Service Trip - Haiti

Day 1

Bonswa from your favorite honorary Haitians! We're not sure how your Good Friday began, but ours involved some party-bus karaoke fueled by 2 hours worth of inadequate "sleep." Our journey commenced, as most things in our life do, within the parking lot of Gwynedd. Our bus, driven by a very nice man by the name of Anton, arrived at the G M of A promptly at 2 am. We won't lie and say we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, mostly because we couldn't see in the dark of the "morning," but we were undoubtedly more than excited. After hugs and kisses and "Don't get malaria"'s, we boarded our shuttle with way too many bags and began our 2 hour journey to the JFK International Airport. After some much needed jam sessions with songs like "Eye of the Tiger," "September," and some "Circle of Life," the remix of course, our chariot arrived at the airport and our journey officially began. Surprisingly enough, the 10 girls we brought made it through bag check, TSA, AND security with only one pat-down for Gab Greene and one bag search for Lauren Dennin, who may or may not have had to been trying to "smuggle" a clarinet overseas.

Our flight began right after sunrise, so everyone was much more awake and ready to embark on this unforgettable experience. 3 hours and 47 minutes, 5 different multi-player trivia tournaments, and a few too many interrupted naps later, Port au Prince was in our sight, soon to be in our hearts. Being in Haiti for less than 5 minutes was more than enough for us to know we were going to fall in love. Despite Miss Julia Kreutzer being stopped and held by immigration officers for her use of Mr. Fromhold's red pen on her Customs Form, the gang eventually wound up at the baggage claim where we met 2 very sweet and very helpful Jamaican brothers who were visiting their family in this beautiful country. As we moved through the airport, Brynn Diamond had no qualms about attempting friendships as soon as possible. Such friendships, however, started with a rusty version of "Bonswa" followed by an enthusiastic, native response, and finished with a "Oh, Bonswa is all I know...merci?" 23 new friends later, we made our way out to meet our friend Miss Andi Healy, our immersion coordinator for the trip, who then led us to our van. We'll be the first to say that fitting 12 people, plus all of their bags, and 3 translators in one van is not the easiest thing to do, but being that close that early helped us get even more psyched.
Prior to an exotic Haitian spread of about 400 french fries and mini-pizza's, we all took a little nap to get ready for the rest of the day. After lunch, we went for a swim in the hotel's outdoor pool and enjoyed a lively game of Sharks and Minnows. A meet-and-greet orientation meeting with Mercy High School, a fellow Mercy school from San Fran, CA., followed suit and we soon had not only 10 friends to enjoy this experience with, but 13 new Californian ones as well. Dinner consisted of a colorful meal and a lot of laughter, and finished off with a prayer and reflection led by Sister Mary Sullivan. We finished our day off with a group chill-sesh as we watched the sun go down and debated the legitimacy of a mango, or not mango, tree. To follow-up, Gab Greene was right in her identification of the fruit and Mr. Fromhold was forced to pay up a whopping single dollar bill.
While tonight was our last night in beautiful Port- au-Prince, the crew looks forward to traveling to Gros Morne tomorrow, where the real immersion can begin. Stay tuned for more updates about this trip of a lifetime.
Signing off,
Gab Greene '17 and Julia Kreutzer '18

Day 2

Hello from Haiti. Good morning began with an early wake-up call that we were not accustomed to. Breakfast that was provided tasted great, especially the fresh fruit. Next, we excitedly board the bus. We were not prepared for the lack of leg room in the bus seats and the lack of road rules. The bus driver, Jamesly, and the other drivers on the roads really knew how to lay on the horn. Being as outgoing as most us are, we had no issue sticking our heads out the windows to greet the townspeople, and everyone we waved to responded with warm smiles. It was amazing to see the difference of landscapes between the city of Port-Au-Prince and the town of Gros Morne. It really put into perspective the reality that often the people who have the least are the happiest, and seemingly the most grateful for just a smile. Towards the end of the long journey to Gros Morne, the road was a rollercoaster. The bumpiness kept us wide awake except for Lauren and Gab, who took a nap during the ride. Finally, we arrived at the Grepin Agronomy Center and settled in.

Later on, after some downtime and a few naps later, the true competitors in the group showed up and dominated in a game of soccer in the driveway of the Grepin Center. We invited some of our Haitian drivers and translators into the game and it felt good to see them enjoying our company as much as we were theirs. Throughout the game, new sides of people's personalities were shown, for example, Emily the Dorr Stop. We took a tour and learned more about Grepin, which serves as a main agricultural center for the surrounding areas. This center helps teach local farmers the different methods of farming and which methods provide the most success. One thing that resonated with us after the tour was how so many people can take something so little and transform it into something that means so much more.

After many adventures throughout the day, a group of about 40 local Haitian high school girls from Mercy Beyond Borders came to Grepin for a party. We jumped rope, kicked the soccer ball around, and made crafts with these girls. It was great to hear their music and learn some of their dance moves. Many think language would be such a barrier, but that did not stop us from bonding with these girls. They taught us many new things, such as simple games and how to just have fun. Something else we learned is how many of our games are very boring compared to theirs. Being able to spend time with other Mercy Girls from a different country showed us the value and connectivity of Mercy everywhere. Seeing so many smiles on their faces moved us because it showed us that simple acts can truly make a difference. It was tough saying goodbye or the Creole version, "Orevwa" to these girls despite having only known them for a short time.

Our evening began with some of the girls helping to make dinner. Dinner was delicious and definitely something you can't get back home. Sarah and some others ventured out of their comfort zone and tried a goat. Sarah ended up being the most surprised after we found out that the piece she had eaten was the ear. After dinner, Sister Mary Sullivan lead us in a peaceful reflection consisting of a passage from Pope Francis' "Joy of the Gospel." We discussed how even in the darkness and struggle of so many places, God's light will always shine through and lead the way, which directly relates to the Easter Season and Jesus' suffering and Resurrection. We Gwynedd girls ended the night with our own reflection on the day, followed by looking at the stars. What we saw was something truly indescribable, seeing as there were more stars than we've ever seen and they were brighter than most lights in the city.

After we all settled down to journal and relax before bed, we had a special guest, not one like on GMA-TV though. As Bridget and Gab were splayed out on their cot, Grace noticed something moving 3 inches from Bridget's ponytail. Soon enough, we all spotted the massive spider, easily the size of a man's hand, and we aren't exaggerating! After we all jumped up onto the bed across the room and screamed our heads off, someone went to grab Mr. Fromhold. Some 40 minutes later and a lot of planning, we proved successful in our battle with the arachnid and we all got tucked into our mosquito nets for the night. Thanks to Mr. Fromhold, we were able to say goodnight and dream about the adventures we are going to have tomorrow. We look forward to the experiences ahead and can't wait to share them when we return.

By Bridget Casey and Grace Larivee

Day 3

Bon Fret Pak! (Happy Easter!) This is a phrase we learned and used frequently throughout this glorious day. We had a quick breakfast and then headed out for a hike up a local mountain. The way up was a little bit of a struggle, especially for those of us who were not used to demanding physical exercise. However, once we reached the summit we were all in agreement that the challenging uphill climb was definitely worth it for the breathtaking views. At the top, we all took some time to ourselves to be present in the moment and find solace in God’s beautiful creation that surrounded us in every direction. The mountain was in the process of being re-forested, which was interesting to see a rebirth of trees on this Holy Day focused on celebrating rebirth.

Despite a couple falls, we all made it down the mountain safely; some of us using different methods (AKA Mr. Fromhold sprinting down the entire mountain). We walked back to the Agronomy Center, put on our Easter dresses for Mass, and tried new foods at lunch before hopping on the bus to go to Maison Bon Samaritan. The Mass was very interesting because, despite not being able to understand the language, it was still easy to tell which part of the Mass was occurring.

After Mass concluded, we went right into song and dance with all of the residents at the center. Along with the residents, many children were also there to teach us new hand games, blow bubbles and dance with us. Later, we left and returned to the center for dinner. After a relaxing reflection with Sister Mary Sullivan, we started to choreograph our amazing dance for the talent show tomorrow. A few of us layed outside in the light rain and reflected on the beauty of creation of the stars.

By Lauren Dennin '18 and Brynn Diamond '18

Day 4

Bonswa from Haiti! Today was a service intensive day. We first met up at Maison Bon Samaritan to learn more about the elderly people living there. We talked to the head director and learned how she got her position and what it was like to interact with the residents. Then we picked up our work gloves and got to painting the classrooms at Lekol Jezi-Mari. A few spills and many broken paintbrushes later, the room had a fresh coat of sunny, yellow paint. After completing the paint job, we sat and interacted with some children from the community. We played hand games, shared Cliff bars, gave piggy back rides, and received lots of hugs and kisses.

After our three-course lunch of a spicy soup, fresh mango, and chicken pot pie, we perfected our dance for the talent show being held by the Mercy Beyond Borders girls. At the Lavi Soley women’s center, we taught the girls some games and learned some new ones. Following this was the talent show which started with our dance and also featured skits, singing, and musical chairs. In the skit, completely in Creole, the girls showed off their acting skills with a story about a woman confessing to stealing a shoe. There was much more dancing as a group after the talent show and we also shared cake and gifts.

Then we got a tour of the close quarters that the scholars stay in when they live too far away from the school. Back at the Grepin Center, we ate dinner and then walked across the street to the river where we got to see the sunset over the trees. In the river everyone got a little wet from some playful splashing but we still managed to get a group picture with the beautiful sunset. Right after a peaceful reflection from Sister Mary we got the unexpected news that our water is not working so thank goodness for our river bath!

By Tara Sheahan '17 and Sarah Waddington '17

Day 7

Bonswa from a very tired, very moved, and very sunburnt group of honorary Haitians. Today, unfortunately, marked our last few hours at Grepin Agronomy Center in Gros Morne. Waking up before the roosters at 5:00 a.m., we finished packing and went to eat a delicious breakfast of fried eggs and mango. After loading our bags onto the bus, we set off for the last part of our journey.

During the 6 hour drive, we ate fresh bananas from the market, listened to songs by our favorite Haitian artist, JBeatz, and said goodbye to the beautiful sights of Gros Morne. When we arrived at Port-Au-Prince, we said goodbye to two very special women from the trip: Alex, one of our amazing translators, and Gail, the interim director from Mercy Beyond Borders. We quickly drove off to Pantheon Museum National where we learned all about the history of Haiti, from Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the island, to the revolution, to illustrations of brutal oppression of Haitians throughout its history. Odel, our tour guide, even told us a story about the statue of the woman slave who, despite its size, survived the earthquake of 2010, but not without leaving a large crack in the tile floor. We also saw some absolutely beautiful art work. After leaving the museum, we traveled back to Servotel, the hotel at which we spent our first night in Haiti. The rest of the day’s activities included an appearance by our greatly missed friend, pizza, swimming in the pool, and our final refection as a group, where we were able to express how much this trip has meant to us.

While today is our final day in Haiti, we know that we will never truly leave Haiti. The experiences we’ve had, memories we’ve made, laughs we’ve shared, and things we’ve seen will stay with us far after we land in the United States. We cannot wait to reunite with our families and spread all of the lessons we’ve learned to the Gwynedd community.

See you soon!

Julia Kreutzer '18