It’s hard to put into words how incredible and life changing the past five months have been. I still find it surreal that I lived and worked in Haiti for a whole five months.
Working for Haven opened my eyes to a completely new world. For a relatively small NGO, Haven has made a substantial impact on the lives of so many people all over Haiti. With community development at the forefront of Haven’s work, the most vulnerable people throughout the country are provided with proper shelters, training and education and water and sanitation facilities. Working on various Haven projects gave me a good indication that working in development is definitely something that I want to do after college. The feeling of contributing and knowing that something that you did, no matter how small, made a difference in someone’s life is incredibly rewarding.
One of the realities that I learned over the five months is that working in development is not a 9-5 job and definitely wasn’t what I was expecting. Some weeks it can be a seven-day week with endless hours in the car, visiting projects in all corners of the country, and there’s always deadlines of some shape or form to be met. “Development doesn’t take weekends” is a common enough phrase in everyday life for development workers in Haiti.
I learned over the five months that commitment and patience are two very important qualities that go hand and hand in the world of International Development and, without them, you’ll be lost completely. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first arrived, but it was definitely nothing like I had ever experienced before. Being able to apply what I learned in the lecture hall to an actual ongoing project was something that really stuck out for me. On my first day in the Field Office in Port-au-Prince, I sat there and thought that I was literally clueless, but as the days went on it all became a little easier as the development education that was stored somewhere in my head came flooding back.
My last week in Haiti was an emotional rollercoaster. There was so much to be done before I left and so many things that I wanted to do. Time unfortunately ticked on a bit too quickly that week and all of a sudden I found myself travelling down to Île à Vache for the last time, for one final walk across the island and to say my goodbyes.
Some of the hardest goodbyes that I had to say before I left were in Saint François d’Assise orphanage. I’m going to say that kids are one of my weaknesses and everyone in the orphanage had such an impact on my life, from Sr Flora at the top all the way down to little John-Ken. Every day I spent there was different to the last. The many different personalities made for a chaotic experience every time I was there, but an enjoyable chaotic experience nonetheless. I can honestly say that I was heartbroken leaving the orphanage for the final time.
The phrase ‘Reverse Culture Shock’ was thrown around quite a bit by my lecturers before placement and I always thought “nah, that’s definitely not going to happen to me; they’re being so dramatic!”. I always thought that when I came home that everything would be fine and totally normal, and everything was fine and totally normal for the first few days. But then I found myself wandering aimlessly around the house, with literally nothing to do. After five months of being constantly and almost frantically on the go in Haiti, the relaxed atmosphere of home was almost unfamiliar. I nearly expected everything at home to have ground to a standstill while I was away, but it didn’t and so much had changed.
I have been home for nearly three weeks now and I can honestly say that I’m still struggling with certain elements of being back. The thought of going back to sit in a lecture hall for another year is bearing down on me already, when in reality I’d much prefer to be on Île à Vache. As strange as it is to be home, I do absolutely adore being back and seeing everyone, and my life is slowly but surely returning to “normality”.
Finally, I’d like to say a massive thanks to everyone from Haven and Soul of Haiti for everything that they have done for me over the past five months. The experiences that I’ve had in Haiti have been unforgettable, as are the people who I have met and worked with during the stay. Without the expertise of Haven Country Director, John Moore, and Soul of Haiti Country Director, Damien Meaney, and with the occasional slagging every now and then, I wouldn’t have made it out of the airport in Port-au-Prince back in March, let alone navigate my way through five months in the madness that is Haiti. A return trip is most definitely on the cards.
As the Haitian proverb goes, “Rive epi kite, avèk lespwa ak sonje, se sa ki lavi konsiste de”: arriving and leaving, hoping and remembering, that’s what life consists of.