by Sarah Smith
When I think of a third-world country, the one word I could use to describe the picture in my head would be desolate. Dirty, broken, dusty, and forgotten are all words that swarm to the forefront in conjunction with that phrase. I was expecting Haiti to live up to that description; I was prepared for all of those things. Dark. Dirty. Grimy. Forgotten.
God, on the other hand, had a few other words for me.
One of the first things that struck me about Haiti as we drove over the mountain from Port-au-Prince to our little spot outside of Lascahobas was how much beauty there is. The scenery is nothing short of majestic. Because we were there during the rainy season, a layer of lush greenery covered the mountains. White cotton clouds dotted a sky that was the perfect shade of blue. Storm clouds and mountains combined to form amazing sunsets. This place wasn’t forgotten by God…it had His signature all over it.
In addition to soaking in the beauty of our location, I was also able to experience our school for the very first time. I met the staff, whose stories have inspired me for months now, and saw all the amazing work they do with and for our students. I was able to speak with our principal about the complicated history of Haiti, the challenges it faces, and the resources it already has. As cliché as it sounds, his passion for developing the next generation of change-makers for this country is truly inspiring. When he looks at our students, he doesn’t just see four-, five-, and six-year-olds running around at recess and learning to read and write. He sees future doctors, nurses, community organizers, and leaders who will rewrite Haiti’s story while writing incredible stories of their own.
When I looked at our students, I saw kids who were dedicated to their schooling and education and who genuinely cared for each other. I saw the homework circles that happened on the back porch of the orphanage, where student leaders would help explain homework to kids who took a bit longer to grasp those concepts. I saw kids who were passionate about their “things,” whether that was sports or art or singing or dancing or the Bible stories I got to hear them read.
After a particularly active recess one day that included both a basketball tournament and attempting to set a soccer ball back-and-forth (volleyball style) with some first grade girls, I walked to the edge of the schoolyard before it began to gently slope down. From that vantage point, I was able to look out over the mountains that surrounded our school, the lake that had formed in the rainy season, and the beautiful greenery that greeted me on all sides. It was breathtaking, but I found myself more compelled to turn around and look at the school behind me. Sure, the view from Institution One 17 was a beautiful gift from God, but the view looking into Institution One 17? Looking at the learning and empowerment and change happening within the walls of our school and the hearts of our students? I’ll take that view—that gift from God—any day.