By: Amy Augustin
President, Venture6 Studio
It’s hard to believe it has been over a month since I returned from our trip to Haiti—the latest location of our corporate social responsibility platform. As I look back on our nine-day visit, I am so proud of what we were able to do in our short time there. We chose to focus on women’s empowerment for this trip, which was successful in so many ways. I find myself hoping that we not only achieved our goal to make women feel proud of their achievements, but that we also touched the lives of the young men and children we met while delivering supplies and food during our stay.
The one thing that continues to resonate with me is the pride the Haitian people have in their country. Even with chaotic city streets cluttered with garbage and traffic, everyone seems to go about their day with a sense of purpose—often carrying heavy loads of goods on their heads. We arrived during the Easter holiday, and as a person who loves style, I immediately noticed the procession of beautiful clothing that adorned the churchgoers as their services let out. It was amazing—I felt like I was watching a fashion show as the people walked down the sidewalks looking flawless in the 95-degree heat. I was in awe at the beauty of the people, which was something that stayed with me throughout the trip.
As I was preparing to travel to Haiti, I didn’t know what to expect. This was my first time in a Third World country, and most of what I’ve heard has been about the natural disasters and devastation the country had endured. They truly are a nation that has been beaten down by Mother Nature, but I was astounded by their unwavering spirit in light of the numerous tragedies they’ve experienced.
On our first stop, we visited a woman who cares for 11 children in a modest home near Port-au-Prince. We originally thought this was an orphanage, but soon learned it was simply a woman with a generous heart who opened her home to children whose parents could not care for them. We brought games for the children and enjoyed an afternoon of beanbag toss competition, Lego building, and PlayDoh fun. The children gave us hugs, high fives, and heartwarming smiles. I felt blessed to be surrounded with such unconditional joy. This was a group of children with few material things and extremely limited resources; however, I couldn’t help but feel they were happier than so many people who have so much “more” than they do.
The hardest day for me was when we visited a Tent City village in Dumay. This is an area that is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake. Homes are made from scraps of metal and are constructed on the side of a mountain. The conditions in the area are extremely unsafe and one large storm could wipe the entire community down the sides of the steep hills. We donated school supplies and soccer balls to the Lift Kids School and painted boards with chalkboard paint in the village classrooms. There are no fans or air conditioning in the school, making it uncomfortably hot for the students and teachers.
I later learned that most of the children only eat one meal a week that is provided by the organization that runs the school. We were introduced to the school cook and invited to tour her home. She was living in what most would consider deplorable conditions. She had a bare box spring covered with a blanket that was the bed she shared with her five children. Her kitchen was very small, and I found it amazing that this woman was able to cook for the entire school in her tiny home.
Walking outside in the village was unsafe. It was hard to keep a steady balance moving from home to home and avoiding scrapes from the many metal pieces along the way. After I returned to lower ground and looked at their living conditions, I felt outside of my body observing the homes. I wondered why any human being should have to live like that. Then I selfishly thought of the safety of my own children and them living in those conditions—how hard it would be to go through day-to-day life in such a devastated area. My own problems seemed so insignificant as I thought about what it would take to survive and provide for your family in this type of environment.
The second part of our journey took us across the sea to Grand Vide, a small village on the island of La Gonave. Upon our arrival, it was as if we were transported to a different world with gorgeous turquoise water and peaceful, friendly people—very different from the hustle and bustle of the concrete-lined streets of Port-au-Prince. During our stay, we helped with the schoolyard, cleaned and organized classrooms, and assisted with the construction of a new kitchen.
There was no running water or plumbing in the village, and the electricity was completely solar-powered and limited. The conditions might seem extreme to most, but the islanders seemed so content and at peace. When we walked around the island, we were greeted with smiles—bonjou in the morning and bonswa in the afternoon. It was an honor to help our host family with the sustainable initiatives in their village. Although I was only there for a short time, the lessons I learned and the feelings I experienced are some I will never forget.
Each day of our trip brought new challenges, like the lack of running water, extreme temperatures, and a storm-filled trip across the Caribbean Sea. But with each passing day, the kindness, pride, and joy I observed far exceeded the challenging conditions. When I came home I did more research on the areas we visited and have spent a great deal of time looking back on my journey. I find myself most in awe of the spirit of the Haitian people. Before I left, my goal was to make a difference for at least one person in Haiti. While I hope that is true, I know for sure that the people of Haiti have made a lifelong difference in me.