How Hardship and Beauty Intertwines

Shana1Volunteer Testimonial
Shana Van Valkenburg
Communication Manager FWAL program

My time in Haiti was everything people said it would be. It was challenging, it was rewarding, there was devastation and there was hope. I went with a lot to give and a lot to learn about myself and others. There was so much packed into such a short time, I am not even sure how to begin to explain or express it all. I think it will be something I will continue to process it for a long time.

Volunteering can take you on a wild rollercoaster of experiences and for everyone it is a different rollercoaster. For me, it was harder than I expected or was prepared for. However, I am grateful for my months in Haiti. I’m thankful to have learned about the culture and to have experienced the way hardship and beauty intertwines so delicately in Haiti. I’m grateful to have seen the beautiful countryside, as there are many who do not know if they never leave Port-au-Prince.

However, I am most grateful I found NPH and Father Wasson’s Angels of Light Program (FWAL). Working as a Communication Manager at FWAL, I was honored to see the goals and ideals of Father Wasson at work. I feel privileged to have known a group of amazing young people, most of whom have grown up in NPH, and are working very hard to raise a new generation of dedicated Haitians and NPH family members.

It was humbling to see and experience the widespread support the programs offer. Communicating and meeting volunteers, staff and donors from all over the world, working together for help these kids is something quite special. I also understand why, because once you’ve have to chance to spend time with the kids, it’s hard to not want to find a way to be involved.

My favorite aspect of the job was to bring visitors from the NPH St. Damien Pediatric Hospital and St. Luke Foundation program to meet the children. It was a pleasure to see the kids light up at the new people they could chat with and inevitably charm. It was also so exciting to watch visitors fall in love with the children I was fortunate enough to spend every day with.

The children of FWAL homes, St. Anne and St. Louis, are the most beautiful, spirited, curious, intelligent, playful, dedicated and hopeful children I’ve ever met. They taught me so much about hope and love. My heart has grown infinitely because of them. The time I spent with these children may likely play a much larger impact on my life than mine did in theirs. Leaving them was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Now back at home, I miss things about Haiti I never thought I would, but mostly I miss the kids. I miss fumbling over misspoken Creole and English with them. I miss the endless passion the girls had for braiding hair, as painful as it could be at the time. I miss their failed attempts to get me to play soccer. I miss their hugs and the way their faces light up from both the small and large joys they found in everyday life.

I am excited to continue volunteering at home with NPH USA and help raise money in support of these deserving children. I am looking forward to future visits to see the babies turn into children and the children into young adults.

Playtime Unplugged

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Many of us live in a world where technology is king. Kids have phones, ipads and movies in the car to keep them entertained. Play areas are dependent on batteries and electrical cords. The time before the world was plugged in was not that long ago. And here you can still find it.

When you watch the children of FWAL play, it’s amazing to see their creativity and ingenuity shine through.

Of course, soccer, jump roping and dancing are popular ways to pass an afternoon together for both boys and girls. However, you also see games and activities created out of nothing. Or taking something that no longer serves its original purpose and making into another game.

Fun is found in chores when soapy water can make bubbles.

A string and button used to make a spinning toy.

A whole new game can be created from half a deck of cards.

Pebbles are not hard to find here and they can easily be used for fine-tuning your juggling skills.

A single balloon can entertain a group for an entire hour, with the rules changing as the group grows.

Past times are a little simpler and require less materials, but are no less fun.

H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y!!

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There’s a very catching birthday song in Haiti that starts by spelling out Happy Birthday followed up with a big BON FET! It’s the kind of song that can get stuck in your head for hours, days, weeks! It’s a great song because it reminds you of the exciting, upbeat celebration that is a birthday!

At Fr. Wasson’s Angels of Light, we try to make every birthday a special day. At morning meeting, that day’s birthdays are announced and everyone sings Joyeux Anniversaire (Happy Birthday!).

The coordinator for the homes, Met Phillippe works hard to ensure there is always a small gift for the kids on their birthdays. Something fun and extra, like a ball, pencil case, craft supplies, stickers, a little toy and usually some candies too!!

The older kids in the St. Louis House take a trip every month or two to celebrate with the children who had birthdays in the corresponding month. Organized by the sponsorship department, they celebrate with their brothers and sisters from St. Helene with a trip to a National Museum featuring Haitian history and Haitian Independence. They have some pretty interesting history aspects and artifacts and a whole section dedicated to current Haitian Artists.

After the museum, the kids head up to a restaurant for a nice meal of chicken with rice and beans. It’s a very special treat for the kids who love this meal and even get two pieces of chicken each.

Of course, all of this is followed up by CAKE! Delicious cake for everyone. Food is clearly they way to every child’s heart. When asked about their favorite parts of the trip, the answers were always chicken and cake!

The children of St. Anne are a little young to be going on this trip, so they throw a birthday party at the house for the birthday boys and girls. With Tampico (a favorite sweet drink here), chips, cake, and of course dancing, the kids have a great time celebrating!

Birthdays are such a wonderful time to celebrate the past year of accomplishments and to look forward to the beautiful future each child has ahead of them.