For the first time in my life I didn't spend Thanksgiving with my family. Instead, this year I chose to spend the week in La Valle de Jacmel, Haiti with Volunteers for Peace (VFP).
Our group consisted of eleven volunteers who originated from several different states, as well as two volunteers from China. We ranged in ages from 15 to 57. Our group stayed at CODEHA, which is VFP's local partner organization. During the daylight hours we spent our time in the CODEHA garden fixing and building its perimeter fence, planting plantain and coffee plants, sprucing up the grounds of CODEHA through litter pick up and debris removal, providing cultural exchanges in several local schools, meeting and doing activities regarding litter, clean water and hygiene with a youth club, and helping to prepare meals in the CODEHA kitchen. Evenings generally began with a group dinner, after which we spent time visiting, sharing, and playing games with each other and many of the locals who came to meet us throughout the week.
From the moment I stepped off of the plane in Port au Prince I felt welcomed in Haiti. Every individual I interacted with was kind, helpful, polite, friendly, and eager to share. Every place we went we were accompanied by a local who has ties to CODEHA and/or VFP. This provided an added sense of comfort and security. Our daily "guides" assisted with getting us to our destinations as well as the language difference.
As I mentioned, spending the Thanksgiving week in Haiti was the first time I would be away from my family for the holiday. Turns out, I really wasn't away from family. I was actually just with a new family. A family consisting of wonderful VFP volunteers and amazing people from the extended CODEHA community. Never once did I feel like I should be anywhere else but exactly where I was.
Simply put, this experience was incredible. I was already missing my time in Haiti before I even boarded the plane for home. I would say I hope to return to Haiti, La Valle de Jacmel, and CODEHA someday, but it's more than hope. Instead, I say: I WILL return someday!
Given our short stay (one week), it was difficult to get as much accomplished as most of the people in our group would have liked. I think I would change how the goals of the week are laid out. For instance, keep some of the schedule open for flexibility, but also have set, concrete goals scheduled in. That way, at the end of the program everyone can have a clear sense of accomplishment. While everyone in our group seemed to thoroughly enjoy their time and experience, I think most left with a feeling as if they didn't do enough.