The time was 7:15 AM, and I was terrified. The Atlantic Ocean glittered beneath the plane that held my family, our friend Tirzah Poppinga, our neighbors, the Hages, and about 40 Haitians. We were flying to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, also known as Haiti.
The country came into view, and then, I saw it.
The shining roof of a tin hut.
Rolling hills and tent cities.
A barefoot child walking to somewhere. Or nowhere at all.
I saw Haiti.
THUD! We had landed in Haiti. I, having no idea of what to expect in this foreign, third-world country, asked my dad what it would be like. “You will see sad things and happy things and lots of poverty, but Lydia, I know you will love it.” Our group shuffled out of the plane, where we found our bags and an open truck with no seat-belts ready to drive us to the Grooters’ home, where we were staying.
As we drove along at 15 miles per hour, I caught a glimpse of Haitian beauty. I saw a lady carrying her 2-year-old child on one hip, while balancing a full basket on her head. I saw a boy just my age running alongside the road, and when he saw me, he yelled out “Blanch, blanch!” (white, white!) Soon enough, we arrived at the home of the Grooters in Simonette. I had already fallen in love with the country, and I felt so blessed already, after what I had seen in just a 45-minute car-ride.
“What will we do next?” I asked Renae Grooters after I had unpacked my bags and explored the house.
She responded, “We’ll go to the school to see the kids and the playground!” (I had raised $6,000 in October to build a playground at this particular school in Haiti.) We drove up the hill to the nearby Simonette school. When we all arrived at the school, I leaped out of the car and ran full speed towards the playground. Seeing it, I was so amazed I could cry knowing God had used me to build this.
Next, my sister, Anna, and I followed Kayla Grooters to the kitchen, where the cooks were preparing the daily lunch of rice and beans for the kids. We tried some rice and beans and also delivered plates to the preschoolers. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing with the kids and helping the cooks serve lunch.
That night, I fell asleep feeling like I was really making a difference in Haiti.
On Saturday, while my dad and the other men were out sharing God’s word in a voodoo village, we, the ladies, went to deliver gifts. Our first stop was in the village of Saint Gerard. To get there, we had to ride motorcycles through the bumpy, dusty roads of Haiti. Once at the village, we unstrapped the suitcase from the four-wheeler that Anna and Renae were riding. We opened the suitcase, and were surrounded by people in need of what we had. I handed out the gifts to our new friends.
My mom called out to me from across the crowd, “Lydia, look who we found!” And there I saw her, just the girl I was looking for! Vedline, the girl I sponsor, stood right in front of me! I gave her a bear hug, hoping she was as excited as I was to see her. We spent the rest of the day giving out more gifts to our sponsored children. Each smile from each child warmed my heart.
The rest of the week was spent doing mission work and hanging out at the Grooters’ house. Almost every day, I went up to the school and helped serve lunch with the lunch ladies. My mom, Anna, Kayla, and I went to the ViBella Jewelry building often, too.
“Bonjou! Komon ou ye?” (Good morning! How are you?) I would greet the ViBella workers as I strolled into the building.
One night, everyone went down to the side of the ViBella building. All the kids in town gathered around as Kayla put the move, “Flushed Away,” in the projector. We watched the move in French — it is similar to Creole — with English subtitles.
Another day, some boys wandered over to the house, and I taught them how to fingerweave. It was very frustrating for me, especially since I could hardly speak their language.
Loveson, who is Kayla and Webert’s adopted boy, would put on a dance party for us every night.
“Bon Shivi, Loveson!” (Good job, Loveson!) I would call out as he danced around the room. As you could imagine, I feel asleep replaying Loveson’s dance moves and simply LOVING everything about Haiti.
“Mom, can’t we just stay?” I begged as the week came to a close.
“No, we need to get you back to the United States and in school,” she replied, “but I promise we will return to Haiti.”
My family drove back to Port-au-Prince. We hustled onto the plane, and soon, we were in the air. I took my last look at the shack-covered mountains and Haitian life, before the sights were lost in the clouds. I understood I couldn’t always be in Haiti, but I knew my heart would forever be in Haiti.