Cultural Care staff member Carly DeCoste recently embarked on an incredible service trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti through the United States Foundation for the Children of Haiti (USFCH); it was there, with a special grant from Kids First, that she helped bring some much-needed hope and aid to the people living in one of the most impoverished countries in the world.
Carly was inspired to travel to Haiti after seeing the impact that USFCH had on her boyfriend and his family through their service trips over the years. After hearing stories and seeing pictures, Carly knew she had to see the country firsthand – and help the children of Haiti in any way she could. So she reached out to another organization that she knew had the best interest of children in need around the world at heart: Kids First.
Kids First was thrilled to partner with an active volunteer and member of the Cultural Care community, and to help make her trip to Port-au-Prince more meaningful. It was soon decided that the Suitcase of Supplies grant – a grant provided by Kids First to provide an organization with supplies that will directly benefit children living in poverty – would best align with Carly’s trip.
“In order to apply for the grant, I had to make sure that my trip fit the requirements,” says Carly. “The grants are awarded to a member of the Cultural Care community who is traveling to visit a children’s organization in another country, often beyond the reach of Cultural Care or EF.”
Carly used the funds to purchase supplies for the school at the Children’s Village in Port-au-Prince as well as for the baggage fee to fly the suitcase to Haiti. She brought with her a variety of books, folders, pens/pencils, highlighters, crayons and more to present to the school during her visit.
These supplies will make a big difference for the children and teachers this coming school year, as their community has so few educational and economic resources. In fact, Haiti has long struggled with extreme poverty after two major, catastrophic environmental events in the 21st century – an earthquake in 2010 and a hurricane in 2016.
“I was truly shocked when I arrived in Haiti and drove through Port-au-Prince,” Carly recalls. “The roads and infrastructure in the city are still destroyed after these devastating events – it was heartbreaking to see so many families on the side of the road begging for food, water and shelter.”
Carly goes on to tell the story of an experience they had on their last day in Port-au-Prince – a perfect example of the great divide between the people and the government of Haiti: “During the first week of July, the Haitian government raised fuel prices which resulted in extreme rioting. I was fortunate to have made it out of the country just in time – but the riots caused flights to be cancelled for two days as protesters rioted outside of the airport and started bonfires in the streets to block the main roads. The rest of my group experienced these riots firsthand – a member of my group described the situation there as ‘post-apocalyptic; a war zone with debris everywhere and the (remnants) of burnt tires and cars.’”
These riots represent only a small fraction of the polarized political climate and extreme danger that the people of Haiti experience on a daily basis. That’s why it’s so important for people like Carly – together with Kids First and non-profits like USFCH – to do whatever they can to improve the lives of children and families impacted by these turbulent times.
While in Haiti, Carly’s group worked with the Fondation Pour Les Enfants d’Haiti (FEH) – the organization that runs an orphanage, nursery and school for children in Port-au-Prince. Each morning, Carly and her fellow volunteers (13 people total) drove to the Children’s Village to spend their days leading a summer camp for children consisting of games, activities and meals. After working there for a few days, Carly and her group decided to plan a special excursion to a local beach – specifically as a way to give the disabled children at the orphanage a chance to get out and do something unique.
“That day trip was incredible for these children who rarely have the opportunity to leave the home and experience something as beautiful as the beach,” says Carly. “Their caregivers provided additional support for our excursion in what resulted in the most inspiring day.”
“On the last day of camp, we hosted a giant birthday party for all of the children at the school, filled with activities, cake and gifts! We prepared individual birthday presents for each child consisting of clothes, shoes and toys,” she says. “Handing the children their presents is an experience that I’ll never forget.”
When asked how she feels about the trip now that she’s returned home, Carly struggles to find the right words to convey how meaningful it was: “I came in with what I thought was a good understanding of our world and came away with a truly eye-opening experience of a developing country. This trip forced me to think more critically about our life in the US and what is going on in our world today.”
One of Carly’s greatest takeaways from her time in Haiti is a better understanding of the world and a deeper passion for philanthrophy. Her group spent time reflecting not only on what they could do to help the people of Haiti, but what they could do to benefit their own local communities. “There’s always an opportunity to help and give back – you don’t need a service trip to get involved with volunteering,” says Carly. “I’m definitely inspired to volunteer more for organizations that support children in need.”
Kids First is deeply grateful to Carly and the entire volunteer group for helping change the lives of children in Port-au-Prince through the Suitcase of Supplies grant – and is already looking ahead to its next project to help kids around the world.
Perhaps Carly’s service trip with Kids First can best be summed up with a quote: “My fellow volunteer and friend told me ‘Love has no borders’ – and I truly couldn’t agree more. I feel so fortunate to have gone on this trip and to have had the opportunity to experience the love, acceptance and understanding the Haitian people live by every day.”