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The news site of Ludlow High School

The Cub

The news site of Ludlow High School

The Cub

LHS teacher brings help to Haiti

LHS teacher brings help to Haiti

Imagine spending a week in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Living in a small shack with eight people. Sleeping on a thin mat with a mosquito net draped over you for coverage against the crickets, cockroaches, and geckos scurrying around the cement floors. No electricity, no running water. Now imagine that your purpose in this country is so fulfilling that you would actually consider moving there. LHS psychology and sociology teacher, Jennifer LaValley, recently spent a week in Haiti experiencing just this.

It all started at a conference last summer introducing a mission trip to Haiti through the organization HOPE worldwide.

“I heard what it was all about and I thought: I need to do that, I need to help,” says LaValley.

HOPE worldwide is a Christian non profit organization dedicated to spreading hope and changing the lives of the poor, sick and dejected. Today the organization lives out its vision on every single inhabited continent, serving over two million people a year.

“I have several friends who have gone on mission trips to India and Africa for volunteer work more along the medicale lines. I heard that the mission trip to Haiti was more focused on teaching kids English, which tapped into my gift of teaching. It solidified my idea of going.”

This was LaValley’s second trip to Haiti. In order to go she had to fill out an application and write a few essays explaining her relationship with God and the reasons why she wants to join. She was soon accepted and heading off to Haiti again.

“Last year was very different from this year,” says LaValley. “Last time we spent a week at an orphanage. They would have school everyday and we would have teams of volunteers to teach English to the class. I was leading one of those teams. We’d go into the classroom and make it really fun. We’d make pictures for the words and practice with them. There were people there who spoke the language and they would translate for us.”

On her most recent trip LaValley did not spend all her time at one orphanage like last year. She helped with medical tasks, painting, building fences, planting trees and helping kids at orphanages.

For most of her interaction with the natives translators were necessary because the two official languages of Haiti are Haitian Creole and French, although French is typically reserved for the educated class. This is why English speaking volunteer teachers like LaValley are essential.

“In the first grade the children start to learn French. In that culture if you only know Creole then you’re considered uneducated. You have to know French so they’ll respect you.”

The children who are lucky enough to have access to primary education, roughly around 45% according to The U.S. State Department, are extremely eager to learn.

“After the school day was done they would run up to you with their notebooks and want to learn more. From early morning to the end of the night they just wanted us to keep teaching them. They know that if they learn English then they will have a way to escape their poverty.”

Even with the language barrier LaValley was still able to develop relationships with the children.

“I made the mistake last year of not getting a translator for them to tell me their stories. So that was my mission this year. I wanted to make sure that I could hear the stories of the kids I connected with. What they’ve been through and why they’re here.

With the 2010 earthquake displacing 2.3 million people paired with preexisting extreme levels of poverty, the majority of Haitians have eye opening stories to tell.

“There was one girl, for example, who was an only child with two parents. She was fourteen but when the earthquake hit in 2010 both of her parents were killed. So she has no family. She was placed with another family, but that family was very abusive. She couldn’t take it anymore so she ended up running away. When kids run away from their circumstances in Haiti they are considered street kids. When the authorities see kids without families they pick them up and bring them to an orphanage. There are over 900 orphanages in Haiti. That’s a lot of kids.”

Sometimes living in an orphanage is better for Haitian children who would otherwise receive little to no care from their parents. The fact that the average Haitian lives off of $2 a day seems to fit with the reality that Haiti is the third hungriest country in the world. This combination inevitably breeds malnutrition, crime and dysfunction within families.

“Because of the level of poverty a lot of families use their kids to commit crimes so they can get money. They sell them for sex, even. A lot of the time when the kids don’t come back to their families it’s a relief because it’s one less mouth to feed.”

The organization that LaValley was working with is helping to end this problem.

“The group I was staying with, HOPE worldwide, built 40 homes for the church members who lost their homes in the earthquake. It’s amazing to see how they live and how much they value.”

The place where HOPE worldwide built these homes is called the Village of Hope.

“In regular orphanages as soon as the kids turn 18 they’re kicked out. With nothing. It’s not like in America where they are in a program with follow up services. Because of this, they are building a couple of dormitories in the Village of Hope so when the kids turn 18 they can live there, gain an education and learn vocational skills.”

In spite of the adversity that most Haitians have face, LaValley found them extremely positive and loving.

“They love to build relationships with you” says LaValley. “They are so joyful and they just want to connect with you, even after you leave. They are so grateful for any help they get. They have such great hearts. If you could be around that all the time it would but such a better world, even though you’re living in such devastation.

A huge part of the Haitian culture is its emphasis on family and relationships.

“One thing that I really loved is the slow pace,” recalls LaValley. “It’s not all about working and getting things done and to-do lists. It’s more focused on family and doing things together and helping others. They put their families first and sacrifice.”

The simplicity in Haiti is refreshing for LaValley, which is why she feels such a strong connection to the country.

“There’s a part of me that would never want to live without electricity or running water, but these comforts aren’t very meaningful. Forgoing these comforts to be of use down there–I would completely love that. I want to go more frequently to help teach the children English.”

Now that she’s back in America, LaValley finds it strange to adjust after living in Haiti for a week.

“It’s hard. You see the suffering that goes on there and you’re disgusted by the waste and the lack of gratitude that people have here. They don’t understand. I didn’t understand either–I’m not faulting anyone. But you need to go there to understand the reality of it. We don’t acknowledge how good we really have it. As Americans we assume that everyone else lives like us. But they don’t, they really don’t. We have so much.”

LaValley hopes to return to Haiti again soon.

“I’ve just been praying for them everyday, being more mindful with my resources, and saving up money to donate monthly to to them.”

As a psychology and sociology teacher she is able to use this real life experience in class. With firsthand experience and stories, LaValley can expand the perspectives of her students by educating them about situations that would otherwise not be on the minds of most LHS highschool students.

“It’s definitely been helpful for my students because of all the questions they were asking. They are more aware of what’s going on in the world. They even wanted to donate items. Students donated more things than I could fit into my bag. One of my students wanted to spend her week’s paycheck on it. And even then she said that she didn’t feel like it was enough.”

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About the Contributor
Gina Orlandi
Gina Orlandi, Feature Editor
Gina Orlandi, the Feature Editor for the Cub, is extremely excited for her first year of journalism because it gives her an excuse to do more of what she loves: writing.  Fueled with a passion for running, she is a varsity athlete for both track and cross country.  With an intense training schedule, she runs all year round.  Whether it’s for an upcoming season or a half marathon, she doesn’t let subfreezing temperatures or pouring rain keep her inside.  Being so outdoorsy, she loves finding new trails to hike, climbing large mountains, and doing anything else that can be classified as adventurous.  When she’s stuck inside with too much homework from one of her AP classes, she’s probably daydreaming about being a writer in Paris or heading west to California.  As an avid reader and writer, she’s always scribbling in her notebook or carrying around a good book.  Although she is new to the journalism scene, she hopes this is the first year of many.

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