Lending a hand to Haitians

Student delivered food to Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic

September 14, 2006
Twitter Facebook
Hayley Sher with a Haitian child during Sher's five weeks in the Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy of Sher.

Hayley Sher (COM’09) traveled to the Dominican Republic this summer for five weeks of service, Spanish lessons, and adventure tourism. The following diary entries highlight her time providing food and clothing to Haitian refugees.

Sunday, July 2

I’m awoken from my dozing not by the usual jolts of the truck, but by the sound of children screaming, which grows louder as we bounce our way over potholes and enter the village. My eyes open to see a herd of Haitian children sprinting after the truck. As they catch up to the truck, they start jumping onto the back, pushing and shoving each other off the moving vehicle. The ones who have fallen scramble up and keep on running, struggling to regain their position in the crowd.

As the truck slows to a halt, 30 of us try to get off the truck while 60 of the children try to climb on to drag us out faster than our present rate. They are eager balls of energy who have just about exploded, and we’re overwhelmed and slightly intimidated. Luckily this feeling only lasts a moment, because the kids run around in a whirlpool of action, grabbing different hands, jumping onto backs and into arms, evaluating who would be theirs to have. A girl grabs my hand and pulls me to the side. When other children try to grab my open hand she yells at them in Creole and shoos them away. I know that she has chosen me and I like that.

Tuesday, July 4

It’s the 4th of July, but it’s definitely different from all of the other Independence Days I’ve celebrated. For one thing, there’s no corn. Or veggie burgers. Or cake with blueberries and strawberries. Instead, our afternoon will be filled with milk, eggs, oatmeal, and exuberant Haitian children.

We pulled up to a different village, not one of our regular three. There was a main road, a big church on the left, a medical building and a small food booth on the right. The children were ushered into the church, which soon became a sea of black hair, brown skin, and bright clothing. Little ones buzzed about the room in bursts of energy, screaming and clanking the metal cups we had just dispersed against any solid object. Others, desperate for attention in a more subtle way, grabbed our hands, touched our hair and skin, and begged for a permanent position on our laps.

After countless songs, games of musical chairs to the beat of the drums, and performances put on by our ever-so-talented group, the children formed a weak attempt at a single-file line to receive their semi-monthly portion of dairy. After receiving a cup full of steaming oatmeal, a hard-boiled egg, and a piece of fried bread, we ushered them out of the church while they sneakily planned attempts of reentrance for second helpings. Though we tried to keep smiling, our hearts were doused in guilt when we ran out of oatmeal for the last 20 children. Extra bread for these ones simply couldn’t excuse their sunken hopes and disappointment.

Thursday, July 6

We bounce along in the back of the truck with a breeze that runs through our hair and dries our sweat-stained shirts. We’re awoken from our dream-like stupor by an unusually large bump. The truck has just turned onto a dirt road lined with piles of trash. In every direction we look, no matter how hard we squint to find a boundary for the mounds of debris, it smokes and burns in a kaleidoscope of wrappers, cups, peels, and every conceivable disposable item. The air becomes thick with a choking stench and flies hover over every inch of our skin. We try to swat the little beasts away while breathing through barely open mouths, after an unsuccessful attempt to hold our breaths, each person pretending to be indifferent to our new surroundings.

“Welcome to the dump,” says Jana, the founder of our volunteer project. “Today we will be visiting with the people who live here. There are about 100 people living in the dump.”

I expected to see a desolate and despondent group of soft-spoken people who would accept our food and clothing with grateful nods and listen to our songs in silence. But I have never seen a happier, more vivacious, and spiritually uplifting group of people in my life. The fullness of their voices, the laughter emanating from their friendly eyes and their overt joy was practically tangible. Not only did we sing with as much power and passion as our bodies would allow, but one normally shy girl even sang a solo. We handed out food and clothes while smiling eagerly, subconsciously moved to match the warmth of the Haitians.

Monday, July 10
We took our 150 bags of clothes on board the truck and headed to Ponchomateo, our favorite village. Though the task sounded straightforward, what it entailed was far from easy. The second our feet touched the dirt, hands grabbed, children cried, people lied, and violence ensued, all for a small bag of clothes. The screams were heartrending. We were only allowed to give bags to those standing in front on their homes, and though we explained this to the children, hordes of them attached themselves to us, begging and pleading. We had to feign anger so they would scatter momentarily, giving us a chance to dash to the next house. The relief of the children was immense as they realized their houses had received a bag.

Thursday, July 13

The four of us walked tentatively into the medical room at the front of the house. It was a pleasant room with adobe-like stucco walls to keep it cool, with light streaming in through the windows. There was a desk in the middle surrounded by a few chairs and a clean gurney under a window. The rest of the room was lined with shelves and stacked with boxes of different pills, liquids, sprays, syringes, and other medical supplies that one would imagine normally stock a doctor’s office.

Doctor Bob, Jana’s husband, would be the one leading the clinic. We and three kids staying at the mission house would be the assistants. The first patient walked in and took a seat on the chair while we crowded around, bending over in hopes of understanding her very difficult Spanish, which was really Creole. Patients rubbed their stomachs and backs, tapped their throats, and pushed on their temples with their fingers, with Dr. Bob interfering only when we were too puzzled. We poked and prodded, gently I might add, with tongue depressors, stethoscopes, flashlights, and our hands. We cleaned wounds and diagnosed patients. Pressure? Right there? It’s a sinus infection, we need Sudafed! Stomach pain? Antacids! Headaches? Tylenol. We labeled the bags with drawings and lines since our patients were illiterate. Each person was always excited to enter the cool room in the heat of the day and grateful to leave with a bag of healing pills. This was an experience that I, a non-science, non-bio, and definitely non-premed student, could never have gotten in the United States. Then again, there were many such unique experiences on this trip.     

Explore Related Topics:

  • Share this story


Lending a hand to Haitians