During Holy Week in April of 2016, I traveled with a small group of humble people to Petit-Goave, Haiti on our Servants of Mary Mission. While we were there, I was able to distribute food and clothing to local orphanages, construct and install ceiling fans and Wi-Fi for the Child Jesus School, instruct activities with the elementary school children, assist in the creation of a school soccer field, conduct catechetical classes with all the kids, organize a clothing drive for all the students and teachers, and give sanitary/bathing items to local shelters. Throughout our stay in Haiti, we learned a lot about the people and their culture. One event I loved was the welcome ceremony at the school. It was amazing to watch the school’s faculty and students perform traditional dances and songs. During this event, we surprised them with school supplies, backpacks, and uniforms, which we purchased with several donations. Despite the scalding heat, overcrowded classrooms, and no technology, students seemed happy. They encouraged me to value things I have in my school. As I began to complete many of these activities, I started to realize how fortunate I am.
Father Vidal, the priest who led the mission, cooked spaghetti with us to serve to the hungry. After several long hours of preparing care packages with toiletries and meals, we headed to the St. John of God Shelter for the Poor. Once we arrived, I was unprepared for what we encountered. There was a man suffering from Down syndrome with nobody to help him, naked children running around, and blind elderly people with no guide. The shelter was overpopulated, consisting of people with gaunt and dismal features. There was an insufficient number of caretakers and medications available, and people suffering from malaria and AIDS were left to die. People were using the limited resources they had to hang on for dear life. As I witnessed such desolate scenes, I was in complete shock. My heart was full of sympathy and compassion for these sick and selfless human beings. Living in the United States, a country with numerous sources of aid to offer, I was unaware that such poor healthcare conditions existed.
While we prepared to serve those in need, everyone joined in prayer. The members of the shelter were very humble and full of faith. As Father Vidal individually blessed the less fortunate with holy water on their foreheads, I truly experienced the presence of God. It was as if the Lord himself was anointing the sick and suffering. A strong sense of peace and unity filled the atmosphere. God was there with us, giving hope to the hopeless and blessing those who walk by faith, not by sight. At that exact moment, I felt a special calling to serve the poor. It is through the grace of God and such strong feelings of love and happiness at the shelter that made me realize that God has a special purpose for my life. Despite all the unfortunate challenges these people encounter, they remain joyful and faithful to the Lord. God blessed me with the life-changing opportunity to view life from a different perspective. Undergoing life in poverty and sickness encouraged me to be more appreciative of what I have and to focus on all the good that this world has to offer. It inspired me to make a difference in society, specifically by reducing health care disparities.
Experiencing various health care discrepancies in Haiti, especially at the school and the shelter, and feeling called by the Lord to serve the poor, sparked a flame in my heart to go out and help others living in poverty with limited resources and food available. I realized that we tend to take advantage of certain valuables/resources in our lives, while some people hardly have anything at all. After going back home, I started noticing the large amount of homeless people without food, water, and clothing in my local community of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Fulfilling my call from the Lord, as well as my strong desire to improve health care for all, I founded Baskets for the Needy in November of 2017, an organization aimed to help families in need by supplying them with food and personal care baskets. With the help of my community, I collected over one thousand nonperishable goods and toiletries for those suffering from hunger and lack of hygiene. Overall, my experience in Haiti has certainly influenced my perception of life, expanded my desire to make a difference in society, and motivated me to make the world a better place.