Ever since I’ve returned home from my trip to Haiti with our Hear the World Foundation, seemingly everyone I’ve come into contact with has asked me the inevitable question, “How was Haiti?” My answer to this question has always been some variation of “I can’t possibly put it into words,” yet here I am again trying to put my entire Haitian experience into words.
If I get nothing else across about my Haitian excursion, I want everyone to understand that it was a profound experience in so many ways and has changed my life. I’d like to think that I’m self-aware enough to realize exactly all the ways in which this experience enriched me, but I’d be giving myself entirely too much credit if I thought that I had realized everything there is to realize.
I’m certain that more and more will become clear to me as time passes. What I realize now is that everyone should take a trip like this at some point in his or her life. I’ve realized that nothing feels better than helping someone who is in need and appreciative of anything that he might receive. I’ve realized that each of us has so much to be thankful for, regardless of what we have and the circumstances that surround us. I gained an understanding of a country and culture that I knew very little about and believe that I have used all of my newfound knowledge and perspective to become a better version of myself.
The whole purpose of this trip was to enrich people’s lives through better hearing, when they may not have the means to receive amplification in any other way but through donation. By helping the children in the Leveque Hearing Impaired Community to hear better, my Sonova colleagues and I were able to enable communication with loved ones, environmental awareness, safety, and so many other intangible things that improve quality of life.
What’s more is that the children were thrilled to receive their hearing aids. If you’ve had any contact with the general hearing impaired population, you know that it’s rare for someone to be excited about amplification! Seeing ear-to-ear (aided ear-to-aided ear, rather) smiles, twinkling eyes, and larger than life gestures showed me, and everyone involved, that we were truly making a difference. There is no better feeling.
Seeing the amount of gratitude that our children showed for their shiny new hearing aids, as well as everything else in their lives, struck a nerve with me. I, being the American that I am, assumed that a generally impoverished people living in a lesser developed country might be less happy than the average person.
Witnessing everything to the contrary of this belief forced me to reconsider what it is that people need to be happy. It also forced me into the understanding that people can choose happiness irrespective of the situation they are in. This understanding is incredibly powerful.
I’ve noticed that I have made a subconscious decision to reflect on things in a more positive manner. The Haitian children, and the experience that I shared with them, have turned me into a more appreciative and positive person. I initially believed that my colleagues and I were going to do the helping during this trip, but help was given in both directions.
My assumption about how happy Haitians would be was wrong, and I continued to be wrong about Haiti in so many other ways. I love to explore the world and be immersed in cultures and perspectives outside of what I’m accustomed to. Each time I experience something new, I can almost feel myself growing as a person.
What Haiti unexpectedly showed me is a culture with a lot of pride and joy, an everyday life that is extremely vibrant, and land of breathtaking beauty. Looking through American eyes, it is easy to dismiss Haiti as unfinished and unsanitary. After all, Haiti is both of things in a lot of cases. If you’re able to look past any bias, though, you’ll see a country and culture that are awe-inspiring.
My trip to Haiti as a volunteer with Hear the World started as an effort to improve the lives of a perceived underprivileged group of people, but it became so much more. The positivity that I witnessed in the children that we were able to provide amplification to was infectious. That positivity, which I made my own, allowed me to make the most of an incredible experience and led to a better me. What more could anyone want?