I love the time I get to spend in Haiti, and after 3 visits to HATS, it has become like a second family home, but I didn’t know these trips would become a regular thing for me. When I first went to Haiti in July, 2015, I figured I would spend the week, see and learn a little about the country, as well as the workings at HATS. After that, I figured I would find somewhere else to go the next summer, because I’ve always had a love for traveling, as well as trying to do my small part to try to help out somewhere, in some way. But I wasn’t counting on the children at HATS stealing a piece of my heart so quickly. You can’t help but love each and every one of their beautiful faces and bright spirits–they truly fill your heart and soul. After one short week, I was hooked, and I knew I would continue to return as long as I could.
Besides the children, though, there were two other important pieces of the HATS experience–Karen and Beate.
There are no words to describe the kind of person Karen is, other than maybe an angel! She’s lived in Haiti since 1995, which was when she decided to dedicate her life to helping the children in Haiti, and that’s when HATS was born. Karen not only bettered the lives of countless children, but she has also saved the lives of many who were abandoned. She has a Haitian son, Luc, who has cerebral palsy, and he is one of the smartest, funniest, most loving children I have ever met. He has adapted to using his feet so well that I am sure he can do some things better with his feet than you or I could do with our hands! He types on a computer, plays games on his iPad using his feet on the controls, and he does his school work with his pencil between his toes! He even has a way to feed himself with a fork at the end of a long stick. He has taught and reminded me of the importance of patience and perseverance, and I’m a bit embarrassed to think of some of the little things I have complained about in my “first world” life.
But Luc has been able to prove the Haitian doctors wrong because of his Mama, Karen. You never tell Karen a child won’t be able to do something. She had Luc from the time he was about 7 weeks old, and weighing 3 1/4 lbs, in 2005, but because of him having a disability, doctors questioned why she would even take him. They told her he would never see, or hear, never walk or talk, never learn anything, but they obviously didn’t realize who they were talking to. He understands and speaks some French, speaks Creole and English (and some Newfanese!), and he runs like a deer, especially when there is a soccer ball in play. He continues to make his Mama proud with all that he does, and there is nothing he won’t try.
At 72 years young, Karen has the energy and dedication to Luc and the other children of HATS that would put some mothers to shame, and she is another part of the reason I keep going back. So, besides the children, I carry a little piece of Karen with me too…
And then there is Beate… I met Beate as a stranger in the Toronto airport in 2015. She was the team leader for the two other women and I who were going to HATS for our first visit. (This year was her 7th time at HATS!) She is a tall, short-haired, blonde lady with a welcoming smile, a friendly face, and an easygoing, fun-loving personality.
When we first found each other in the airport, we carried on a conversation as if we were long lost friends. I immediately knew I was in good hands, and that I was going to have a great experience in Haiti, but it was an unexpected bonus that she has become one of the best long distance friends I could ever imagine. In only these 3 short times we have spent in Haiti together, she has become a bright light and a positive presence in my life. And now, after this trip with Mackenzie, he’s a member of the “Beate fan club” too!
It’s people like Karen and Beate who continue to inspire me…
Haiti has been life changing for me. I realized I have the courage to take some chances to travel on my own, at times, because there are too many things I would miss out on if I waited for the right time, or for other people, or for when I could truly afford it. I’m also lucky enough to have a husband and family who support my “need” to go, and who take care of things while I’m gone.
Haiti has forced me to become comfortable with being “uncomfortable” at times–adjusting to being the minority, adjusting to different food, adapting to a different way of life that includes some different cultural rules and expectations, and I can’t forget the language. This year I challenged myself to try to learn and speak a little of the language, and I did manage to learn enough to say my goodbye and appreciation during devotions in Creole, without needing Karen to translate!
Although Haiti is what I love, and it works for me, it isn’t the place for everyone. You do need some courage, a sense of adventure, and a willingness to adapt to a life quite different from your own. What people need to realize, though, is that they can find the same fulfillment in other ways of giving and helping. You don’t have to look far to find something that feeds your soul and fills your heart, because you never know where you might find YOUR Haiti!
Hugs from us to everyone we left in Haiti, and thanks for being part of our journey!