In March, I was given the opportunity to volunteer for two weeks as a Physical Therapist (PT) at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS) Hanger clinic in Deschapelles Haiti. Since it was my first time working abroad, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have any concerns. I was worried about all the vaccines I had to get, about the safety of traveling to a third world country on my own, about my health when confronted with the realities of dengue fever, malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, etc., about how much help I would be not knowing any Kreyol, and the list goes on and on.
Prior to leaving the States, people got really excited for me and wished many things for my trip. They placed so many expectations on how going to Haiti would be a “life-changing experience,” how my “perspective of things would be altered,” and how I would “help out so many people.” They even had silly expectations for me such as getting more tan, losing some weight, and meeting the man of my dreams! I did not want that kind of pressure placed on me for this first trip, so my mantra was “I just want to come home healthy.”
Little did I know that in two short weeks I would fall in love with Haiti and its people. That not only did my experience meet all those expectations of my friends and family but it exceeded them beyond anything I or they could have ever imagined.
I learned of many tragic tales of loss related to the 2010 earthquake and yet the people amazed me with their strength and resilience to excel. I watched in awe as every patient I worked with would tackle and conquer the complexities of utilizing a prosthesis in a matter of days when their US counterparts required months to perform the same tasks. I marveled at just how little the people had in terms of material wealth but how that didn’t stop them from being joyful, loving, and generous. I experienced firsthand all the great things being done with donations (in terms of finances, time, materials, and expertise in many different fields) provided by humanitarians all around the world for Haiti.
My life has changed because I realize I have nothing to complain about when compared to the people still living in tents over a year after the earthquake took their homes. My perspective will never be the same because instead of being worried about volunteering abroad, I am excited for future missions. In fact, I am planning another trip back to Haiti before the end of the year. The only expectation I failed to achieve was meeting the man of my dreams, but that is insignificant compared to all the memories I will treasure from my first overseas volunteer experience.