photo-jul-12-12-22-42-amDescribe a time when you made a meaningful contribution where your focus was for the greater good of others. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.

I carefully tread down the hill until I successfully reach flat land. Benjamy, a twelve-year-old boy from the village, grabs my hand and leads me to his home constructed from corrugated metal and protected by a blue tarp. Outside, a pretty young woman and an older man greet me. The young boy explains to me, in broken English, that they are his sister and father. His mother had died of an illness a year ago. The scene before me threatens to bring me to tears. Here, in the small village of Bondeau, Haiti, I witness extreme poverty.

My first visit to Haiti was with my youth group at St. Gregory’s and their mission participation in the South Florida Haiti Project. Our mission involved music instruction, building restoration, cultural exchange and worship. I had read articles, viewed photos, and learned about third world countries in geography classes, but nothing could have prepared me for the life changing experience that awaited me. Protected with prescribed vaccinations, antibiotics, and bug spray, I packed a suitcase with three pairs of shorts and three T-shirts amongst the toys, diapers, pencils, and paper I planned to donate. With my guitar straddled on my shoulder, I stepped out of the Port-au-Prince airport to be immediately hit with the distinct smell of garbage and the sounds of shouting voices and cars frantically speeding and honking.  As we walked past the armed militia, I recited in my head over and over the instructions our group leader annoyingly made us memorize. “Stay together. Keep your belongings close.  Do not engage in conversation.” I asked myself on more than one occasion, “This is what I signed up for?” A touch of buyer’s remorse set in during the treacherous four-hour drive as I shuddered every time the van encountered near misses of locals dodging in and out of traffic. I saw broken-down shacks and rickety tents lining the streets. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  

The mission brought us to a residence called Kay Timoun where the 12 poorest children, ages 6 to 18, in the village of Bondeau, live 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. Throughout the trip, my comfort zone was stretched and tested by intermittent power, unreliable running water, and the fear of mysterious bug species playing hide and seek underneath my metal cot. Although I was physically tired, the young, energetic children kept me going with their contagious smiles. While we sang and laughed, I helped scrape paint off the walls of abandoned buildings. I played soccer with Estemi under the scorching Caribbean sun.  When we moved indoors to cool down, Gastina braided my hair. We walked miles with the children to fetch water at the top of the mountain. And on Sunday, squished into pews for three long hours, we shared our faith through music and prayer.

After arriving home, I received sporadic updates of Kay Timoun from my St. Gregory’s Facebook page. Three years later, even when the zika virus grabbed headlines, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for my second trip.  This time, I left home with a greater sense of maturity and curiosity Touched when the children remembered my name, I was determined to uncover each of their unique and distinctive personalities. Older and wiser, I relied on my experience to help mentor the younger mission trip participants.  My compassion and empathy had grown for the Haitians who are poor in material things, but rich in joy, gratitude and contentment. I succeeded in my own personal mission to bring joy to these children through my music, my friendship, and my shared faith. I had indeed made an impact on them and them on me.  Even though I expected to help and teach others, I truly learned more about myself. I learned that I can be extraordinarily happy while living an ordinary, everyday life.

Francesca Cecilia Pucci, Prospective Freshman Fall 2017