From Ty Darlington / Contributor for The Travel Ledger
“My momma was my girlfriend, but she died in the earthquake. My daddy was my boyfriend, but he’s not here anymore.”
The conversation has been on repeat inside my mind for the last four years. In that moment, an 11-year-old boy absolutely rocked my world, accidentally exposing me to the sobering, heartbreaking reality of Haiti through his incomplete understanding of the English language. There, sitting on the uneven edge of a dilapidated wall in the tiny village of Minoterie, a little boy named Kanzi took Haiti from my head to my heart. You’ve seen the pictures. You’ve heard the stories. Poverty, homelessness and unemployment are rampant. Living conditions deplorable. Infrastructure nonexistent. But you don’t really get it. Not yet. You’ve got to see it for yourself.
Even in America, two-dimensional images of extreme poverty are not unfamiliar to eyes that have become calloused to the evidences of need. Honestly, I don’t know what to attribute that to. Are we a cold, heartless society? I would like to think not. Are we simply oblivious to the plight of the destitute? Maybe. Distracted by the trappings of our consumerism? Probably.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t really hit you until you’re on a yellow school bus headed out of Port-Au-Prince, drenched in your own sweat, staring out at the tents, miles and miles of tents. Until you notice that even the cows are malnourished. Until you watch 15 people emerge from a hut that shouldn’t be able to house more than four. The moment when you realize that what you perceive as “unlivable” is considered “normal.” Whenever you reach your moment, it hits you. This is real. The pictures, videos, and testimonials don’t even come close to touching the reality. Haiti is a place in desperate need of help.
But that’s only day one. The next revelation is overwhelming. By day three, an even more astounding truth is making itself clear, they are happy. It’s inconceivable- how could they possibly be happy? They have nothing. Yet somehow, against all odds, they are content and filled with joy. By the end of the week, you realize that these incredible people. These gracious, loving, generous people, have given you more than you could ever possibly have given them. You went there to serve them, did you not? But you walked away having been served and ministered to in a manner far more significant than brick and mortar, food and shelter. They touched your heart and forever altered your perspective. You will never see the world the same.
Much is made of what Haiti doesn't have. Though the nation may be in sore need of a great many things, it also possesses two resources that can neither be quantified nor monetized. A rich, vibrant culture and a resilient, generous people. The first time I went to Haiti, I set out unconsciously believing that I possessed a multitude of gifts that I could bestow upon a people in need (education, knowledge, spiritual maturity, technical expertise, etc.). But then I became acutely aware of my own cultural arrogance, realizing that deep down I believed that we Americans had it all right, and that we had journeyed there essentially as a generous act of cultural imperialism. The conviction of this self-discovery led me to the conclusion that it is they that had much to teach me, not the other way around. The impression that the people and their culture have left on me is as remarkable as the nation’s beautiful coasts and as lasting as the sloping mountains.
Despite the obvious challenges and disparities within the nation, the progress is astounding! Each time I have returned, the signs of growth and improvement are evident. Yes, this is in part because of the generosity of foreigners that have given of their excess time and money to serve the country. But much more so, the progress should be attributed to the incredible spirit of the Haitian people, who in their struggle have battled both internal forces of economic and political turmoil and the external forces of natural disaster.
I've been to Haiti four times and every visit God has touched my heart and revealed himself to me in the unlikeliest of ways. He has allowed me to forge unbreakable bonds with special human beings that are so much more than teammates and classmates. I pray that on this day, He will convict me, move me, shape me, and reveal himself to me like never before. I pray that I will be His witness through both my words and my actions. I pray that I can give back to Haiti a small portion of all it has given to me.
Note - Sooners For Haiti is a nonprofit organization organizing annual mission trips to Haiti with University of Oklahoma student-athletes. It began as Hoops for Haiti in 2010, when the women’s basketball team traveled to Haiti to work through Mission of Hope the spring following the massive earthquake that devastated the country. The trip has grown beyond just women’s basketball, and now includes members of the OU football, men’s basketball, volleyball, wrestling, track, gymnastics and soccer teams. This year was the eighth Sooners For Haiti trip.