Kate Kenneally and Sarah Browne are taking part in the 2016 Volunteer Programme. In this blog series, they share their experiences and all the developments from the site throughout the week.
Here, Sarah brings us up to the end of our time in Haiti, reflecting on all the achievements and experiences of the week.
Today, I spent the day gravelling the site. It was the toughest day for me, and the wheelbarrowing and raking took its toll by the end of the day. Although, in the 35 degree heat, the task was gruelling, at the end of the day we could already see a huge improvement to the site.
That’s the thing about this whole experience – although it is really physically demanding and tiring, you are doing it because you want to.
You can see the direct impact that the tasks you are carrying out are going to have on the kids.
The newly gravelled areas provide new places for the kids to play, and enable them to kick a ball and run when they could not before. It’s hard to complain about your own tiredness when you can see such positive results.
The roof went on the kindergarten today, and it is really starting to take shape! It is hard to believe how far it has come in just five days.
After dinner, we had a quiz which was great craic and which brought out the best and worst in some of our fellow volunteers! The volunteers are all amazing and, as the week goes on I am getting to know them all and their stories and how they came to be here.
Today, we started the task of varnishing the new classrooms in the kindergarten: another new skill to add to my CV! Running high on the fumes, I opted for an early night.
Today, the team gave out backpacks to all 500 children. The backpacks contained a towel, a hat, a t-shirt and a water bottle, and the kids were absolutely over the moon to get them. These backpacks had been donated to Haven by a generous donor, and to say they were well-received would be an understatement!
One of the other volunteers relayed a story to me about a boy who had coincidentally told her the previous day that he couldn’t go to the beach with his friends as he did not have a towel: little did he know what was around the corner. When she met him today, he said that he was delighted as he could go to the beach now. It is amazing how we all take such things for granted.
It was our final day on site, and so it was a really special day all round. We arrived at the school at 7am as usual but the mood was what can only be described as reflective. It was hard not to be reflective upon seeing the massive changes to the school that the team had brought about during the week (we realised early on that our “week” would be eight days long).
Looking around the site, I took in the work that had been done – the existing classrooms had been painted; the sewage system repaired; a chicken coop built (and chickens moved in, which will provide Yvrose with much -needed income and food); the mosquito nets in the kitchen replaced (enabling the kitchen to be used once again); the whole site re-gravelled; murals drawn on the walls; not to mention, a new kindergarten school built! I thought of how I could explain the transformation that we had brought about and the amazing people we had met to my friends and family back home.
Both Kate and I spent the morning finishing off the varnishing of the new classrooms and the outside of the new kindergarten. The chickens were moved into the new chicken coop, and we went up to see how they were settling in to their new home. Everybody was busy putting the finishing touches to the kindergarten and finishing the various tasks we were assigned.
At 3pm, the work was complete and Yvrose served us a thank-you lunch of delicious Caribbean cooked pork. She gave us a heart-warming speech, telling us how much she and the kids appreciated the work we had done, and she gave us presents that the kids made for us (there were few dry eyes in the house).
A party proceeded (in the rain), complete with singing and dancing with the kids, who also got to explore the kindergarten for the first time. Their reaction was amazing, and they sang a song in French/Creole, the chorus of which was “Merci, Merci, Merci”, so we got the gist. The kids are definitely the highlight of this whole experience – most of whom have been faced with major adversity, but they still seem so happy and affectionate.
At one point, a little boy who had been sitting beside me nestled in under my arm, dropped his head and proceeded to sleep for a good 40 minutes. In the end, I had to move him, as much as it pained me. Throughout the wee,k we have all shared little moments like this with the kids, and they will be what I look back on most fondly when I get home.
Back in Dublin now, and back to work and reality. I am missing my fellow volunteers and the kids and the whole experience. I am more exhausted than I have ever been in my life after eight days manual labour (a foreign concept to me), and travelling for 24 hours to get home.
But I am also extremely proud of myself and my fellow volunteers for the work that we did and the improvements that we made to the lives of the kids, and I am already thinking about ways I can fundraise to go again next year. I would recommend everyone to do something like this.
It has 100% been the most rewarding experience of my life so far.