Hope for Haiti

Students give back to Haiti over spring break

By on March 26, 2014

Sophomore Nina Brandi approached the tent that served as the pediatric unit of Les Cayes Hospital, where a small boy was sitting outside in a broken-down crib without a mattress.

rsz_dscn0147Lucas Blom

Inside the tent, children were laying under a little sheet with IVs and a baby was sitting in his feces. Another little boy was screaming in pain.

“Don’t cry,” Brandi told herself, smiling to keep the tears from coming. “Don’t look at these people like you’re scared.”

Brandi and Global Public Health Program Coordinator Katherine LaMonaca co-led 20 other students on the first university-sponsored service trip to Haiti over spring break. There the students worked with children in homes run by the Restavec Freedom Alliance, an organization which gets Haitian children out of slavery.

The Les Cayes Hospital is not affiliated with the Restavec Freedom Alliance, but the group’s parent organization Bethesda Evangelical Mission is fundraising money to build a hospital in Les Cayes, so children will no longer have to receive pediatric treatment in a tent, Brandi said.

The students were impacted by visiting the pediatric tent, Brandi said.

“People looked at it and they said, ‘how could it be that people could live like this?’” she said. “I think what made people happier was knowing that there are people that want to do something about it and this organization is in the works to do that.”

Visiting the hospital was only one small portion of the trip. The students spent most of their time painting one of the Restavec Freedom Alliance’s homes and playing with the children in the homes.

The children were restavecs or at risk of becoming a restavec, which means they once were in child slavery. The child’s parents lived in poverty and were unable to keep the child, so they gave him or her to another family who they thought would take care of their child.

“They are put with a family who maybe has other kids,” Brandi said. “The other kids go to school, the restavec does not. The other kids are fed, the restavec, not. The other kids have a bed, the restavec sleeps on the floor. They are sent out to do dangerous things. So if it’s late at night, the family needs something, the restavec goes out to get it.”

There are about 300,000 restavecs in Haiti, according to the Restavec Freedom Alliance’s website.

“It isn’t considered an orphanage,” sophomore biology major Kasandra Rodriguez said. “It was just a house for them because they are considered the future leaders of Haiti. It is basically a place for them to grow and learn how to be free.”

The goal of the trip was to help the children and give them hope, freshman Noah Buck said. Each day began at 6 a.m. with morning devotion and a team meeting, followed by a long bus ride to the school.

Quinnipiac students taught the children English, read and played games with them to keep the children active.

After school, the students involved in the RFA gathered at one of their two houses to participate in a sports camp, which included soccer, basketball and volleyball, and did crafts.

“We got to be really close with the kids during this time,” sophomore Megan Melville said.

Rodriguez and another student, Christina Carmona, made a connection with one boy, Jean Evans.

“I just fell in love with this kid. He stole my heart,” Rodriguez said.

She and Carmona pay $60 per month in order to provide for Evans and his many needs.

“It’s a small price to pay for everything I waste money on,” she said.

rsz_haitiJillian Palmere

The Haitians live in deep poverty, Melville said.

“The poverty in Haiti is so overwhelming and there is such a big need for everything,” she said.  “A lot of us said that we felt helpless there that we just couldn’t do enough. The kids kind of showed us just that if you can change one life it is enough.”

This trip was Brandi’s sixth to Haiti to work with the Restavec Freedom Alliance. When David Ives, executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, heard about the Restavec Freedom Alliance through Brandi, he wanted to bring a Haiti service trip to Quinnipiac. Since Brandi already had a group of her friends from Quinnipiac ready to go Haiti over spring break, the university decided to partner with Brandi to sponsor her trip.

Brandi first went to Haiti in May 2012 and has seen the strides the country has made after the 2010 earthquake.

“Although it wasn’t on the news here in the United States there still was those white tents, all lined up on the fields [in 2012,]” she said. “Going back now I could see the progress of now there’s not as many tents.”

More importantly, Brandi said, she has seen the progress the children have made.

“Between then and now, the kids who didn’t even speak when I first met them are some of the kids that had the most impact on our team,” Brandi said.

rsz_haiti_chronJillian Palmere

Brandi met one of the girls, Rose Bertena, in December 2012. On that trip, Bertena’s pinky finger was infected and the members of the organization tried to clean it, but Bertena was afraid and screaming.

“I put her on my lap and she cried on me for literally an hour and a half straight,” Brandi said. “I think a lot of it could have been reflection of her past, just like everything coming back to haunt her, and as I was sitting there with her all I could imagine was is how much this little girl has probably been through.”

During the trip over spring break, Brandi was playing the children outside. Laughing, Bertena started to chase Brandi.

“I looked at her and I was like ‘this is the most beautiful thing I ever saw in my life,’” Brandi said. “She was so scared, so scared, and now to see her running around and just be like a little kid.”

This shows the goals of the organization are being met, Brandi said.

“The kids are growing and they are learning how to be kids and they’re happy,” she said. “It literally is the greatest feeling ever. I was so blessed to have parents that love me and a childhood where I could play outside, I could go to the beach, whatever I wanted it was at my fingertips. A lot of these kids didn’t have that.”

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