My Story: Nick Rogell

Why did I go to Haiti for my summer vacation? Well, to begin with, it wasn’t a vacation. Not your typical vacation anyway. One morning, during the fall of 2002, at Sunday school is how my journey began. David Smith, another member of the class that I attend was there, too. He brought with him a binder full of pictures. He told me they were from Haiti. I wasn’t too sure what David’s pictures were going to look like, or why David would even want to go to Haiti. As I opened the binder, I stared at the postcard-like pictures. The only thing missing was the “Greetings from Hawaii” printed across the bottom. Only they weren’t from Hawaii. The kids faces in the pictures were so deep. Just the looks on their faces drew me in. I’m pretty sure it was those pictures that sparked my interest in Haiti. As I looked at the pictures, David explained that he and another friend, Pierre Balthazar, had started a service project in Haiti about four years ago. Since then, they have been traveling to Haiti, to a village called Pichon, where they have offered to help the townspeople provide an education for the children. David and Pierre have raised money to pay to hire teachers. The townspeople built the school.

David said that on their trips to Pichon, he and Pierre are establishing relationships with the community. The only group, David said, that they hadn’t yet been able to establish bonds with were the children. That gave me an idea. What if I went to Haiti with David and Pierre, brought some basketballs, and taught the kids how to play?

As the trip drew nearer and nearer, hardly any of the advice I received helped to ease my nerves. I didn’t think about it at the time but all the negative information I was hearing came from people who had never actually been to Haiti. When I went to get my immunization shots for the trip, the lady at the health department sat my mom and me down and went through a packet of information, cautions and warnings of what to watch out for and what not to do. After maybe half an hour of “Don’t touch any animals, don’t eat the food, watch out for roving bands of thieves walking down the street...” my mom was actually in tears. Luckily, my dad saved the day and somehow convinced my mom that the risks were low compared to the benefits, and in any case, I would be safe with Pierre and David.

By the time we touched down in Haiti it was sometime in the middle of the afternoon. Pierre took out onto the street so I could video tape some people. Directly across the street was a family living in a vacant lot with a few trees and a broken down car in the middle of the yard. We walked up to them and Pierre helped to introduce us. Since he already knew Creole he acted as a translator during the week. All the kids ran up to us, smiling. As we were going down the street, I couldn’t believe some of the things I saw. Stray dogs barking while kids threw rocks at them. Music on everywhere, all the time. Cows just walking around in the middle of the street. Small, one room shacks for large families living next door to seemingly untouchable, million dollar houses surrounded by 15 foot high walls, all with giant red gates. This was incredible. I think what made the biggest impression on me were the faces of people as they walked by. They were pretty intimidating, as if they were concentrating on something really hard or just having a bad day. However, something as small as a smile and a “Bonjour!” would brighten up their faces in an instant, as they would return the greeting.

Then it was time to go to Pichon, a small village outside of Belle-Anse. This was the reason we went to Haiti. There is an elementary school there called Lecole Pa Nou (Our School) that David and Pierre helped to start four years ago, so we were going to go there to have a meeting with the teachers and townspeople and to just see how they were doing.

This was a community with no electricity, and no clean water. To me it seemed like the whole village revolved around the kids. Education was so important to them. The first meeting was with the principal and some other teachers. They were just saying thank you and how much they appreciated what we were doing. I remember seeing the principal trying to hold back his tears. They were so grateful towards us.

During one of the other meetings with the parents and townspeople, one of the women there was encouraged by some of the men to speak up and share input. Remember, this is a culture where the women are expected to keep their mouths shut, and their main jobs are to cook and clean. So to see men actually wanting a woman to share her voice in a conversation was a very positive sign. Near the end of the week, as we were driving back to Port au Prince, I was thinking to myself that this week was the most amazing week of my life. After all the warnings and worry, the scariest moment I had was when I tried to kill a spider. Well, actually I got Pierre to kill a spider for me because there was no way I was going to touch it. It was the size of my face and it was in my room! The rest of my stay was relatively calm, considering everyday was packed with new sights and new realizations.

My trip to Haiti helped me discover that we are so lucky. I know you have heard that many times in your life but the fact is it’s true. The things we take for granted are the same things that people in Haiti pray to attain. No, this wasn’t a typical vacation, but I know it was the best experience I have ever been a part of, and I would give anything to do it again.