Twenty-one-year-old Caitlin Green’s latest holiday down south wasn’t what most people would consider fun.
Sure, there was a beach and lots of sun, but she also witnessed things many people will never see in their lifetime — destruction, extreme poverty and suffering.
It’s been six months since she’s returned from her trip, and all she can think of is going back.
Green, a public relations student at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax who’s from Conception Bay South, went to Haiti last May, four months after the catastrophic earthquake hit.
The earthquake left about 230,000 people dead, 300,000 injured, and
1 million people homeless, according to the local government.
A volunteer with the non-profit Absolute Leadership Development/Hero Holiday, Green spent 10 days touring the Port-au-Prince area, surveying the damage, assisting with rebuilding efforts and working with children.
In one location, Green helped build a kitchen at an orphanage, where the meals were being cooked in an alleyway over open coals. In another, she and other volunteers held a sports day for orphaned children.
“I’ve been on holiday in the Dominican (Republic), and the children there are just so happy and full of life. In Haiti, they were really reserved, really shy, and it was like they had no childishness left in them,” Green said.
During her trip, Green met David — volunteers were never given his last name, for safety reasons — a man she calls a local hero.
“David and his wife began taking children into his own home to live with his family, and eventually they were looking after so many, he had to rent another little house to shelter them in,” Green said.
“Before the earthquake, they had 60 children: 30 girls in their home and 30 boys in a rented house, where his father watches them. Once the earthquake hit, David was asked by the government to take in 200 more.”
This wasn’t possible, Green said, but David did accept about 60 more kids, who are currently being housed in tents in a field, about an hour’s drive from the other orphanages, with volunteers watching over them. The three orphanages don’t have running water — they walk to a communal well for water and use a hole in the ground for a toilet — or electricity, and they raise chicken in the backyard, which they eat with vegetables, rice and plantain.
Some of the children do get money from sponsors, Green said, but David is raising them all on less than $200 per month.
During the trip, Green and the other volunteers built a new roof on a local schoolhouse, painted David’s house inside and out, and donated a number of items, including wheelbarrows, to make carrying buckets of water to and from the wells easier. They held an English camp at David’s home, and brought the children on a field trip to the beach.
“We brought them there, and bought them a big meal. They probably spent 2 1/2 hours in the water. They were so happy, laughing, clinging on to us and climbing all over us,” Green said.
“Kids here have iPods, cellphones and video games — these kids in Haiti were so happy just to have a ball. PlayDoh was like gold to them. They cherish everything so much more.”
Green has been speaking to friends in Haiti since the cholera outbreak hit, and was told although David and the children are fine, things in Haiti aren’t going well.
There have been riots, and some Haitians blame the missionaries who came to help after the earthquake for bringing the cholera, which has killed close to 1,400 people so far, and have been throwing rocks at their vehicles.
There are thousands of people living in tents like some of the children Green met, and she’s worried that another earthquake or a hurricane could hit at any time.
The trip to Haiti affected Green so much, she’s going back next October. Between now and then, though, she has a major goal.
She wants to build David an orphanage.
“He deserves it; he really does, and so do those children,” Green said. “Unfortunately for Haiti, hurricanes and rain are not uncommon, and that’s why these children need a safe place to sleep and keep safe.”
Green is envisioning a building as big as her group can possibly make it, or maybe a compound of little houses, with electricity, running water and proper bathrooms.
She hopes to include a small schoolhouse for the orphaned children, since school is not free in Haiti, and many of them are currently unable to attend.
Purchasing a piece of property on which to build the orphanage will cost about $60,000, Green said, adding while Hero Holiday is fundraising for the effort, the organization has dozens of other projects to complete as well.
She has taken on the challenge of raising as much money as she can, by selling T-shirts at the flea market in the Avalon Mall on Sunday evenings and holding bake sales in Confederation Building, where she’s doing a work term in public relations.
Plans to hold a fundraiser concert at a bar downtown are in the works.
Green said she hasn’t had much success in her efforts so far, and understands that it’s a difficult time to collect money, especially given the thousands of dollars that has been raised for hurricane Igor victims in this province.
“I understand that completely, and that’s why I hate asking for money,” she said. “That’s why I like having things like bake sales, so I can give something back to people who donate.”
Green’s hoping to raise enough money to have the orphanage under construction by the time she returns next fall. Once she’s there, she’ll pitch in to help build it herself.
“This is a huge goal; I know that, and sometimes I wonder if I can ever make it happen,” she said. “Then I look at my pictures and remember how loving and beautiful each and every child was, and how much they deserve a better life. I remember how strong and courageous they are, and their laughter, and it keeps me going.”
Anyone wishing to contact Green can do so by e-mailing her at email@example.com.