A year ago today I boarded a plane to once again return to this small Caribbean island of Haiti. I came to Haiti this time to help support an orphanage that was struggling financially. Little did I know, that a year ago from today I would become a single mother to nine children, at the age of nineteen. A year ago today I had no idea that my life would be so magnificently transformed and be filled with a type of love that I never knew existed. This journey has not been the easiest and I have had my fair share of struggles. But as I write this today I look back to that first day with my kids and have tears in my eyes... as every obstacle we over came, every illness we faced, every heart-wrenching event that crossed our paths, we made it- together- as a family. And I would not have it any other way.
I was on my way to earning a double major- BA(honors) in Criminology & Sociology at the University of Windsor. I had the most perfect little house, a beat up blue sunfire, a job I enjoyed, a boyfriend I had fallen deeply in love with, and a family that meant (and still does mean) the world to me. I had everything that our Western Society claims is "important". But something was missing. It had been since I had returned home from my last trip to Haiti in September 2011 that I began to feel a great void and realized how deeply unhappy I was with my luxurious life back in Canada. At the age of seventeen I had decided to do the unthinkable and book myself a volunteer trip to Ghana, Africa. On that trip I really learned what life is all about and I developed a deep passion for volunteering and traveling. It exposed me to things that I had only seen on television and made me develop a new sense of reality. I decided to travel to Haiti after my trip to Ghana as I had this ache in my heart to be once again doing something meaningful. During my first trip to Haiti in May 2011 I fell deeply in love with this chaotic and complex country. I found myself here. I found a place that I felt at ease, where my heart constantly felt full, and where I felt as if I could be my truest self. I fell in love with the people and their vibrancy and resiliency. So when I got this call about a small orphanage that needed assistance, it took me all of forty five minutes to decide after that I would pack up my entire existence into 3 suitcases and give up my former life full of the finer things to live in a small house with no electricity, no running water, tarantulas & cockroaches running up and down my walls, absolutely no furniture and to ride on the back of motorcycles and be covered in piss, snot, and vomit on a good day- human feces on a bad. To most- this sounds absolutely ludicrous. But within this past year I have learned lessons that my University would have never taught me. I have been put into situations that were extremely uncomfortable but allowed me to grow as an individual and to become completely open minded. I have learned to speak a new language within six short months as I had no one to translate or tell me what my children wanted. I have dealt with loss, sorrow, corruption, and severe suffering. It has taught me patience, persistence, strength, and most of all - love. I not only became a mother but also a teacher, a nurse, a tutor, a handy-woman, and a 24/7 on call support system, patient transporter, translator, affection giver, piggy bank, and a cater to whatever needs arise with those that surround me. What more could I ask for ? I am still learning more and more with each day that passes. My kids teach me the greatest lessons of all. I came here hoping to change their lives, but in totality- they are the ones that are changing mine.
It is astounding looking back to last year and the way that we survived with such little. I still remember using the bucket as a toilet. I still remember ONLY being able to have bucket showers and getting so frustrated because I couldn't get the shampoo out of my hair. I remember laying in bed with my BB gun and shooting all of the tarantulas and cockroaches that appeared from every crevice. I remember tires flying off big transport trucks into our front yard where our kids were playing soccer. I remember the humiliation the kids felt when our water basin dried up and they had to go to school or church without bathing. I remember throwing mangoes at my friends for fun. I remember that when dark hit at 6:30 pm we would rush to the rooms to find the flash lights and continue to have dance offs, domino matches, or play hide n go seek. I remember walking to the beach every day and becoming so bonded with a donkey. I remember the rare occasions (once every two weeks) when they would give us electricity and a huge celebration would take place. I remember struggling every day and worrying where we would come up with the funds to continue feeding the children. I remember being stuck on the top of a bunk bed paralyzed from the waist down and hallucinating from the Malaria that was rummaging through my body and not having anyone to transport me to a hospital. I remember when the hurricane hit and huddling together with a family that I had fallen so deeply in love with on the top of a mountain and embracing the winds and rain together as their house tumbled down around us. I remember being at peace with all of these things as well. I remember not realizing how bad it was until being removed from the situation. We made due with what we had. We lived simply and though we did not have materialistic items, we did have each other. And that was always enough.
I look at the house I am sitting in now and am still awestruck. I remember the day we moved into our house and the culture shock that overcame me as I felt like I was no longer living the life of a cavewoman. I remember my boys sitting next to the toilet for 45 mins and watching the water spin around in the bowl. I remember their confusion when I showed them how they will now have to shower (without a bucket). I remember the fear in Wilmen's (my nannies) eyes as a flame appeared on the stove. I remember the kids so excited that they could have cold water by putting their cups into the fridge. I remember the pure joy and happiness that overcame each and everyone one of us that day as we finally had a home where we felt safe, where we knew that the illnesses would diminish, where we had 1000000 hiding spots for the nights we wanted to play hide n seek. I am forever grateful for the kindness of those across the world, from complete strangers, from friend's and family, from everyone that has assisted us along this long winding road. Huge thank's to Bridge2Haiti for providing this home to us. Thank you to the Pollination Project for nominating me for the $1000 grant towards our Free English Class for my boys in the tent city. Thank you to the Jacques and Bossence family for coming down and assisting with the re-building of the Tiny's family's house that was destroyed in the hurricane. Thank you to the group of incredible British, American, and Liberian men (and a British woman) who have now entered into my life, as well as my children's lives, who have also offered kindness and support that has brought me to tears numerous times within this past week. Their encouragement and their love for my children has left me with a loss of words. I cannot thank my best friend Maeve Mcgoldrick enough for leading them to me. Maeve, without you, this last year would not have been so bearable. Your sense of humor and your ability to relate to every circumstance that arises has taken the weight of the world off of my shoulders on many occasions. Thank you to all of the volunteers that decided to take some time out of their normal lives to spend their days changing dirty diapers, entertaining my kids, and for participating in a new culture and lifestyle. Thank you to my hometown Chatham, Ontario for hosting fundraiser after fundraiser and for all of your media coverage and ongoing support. Thank you to Sarah Griffith for your advice, your assistance with MANY things, and for being my voice of reason at times when my heart decides it is stronger than my brain. Thank you to my family- who didn't fully understand why I chose to come here- but learned to accept it and assist us in anyway that they possibly can. Thank you to my parents for allowing your 19 year old daughter to take off to the poorest and one of the most dangerous countries in the world to chase her dreams and passion and to continue to stand behind her- I could not ask for better parents. Thank you to my friends who have stuck around while many others walked out due to my choice of lifestyle- thank you for understanding and for being there for me whenever I come home and carrying on with our relationships as if I never left. Thank you to Justin Parkinson for being an extra set of hands whenever and wherever I need them and for also being a friend that I can talk to and vent with about absolutely anything. The friends I have created in this past year never seize to remind me by their steadfast that truth, beauty, and goodness exist in this world even during our darkest days. And that no matter what, there are and always will be people loving people through thick and thin.
This is just the beginning of the rest of my life. I can't wait to look back twenty years from now and remember right now, this very moment as my kids are running around downstairs and lilly is dancing and singing to her own tune. I can't wait to watch my children grow into the people I hope and know that they will become. I am truly blessed and forever grateful. I have everything that I could ever possibly want right here in front of me.