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Sights, sounds and reality of Haiti produce life-changing experience

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College emphasizes cross-cultural learning, with traveling opportunities offered to fulfill this prerequisite. I finally got to embrace this experience in January with two weeks traveling around Haiti.

In our first week of interterm, while we were still on campus, we visited many local non-profit organizations: Numana in El Dorado, Hospitals of Hope and Clinic in a Can in Wichita, Heart to Heart International in Olathe, and Mennonite Central Committee-Central States in North Newton. These all supported Haiti after the earthquake disaster in 2010.

We also had the privilege of visiting the University of Kansas to see its Haitian art collection and have a discussion with a Haitian scholar.

During this first week, I grew an in-depth knowledge about the struggles, hardships and troubling times that struck Haiti after the earthquake. I also learned about this amazing, fascinating and beautiful culture we were about to visit.

One quote stuck out to me during the Haitian scholar’s discussion: “It’s a different country, not a different world.” Hearing this helped open my mind to being a little more prepared for the Haitian experience.

After a week of traveling locally, we finally packed our small suitcases and flew to Haiti. For the first few days of our trip, we stayed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, at Wall’s International Guest House.

We arrived on the Day of Remembrance (Jan. 12, anniversary of the earthquake). There was little to no traffic and barely anyone walking down the streets. It seemed like a typical Sunday in any big city.

Since there was no traffic, we decided to tour Port-au-Prince. Things I observed: the streets weren’t clean; there was still post-earthquake rubble; and houses were made out of unstable debris.

Despite all that, the city was captivating, breathtaking, with the scenery of the mountains, not to mention all the smells of cooking done alongside the roads.

The next day, the streets were a bit different. There were tons of people, loud noises (cars constantly honking, music blaring), and children playing and vendors everywhere. We went to visit MCC-Haiti, World Relief and, most impactful to me, the Salvation Army schools in the heart of the city.

Just entering the school grounds, we immediately caught everyone’s attention. The children gravitated towards us. Their laughter was our way of communicating with them.

The school itself was under construction. The rooms currently in use had only a piece of plywood as a buffer against the extremely loud noise from neighboring classrooms. It made me grateful for the little things in our U.S. public education system – you are given textbooks; pencils come by the handful; everyone has their own chair.

This was just the beginning of the eye-opening experiences I had in Haiti.

The following two days, we traveled into the mountains to a village called Fond Baptiste. Lagrande, our tour guide, worked with an NGO called PCH that HOPE International has helped to build water reservoirs in pre-existing silos.

We toured many silos and talked with local community members about the impact of these reservoirs. Without this local access, women would have to walk four hours each day down the mountain and back to get their daily water.

It was shocking to learn that one five-gallon bucket of water would serve for cooking, laundry, bathing and drinking for an entire family – for a couple of days. Their ability to be resourceful goes above and beyond mine, and makes me thankful for the fresh water I get out of my tap.

We spent the next four days in Hinche, where we stayed with Wildy Mulatre, a Bethel graduate, and his family.

On the first day, three of us got to visit a local orphanage for boys age 2-24. Orphanages work a little different in Haiti: most of the children aren’t there because their parents passed away but because their parents couldn’t support them.

The boys welcomed us and we played basketball and soccer with them. Up until this time, there had been a language barrier, which was very frustrating, but here, the boys could speak some English. It was a blessing to actually get to talk to them.

For the next three days in Hinche, we volunteered at Hôpital Ste. Therese, where we assisted in dressing changes, wound care and taking vital signs.

Jen Scott and I spent one morning with Genley, a four-year-old girl who lives permanently at the hospital because her parents dropped her off there after she was born with cerebral palsy. Orphanages won’t take her due to her condition, so she lives in the hospital’s baby ward.

We took Genley for a walk, and she lit up in the sunlight. It warmed my heart to see her reaction. The reality of how spoiled we are in the United States with the kind of health care we get is bewildering.

For our last days in Haiti, we went to Cap-Haïtien, in the north, to visit the local hospital and talk about the cholera outbreak, and to hike up to La Citadelle, before returning to Port-au-Prince for our flight home.

There were so many smells and sights I experienced throughout my time in Haiti that I wish I could share in pictures. Haiti is a beautiful, breathtaking country where the people are so welcoming and would do absolutely anything for you without wanting anything in return.

Haitians have the biggest hearts, the biggest personalities and the biggest smiles – for a country that “doesn’t have a lot,” they made me feel like I was home everywhere I went.

My trip to Haiti was one of the best times of my life – from the people I traveled with to the people we met and the sights I saw, it will undoubtedly forever have a place in my heart.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2013-14 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2013-14. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

Stephanie Shogren is a senior athletic training major from Hesston. Other members of the 2014 interterm class Seminar in Cross-Cultural Learning: Haiti, with faculty Doug Siemens, associate professor of education, and Geri Tyrell, assistant professor of nursing, were Shelby Goniea, Newton, Nichole Ilderton, Wichita, Nik Krahn, Mountain Lake, Minn., Jenn Reed, Newton, Jennifer Scott, Newton, and Tanner Steingard, Henderson, Neb.

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