing machines to teach some of the older girls how to use them.
Reflections on My Trip to Haiti and St. Vincent’s School
I tried not to have expectations but of course I did anyway. I expected it to be hot, expected to see a lot of poverty, expected to see rubble, expected to not have the conveniences I was used to, and tried not to expect violence or illness. It was hot, very hot, and without electricity and water sometimes, a little uncomfortable, but there were not really any hardships. It didn’t take long to get used to having only cold water, and having no electricity or not enough electricity to run air conditioners. Not knowing whether or not there would be water or electricity made for a little drama and excitement. Of course we (our small group of 4 from Friends of St. Vincent’s) were only there one week.
Riding through the city from our hotel to St. Vincent’s was an adventure, however. The traffic was amazing: dented and dusty cars and trucks, brightly painted tap-taps (also dusty and dented), motor cycles, bicycle riders, but mostly pedestrians everywhere walking in the road, on the sidewalks, crossing the streets, weaving in and out of traffic and all moving, moving, moving, constantly. Looking past all the traffic to the vendors, lining the sidewalks in downtown Port-au-Prince we saw people selling all kinds of things from pineapples to prom dresses. Their “stores” ranged from tiny rickety structures jammed next to each other to just goods laying on the sidewalks or items hanging on fences or on the walls that fronted all the homes and businesses. The walls were brightly painted with slogans or drawings or advertisements or graffiti. Then there were sounds to go with all this. Horns honking, gunning engines, music playing, people talking, people hawking goods. Visual and aural over stimulation for someone from a relatively quiet college town.
St. Vincent’s was a wonderful surprise. We were greeted enthusiastically each day by a delegation of adults in wheelchairs under the trees in the hot and dusty courtyard. Several days there were also dozens of families waiting to be seen at the medical clinic that uses space at St. Vincent’s. Then there were the children. We spent most of the time with the teens showing them how to use the electric sewing machines that were donated. Trying to use a sewing machine when you have cerebral palsy or are missing most of your hands or have no arms or hands at all is a challenge, but a challenge these children were up for with grace, humor, and amazing abilities to adapt and change so they could use the machines effectively. There was also love, acceptance, and kindness that the teens showed each other and to us volunteering that moved me to tears on several occasions. There was also some power playing going on, but what was very notiecable was how self-confident and resourceful these teens are and how much they want to live their lives as fully as possible.
We did not get to spend much time with the younger children, but the time we had was also very moving and enriching. Several of the children were not very animated or able to move much on their own so time was spent touching and holding and encouraging them to do what they could. Several of the children were confined to wheelchairs but very lively and enthusiastic and engaged happily in singing and play. It was a delight to be with them.
I was asked why I thought these children were able to be so confident. I think it is because of Father Sadoni, the director of the school, and all that staff that teach and take care of the children. The children are surrounded with love and encouragement to grow and develop to the best of their abilities, to be able to be full participants in their society and culture. They are blessed, and we are blessed who are able to spend time with them.