When Taylor Hamilton was an eighth grader donating money to the victims of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she never imagined she would visit the country on a mission trip just four years later.
The Bishop Alemany High School senior was among nine fellow schoolmates and four adult chaperones spending the first week of Lent in Haiti teaching English to economically and socially deprived young students at a school, Les Bons Samaritains, run by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in St. Marc, northwest of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
“I actually never planned to go to Haiti,” said Hamilton. “I made All American for cheer and I was supposed to go to London, but my family couldn’t raise enough money in time. Then I heard about Haiti and went. I figured I would get so much more out of the trip.
“It definitely changed my faith in a really, really positive way,” added Hamilton, whose group was assigned to lead music and games while other students tutored schoolchildren ages 6-8 in English. “Going over there and seeing Bible passages on buses and seeing the kids and how they sing [at church] in the morning — that made me want to dive deeper into my Christian faith.”
“I thought it would be mostly just hanging out with kids, playing games, teaching English and only that,” said fellow senior Rebecca Bianchi. “I didn’t know I was going to experience their way of life by visiting an orphanage and the refugee camp and be able to see all the trouble they had gone through.
“I think it made my faith stronger,” observed Bianchi. “I saw how the kids and the people were praying, and they’re all dedicated and they love their faith. I wanted to be part of that, so my faith grew when I was over there.”
“My favorite part was when we went over to the refugee camp,” said senior Moses Brimon, who noted that the children — some of whom were naked and all of them barefoot — had only rocky terrain for a playground. “It was just amazing to see these kids be so carefree. They don’t see their problems. They see the good that they have and they take advantage of all the opportunities they have there.”
Nicole Ardon, senior, shared that seeing the people’s faith in the midst of adversity bolstered her own faith. “I learned that it’s faith that really gets you going,” described Ardon. “Faith is the only way to really get through life — that’s what they showed me.”
“When I went there, I didn’t expect to see a whole new world,” admitted sophomore Leannie Quijano. “I saw wonderful people, a lot of poverty, and a lot of pain, but I also saw a lot of faith — faith that I’ve never seen before and a lot of love and care and connection between the people who are living there [as well as] a closeness that we don’t have here.”
Quijano also said she was surprised at how the people coped with the lack of resources in Haiti, where more than 80 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $2/day.
“Everything is so precious there: money, water, a bed frame, a mattress — things that we take for granted on a daily basis,” explained Quijano. “It’s hard for them to live, but I still think they are happy people. They want something better for themselves. I see that they’re striving for something more.”
“We hope to make it a yearly trip,” said Donald Levan, Alemany campus minister director and religion department chair who accompanied the students along with religion teacher Sister of St. Mary of Oregon Sara Goggin and two parent chaperones. The participants each paid about $1,200 for their own travel, insurance and sundry meals. Alemany fundraisers, including bake sales and a “$1 jeans day,” generated funds to pay the per-pupil $350 tuition for four students at Les Bons Samaritains.
Scholarships are provided for all students at the school through the “High Hopes for Haiti” education project, sponsored by the Mortel Family Charitable Foundation. The school and mission work is the project of Haitian native, Dr. Rod Mortel, a deacon who leads the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Missions Office.
“We wanted it to be an opportunity for the students to do a mission experience — to visit a third world country, to get a sense of the lifestyle and what role faith has in the people’s lives,” explained Levan.
“These students came back wanting to do something [more],” added Sister Goggin. “They collected money [for the orphanage] and they’ve inspired the second graders at St. Ferdinand School (in San Fernando) to do a collection raising enough money to fund a scholarship for a second grader at Les Bons Samaritains. It’s kind of like the awareness is spreading. More than just head knowledge, they’re putting it into hands and heart knowledge. I really am excited about that piece of it.”
For more information on High Hopes for Haiti, visit www.highhopesforhaiti.com/