At Grant, community isn’t that big of a deal. We get so wrapped up in communicating with each other through texts or Snapchats that actually seeing one another isn’t much of a priority. This summer, I found out what a real community looks like.
I traveled to Terre Blanche, Haiti, this summer along with 13 other students and adults from my church youth group. We went there with plans to hold an English-language camp and help build a community library. But while we did get a lot of physical things accomplished, what I really took out of the trip was a new mindset.
Terre Blanche is one of the poorest parts in all of Haiti. There’s no electricity, no stores, not really even any markets. The only water comes from wells that are sparsely sprinkled around the area. The homes are very small and made of mud. One girl I met said she had eight brothers and four sisters who lived crammed into one little hut. Another student walked for two hours just to participate in our English camp because he had no transportation.
Considering that we take most things for granted, like cars or running water, I expected the Haitian people to be sad. I thought they would be sulky and depressed about their unfortunate living conditions.
But I was dead wrong.
Every single person I met was glowing with life. If I walked by someone, they would always say “Bonswa,” which is a Haitian greeting.
And their friendliness wasn’t just toward me or the people in my group. It was also directed at neighbors and fellow community members. I was struck by their strong relationships and by how much they cared for each other.
One of my group’s projects was to clean up large piles of broken cement pieces. I was grumbling about it all morning because I hate manual labor. Combined with 90-degree heat, it did not sound like my idea of fun.
My grumbling continued as I began to throw chunks of rock into a dump truck. But then I saw the kids coming. They had been playing on the soccer field nearby. But they stopped their game, came over and formed an assembly line so we could get the job done faster. Boys and girls – some as young as four – came to help. Some were so little they could barely lift the rocks but that didn’t stop them.
One boy took the shovel from the hands of one of my group members and started digging. Another little boy filled a big red bucket with rock and then handed it to me to dump out. Through the whole project, I was surrounded by happy faces of kids who eagerly brushed the sweaty hair out of my face or took rocks away from me to dump.
For someone like me who hates to get dirty and lift heavy things, it was hard to fathom why anyone would want to work so hard in the blazing sun and overwhelming humidity. Once, when I walked to the nearby river to help wash laundry, the little girls I was with grabbed me multiple times so I wouldn’t stumble down the rocky slope.
But for these people who have seen so much over the years – poverty, sickness, devastating earthquakes, even death, it’s completely normal to come help someone. They showed me how important it is to serve the people around you without questioning it.
I don’t know exactly why the community in Terre Blanche is so tightly knit, but it could be because they are less distracted. Many people there don’t use social media – but they sure seemed more connected to one another than we are. Things like texting, Facebook and other digital ways to communicate might seem like fun, but they take away from what’s happening in real life. For me, this was a summer I was shaken back into a stark reality.
I learned that I need to be more present in the day and I found that what’s truly important is having good relationships with other people in the community. Sometimes, we need to take a break from our technology and look out into the real world. A good community can make life a lot richer, especially when you can lean on one another for support if you’re in need. ♦
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