Dan Baxter

In January of 2013, I embarked on what was my first trip to Haiti. I would venture to assume that anyone who has been to Haiti, or is planning to go to Haiti didn't just wake up one morning and say "I want to fly out to Haiti". Maybe you heard about a mission trip in church, or you saw pictures of a friend's experience volunteering. Whatever the reason I am confident in saying it was an enlightening, maybe even life changing experience for you. It was certainly life changing for me.

My mission consisted of only 3 other people. Our main objective was to build a water cistern in the mountain village of Denigon, just north of Thomazeau. Our secondary objectives consisted of following up on past projects further north, in the area of Hinche. Prior to arriving in Haiti, friends and family would share their experiences and what to expect when arriving; the busy airport, the small run down houses, the trash on the streets, the tent villages, the chaotic driving, people they met, etc. However, it is one thing to hear their stories and something entirely different to experience them yourself.

City living is vastly different than mountain living. Cities are crowded, chaotic, dirty, and noisy; crime is higher and consequently your sense of security is lower. Words do not accurately illustrate life in the city. Only by leaving the confines of beautiful America can one fully grasp the large differences between the 3rdWorld conditions of Haiti and our comfortable lifestyle in the States.

The most influential period of my visit was not from experiencing city life, but from the time I spent in the mountains. We think we do so much for the poor, but it is they who make us rich; richness not measured in the weight of dollars and coins, but a richness measured in the values of life. Greed can infect a man's soul and sour his character. Money can cause a man to be selfish and self-serving, self-righteous and self-absorbed. The people I met in the mountains of Thomazeau were selfless. People look out for each other, they help their neighbors. They always seem to be in such high spirits. Laughter floods the hills and valleys from men and women, young and old; and a greeting is always accompanied with a big smile. These people that can make so much of a life that they were given so little in, makes a man question how he has conducted his life through the years. Perhaps taking so many blessings for granted. Maybe wishing we could take back things we have said or done that may have hurt someone, or how angry we can get over things that now seem so trivial. It puts a great deal of your life into perspective.  Why was I given so much when others have so little?

After my return from Haiti I often have been asked why I volunteered. It is a difficult question to answer. I think the driving force behind this kind of work is done through a greater power. I don't think I have an answer as to why I did it other than I simply heard of other volunteers experiences and wanted to do it for myself. It is for this reason that I think sharing the experience is a critical element in the future success of work done in Haiti. Most people volunteer by word of mouth, there is no flashy advertisement. It is very important that the next generation of volunteers become involved so the cycle continues. It was Mother Teresa who said "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples". Sometimes the desolation of Haiti seems so vast that the efforts put forth to improve it can seem futile. However casting the stone is only the singular act, every ripple grows beyond the stone. One school built can teach hundreds, a cistern can provide water for an entire village, sharing your experience to a curious mind can recruit a new volunteer and their experience another, and so on and so forth. There is so much to be done in Haiti; but as the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu, said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".

-Dan Baxter