Sunday, April 5, 2015

(156) A Life Changing Mission Trip of a College Student to Haiti

Naomi Sebastian, a Nursing major at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, plays with some orphans at their school in Haiti.

Editor’s Note:  Many students of Franciscan University of Steubenville go on mission trips in the USA and Central America during Spring Break.  My daughter Naomi Sebastian, a Sophomore Nursing student there and a member of St. Louis Church, Gallipolis, Ohio chose to go to Haiti in March as part of a group of 18 Franciscan students.  The young college students got more out of the experience than they could give in six days.  Yet these college kids were able to give the people they encountered a little bit of help and a lot of love which was reciprocated.  The young energetic students helped with a labor intensive construction of a building for the elderly, visited old people, and played with the orphans.  The lives of the students were changed; someday the orphan children will certainly have fond memories as adults of these young Americans who refused to be indifferent to the poor and the suffering in an underdeveloped country. Hopefully, Naomi’s story will give us all greater mission awareness.  Notice the great dignity and simplicity of the people of Haiti who can enjoy the little things of life.  They can teach us too.
Naomi Sebastian grew up as a faithful member of the parish; attended CCD through eighth grade; was a member of the YACHT Club (the parish youth group); and helped at our Vacation Bible School last Summer.  The generous donation by one of our parishioners will go into constructing the buildings for the orphans and the elderly that Naomi describes below.  You’ll enjoy her story.

By Naomi Marie Sebastian

            I remember sitting on the airplane going to Haiti, having no idea what to expect or what even caused me to go-- it was all so crazy.  I didn't know why, but I just knew without a doubt in my mind that I had to go.  I said a silent prayer: "I give myself to you, God. Do with me what you will".

            No words could possibly describe my time in Haiti.  I found true happiness there- living simply with joy, peace, and love.  My heart is full and my eyes are opened.  I feel God in a whole new way.  I did not have culture shock in Haiti, but I did coming back to the U.S.  I am desperately clinging on to my memories of Haiti as I feel myself slipping back into "normal" life.  Everything is put into perspective and what is truly important in life. The people there have something we do not have and in that sense are rich. 

                We stayed at the orphanage where I felt privileged compared to the rest of the country's living conditions (Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere).  I had a bed to sleep in with food and clean water to drink- thanks to the $400 filters.  We walked to the nearby river where we bathed each day. At first, it didn't seem like we were getting clean, but after a day of physical labor in the hot sun, this soon changed.  Everyone in the village uses this river (including the animals) to bathe and wash their clothes.

The Franciscan University students enjoying their new friends at the orphanage.
            Movin' With the Spirit is a Catholic organization that built an orphanage, school, a home for the aged, and is in the process of building a clinic and second home for the elderly.  They plan to provide meals at the school since most children have to try and learn on an empty stomach.  I helped to build the complete foundation of the second elderly home Haitian style with no machines.  One man was digging a huge pit for the waste with a shovel.  He was extremely fit which made gyms seem pointless.  We transferred the dirt in big buckets and carried them on our shoulders up the hill to the construction site.  Also, a line of people tossed what I thought were heavy rocks, one to another to the site where the stones were pieced together like a puzzle to form walls.  I thought I was in shape from the swim team, but that proved to be very wrong as my body became quite sore.  After all of that, the rice and beans we ate became so satisfying.  It was an amazing feeling to see a week's worth of work completed by my team in just two days.

Labor intensive construction.

The construction crew of students and Haitians.
            A Beautiful Old Woman. The new elderly homes will house the most deserving and humble people I ever met.   We made several visits to the elderly in their current one room huts with their future coffins above them, ready made for their deaths.  One old man said he always prays for "his whites" and thanked us for visiting.   Many families do not care for their elderly because each one is another mouth to feed, yet are unable to contribute.  One old woman was physically dragged by her family to the river after she used the bathroom in her bed.  We gave her some comfort by massaging her arms and legs.  These visits made a great impact on me, particularly the first. 

The wise and saintly old woman.
We all squeezed into the hut of an old lady who said through a translator how happy she was that we came to visit her and wished she had something to offer us.  We gave this woman her only meal of the day.  The old woman lamented “I don’t know why I’m still alive, but God still needs me on earth.”  We asked her for words of wisdom and I wish I could remember exactly what she said because they were powerful: “Love your neighbor and don’t fall into the temptation of gossip.  Most important don’t despair; live completely for God.”  I felt an overwhelming holiness emanating from her; I loved her from the first moment of the visit.  She was there to change me and teach me how to love.  This woman is a vivid example of the importance and beauty of every human life.  Each member of my team kissed her humble feet and that was an unforgettable moment.  I started to cry uncontrollably from that unbelievable sense of what could only be divine love. 

All the people I encountered were so full of joy, smiling and waving as we traveled through the beautiful mountain villages.  The orphans were among the purest and sweetest kids I have ever met.  While playing with them, I was surprised at just how unimportant the language barrier is.  Some fell asleep in my arms.  I remember being led to a shack where they smoothed out a piece of cloth for me to sit on to make as comfortable as possible.  I listened to stories of how some of them lived or were mistreated before coming to the orphanage.  Katie, a graduate of Franciscan University, is like a mother to these 33 children.  Having lived in Haiti for 5 years now, she quickly became fluent in Creole, which is a mixture of French and other languages, (it’s funny that God sent her to Haiti even with her 6 years of Spanish).  Katie explained to our group the reality of Voodoo and the devil in Haiti and the rest of the world for that matter.  We should be constantly praying to St. Michael the Archangel for his protection.  The orphanage has a chapel blessed by the Holy Eucharist.  However, due to a serious shortage of priests, going to Mass is extremely difficult.  After six days there, I was so thankful that the sacraments are so readily available to us at home.

Washing clothes on the river.

            Our last day was spent at the most beautiful beach where some people were poking us and laughing because they did not understand why we would just lay in the sun.  We gave the rest of our food to the children who lived nearby and their excitement was like no other.  They used their hands to devour the food in seconds.  I did not want to leave Haiti.  I left part of my heart there until I have the chance to return.  I can see myself being a nurse at the elderly home I helped build.  We find true fulfillment in life by making this world a better place (no one can replace you); we are all called to do this in many different ways.  The most important in life is God; everything should be centered around Him and His love as we spread it to others.  That's why we live.  My daily problems mean very little now.  We are given so much and we must use it to help others.  Taking a real shower for the first time in over a week, I didn't realize just how dirty I was.  I am forever grateful for this leap of faith and what it did to me.  I will carry this experience with me always.  F.A.M.I.L.Y. --- which stands for “Forget About Me, I Love You”.

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