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.