Life experiences – the people we meet and the places we go – can have a profound affect on us. For Amira, her trip to Haiti helped her to appreciate so much we often take for granted in life. She was able to develop her identity even further because of what she had seen, who she had met and what she had experienced during her trip to Haiti.
By Amira Acre
As we descended through the clouds on our approach to Haiti, I was struck by the beauty of the island nation. The verdant mountains juxtaposed with the sparkling, sapphire sea lapping gently at the shore.
The airport in Port au Prince was a perfect introduction to the country. Amid the heat, smells, crowds and luggage piled willy nilly, was a semblance of order hidden under the veil of chaos. I anticipated downtrodden people with glum, grim demeanors but found instead an aura of dignity, determination and strength.
Driving in Port au Prince is an oral exercise as gasps are quickly followed by deep exhalations and jaw dropping sights. Muttered prayers are voiced in preparation for crashes that are somehow miraculously avoided. Two images stood out that first day, the unbelievable amount of rubble that still blotted the landscape and the many women carrying huge, heavy baskets on their heads filled with wares to sell at market.
During my eight days in Haiti, I wondered about the unfairness of it all. How many years did it take for everything to go so wrong and just how long would it take to recover from the injustices of the past? So much seemed insurmountable. Where did one begin? Clean, potable water, food, safety, sanitation, housing, education, infrastructure, reliable electricity, job creation and access to affordable health care were all interrelated and dependent on each other.
My trip to Haiti was initially about a mother committed to helping other mothers better the lives of their children. The seed that started this journey was germinated last winter when I met a wonderful Haitian Pastor who was visiting Massachusetts. He told a small audience about the three communities he supports and his endeavors to supply goats to some deserving students to help them attain an education. I asked the Pastor if the children drank the goat milk and was told that dairy was not a part of their diet. Immediately an idea was taking root. Since the nutritional benefits of goat’s milk are numerous, I imagined teaching and encouraging the mothers to consider providing goat’s milk to their children as a good source of protein. This was not as simple as I thought as I would soon find out. The Pastor was extremely gracious and open to the possibility of adding this new supplement to these children who were lucky to get one meal a day.
Through contacts I found a goat farmer who was kind enough to give a milking-101 demonstration that was filmed with the idea of creating a short video to promote safe milking practices.
It was only after we arrived at the mountain village that I realized the flaws in the plan. The goats that I saw were all meat goats and there were no dairy goats in the area. Still determined to see if the families would be open to drinking goat’s milk, I gave a short talk on the health benefits of goat milk and every mother showed an interest in this possible source of nutrition for their children. I talked about the long term potential revenue through the production of goat cheese and goat milk soap.
There were still a myriad of other issues to tackle. This village had cholera and while we were there two children died. Even if I could bring some dairy goats to the area, I needed to research if the cholera bacteria would infect the goat’s milk. Also, this was a long term project as goats need to be hand fed from a young age in order to be easily handled and milked. So we were at least a year out if not more. Then the issue of having healthy goats was raised. I noticed that all the animals were emaciated as the only ate grass, no grain. Knowing that good quality milk needs to come from a well fed goat, grain would need to be provided. Eventually they would need to grow and harvest their own grain for this project to be sustainable.
Then land rights issues came up. Could they even grow grain on this land if the didn’t own it? There was and is a long way to go before addressing the need of providing goat milking kits to the communities. When a reliable source of electricity and clean water are available, then I would like to build a small facility to produce cheese or soap. The soap could be sold in the United States as a Fair Trade product. My hope is that the school children will be able to add goat’s milk to their diet within one to two years and within five years the milk would also provide an income to the village.
Meyer, Haiti is a mosquito infested swampy area. However I was so impressed with the school that is being rebuilt and the wonderful teachers and students we were blessed to meet. As an animal lover, I took pity on a skinny, shy dog near the school. I had a few peanut butter crackers in my bag and went around the side of the building. The dog was too nervous to come close so I put a cracker on the ground and the dog edged forward and took it. As I held another cracker in my hand with the dog slowly approaching, I saw that a little boy had followed me and was looking at the cracker with his big beautiful eyes, an expression of longing written on his face. I felt deep shame. Shame that I was caught feeding a dog when a little boy needed food, and shame as a human being that I should bear witness to the plight of so many starving children around the world. It is one thing to read about or see images on television about groups of people far away, it is another to look into the eyes of a child and feel the recrimination.
There is so much of Haiti still with me. The old woman in the village who somehow managed to walk down a mountain on a gangrenous leg who required so much but who we could give so little. The 8-year-old boy who cried when we found and gave him a pair of shoes. The smiling, giggling girls with their hair beautifully braided with bright ribbons. An old woman in a tent city who ran over and gave my three children and I hugs and I didn’t know who needed the hugs more. The wonderful, earnest young men who told us of their dreams for the future and for their country. The glorious Haitian songs that resonated in my heart and the vow that I would return as Haiti was now etched on my soul.