editor’s note: At the second annual Tea For a Reason event in April of 2015, FAR student ambassador Brooke spoke eloquently of her first visit to Haiti. Brooke — now an 8th grader — became one of the very first student ambassadors for FAR when she was in 4th grade. We are grateful to Brooke for letting us share her moving speech.
“I made a difference to that one.”
On the ceiling of the agriculture center in Corporan, Haiti, each piece of wood was arranged in the shape of a starfish. Gillaine Warne, an Australian woman who started the center, explained the story behind the architecture. There was a man, walking along the beachside, throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide was low, and thousands of starfish were littered across the sand, and the man was hardly making a dent. Another person came up, baffled by the man’s actions. “You are making no difference; there are still thousands of starfish.” The man responded by picking up a starfish and throwing it back into the ocean and saying, “I made a difference to that one.”
I was in the fourth grade when I fully understood our partnership with Haiti. It started out with learning to knit on colored pencils and frayed yarn, but eventually grew to starting a small project named Haitian Creations. Knitting became my small contribution to helping St. Andre’s. Raising thirty dollars did not seem like much, but to my class of fourth graders, we felt proud and accomplished. As time went on, my desire to visit Haiti grew stronger and stronger. Pestering my parents must have paid off, because in September of 2014, it became official. My mom and I were going to Haiti.
In the beginning, I was full of eagerness and anticipation. November couldn’t come any sooner. I started to get nervous when Mrs. Beeks sent emails about our upcoming trip. I didn’t know what to expect. I had been to Canada for a grand total of an hour when I was ten, but other than that brief experience, I had never been outside this country. When I finally boarded the plane to Port-au-Prince, I was so anxious, my hands were starting to shake. Some of it was the anticipation and excitement; some of it was just fear of the unknown. My mom’s mosquito worries weren’t helping me keep calm either.
Half of our group was already in Haiti when our plane finally arrived, and by that point, I just wanted to absorb every detail and aspect of Haiti. All of my nerves pretty much faded when I saw two little kids, a boy and a girl, walking along the busy sidewalk, dodging older women with water and baskets on their heads, and sidestepping small fruit stands set up along the street. One of them spotted me inside the car, and both waved their hands frantically, waving at me, someone they had never met before. That was why I came to Haiti. This is why I need to come back.
The first two days were spent at an agriculture center and Pere Jeannot’s church. Mirebalais, Haiti, was rural compared to Port-au-Prince, and it was my favorite part of the trip. After all, St. Andre’s was located only a half-hour away. We ate most of our meals at Pere Jeannot’s house, and while his wife cooked outside, Abby and I played an intense game of jump rope with Pere Jeannot’s daughters.
I’d seen the pictures, I’d heard the stories, but I still had no idea what to expect.
St. Andre’s: I’d seen the pictures, I’d heard the stories, but I still had no idea what to expect. There were three main buildings, with a fourth in construction, and the entire school sat on a secluded hill. Mr. Fleuristal, the head of school, led us into each classroom. The younger students, dressed in red and white, lost total focus inside the classroom and stared at us in awe. Who cares what the teacher is saying, why are these people in their classroom? The older kids were shy, and they blushed if you smiled and waved, but their curiosity got the better of them. As they scooted even closer together to make room for me, I sat beside them on the rickety wooden bench and watched some of the children stand in the middle of their classroom and perform for us. A little boy started break dancing, and the entire building burst into applause after a sixth grade girl sang a hymn.
We left the classrooms fairly quickly, and waited inside the church until the children were given a break. They were still learning, and everyone was told to wait before they could talk to us. It didn’t matter to any of the older girls, because five minutes later, they came running up to Abby and me.
Once the entire school was released into break, the students flooded around our group of thirteen. The girls touched my skin, confused that it was a strange color, much lighter than their own. They all had black hair, tied up in ten different bows and hair ties, and a few were speaking to me slowly, as if the pace of their words would affect the way I interpreted their language, one I did not know. They flipped my braid with one of their hands, and examined my fingernails. One was in awe of my eyes, another confused by the freckle on my left arm, and some had not let go of my hand since I had met them earlier that morning. I had asked for all of their names, but soon forgot any after twenty other girls told me theirs, plus the French roots were too complicated for me to fully understand. Each little girl gave me a wide smile and continued to tug me through their school, pointing out the classroom that they worked in, showing me the kitchen that was only half-built, and the “soccer field,” which was nothing more than uneven concrete and dirt. The girls were proud of their uniforms, white and blue, devoid of any wrinkles, even though some had walked miles to get there that day.
I took out my phone, and after all of them got over the general confusion over what I was doing, the students took interest in the many pictures I had of Saint Mark’s. They pointed to the screen, laughing at pictures of my school campus, and all of the students and teachers.
It was hard to leave St. Andre’s. The kids ran down the hills and broke up into small groups, spreading in every direction on their way home. All of them waved as they walked down the hill, and some said goodbye and gave me hugs around my waist. More than anything, I wanted to come back the next day and visit with them again. More than anything, I wanted to give those children a meal everyday and give them the best life possible. Trianon, Haiti, is only one place, and I had more country to see, and more people to meet, and more help to give.
I came to help them. But, they also helped me.
Going to Haiti was a two-way street. I came to help the Haitian people, and meet the students at St. Andre’s. I came to help them. But, they also helped me. Each child was full of enthusiasm and kindness. They welcomed me into their school, their home, their country, and they touched my heart.
I understand that not everyone can visit Haiti, and not everyone can get a firsthand experience and understand what a partnership means. I also understand that we have a starfish. We cannot move mountains on our own, we cannot change Haiti on our own, but what we are doing is changing the lives of those children. Every penny we give, and every fundraiser we hold, changes the lives of our starfish.
Every penny we give, and every fundraiser we hold, changes the lives of our starfish.