Seva in Haiti
Sikhism. A religion founded more than 500 years ago, and one of the 5th largest in the world with more than 20 million followers. Based on the teachings of the ten gurus, it is a religion that is open to all that emphasizes truthful living as well as equality of all mankind. One of the core principles of Sikhism is doing seva (Sanskrit word for “selfless service”). I am not a super religious person. I do consider myself spiritual and believe in the fundamentals of Sikhism. I have always enjoyed volunteer work since I was in high school, and was thrilled to spend two weeks in Haiti to do just that — seva.
My flight landed on Nov. 3rd, and the excitement and anxiety set in, as I started my journey. I was put at ease once I walked out of the Port au Prince airport to see a familiar face – Shilpa Alva (Surge’s Executive Director & Co-Founder). My journey began by hitting the ground running! We embarked on a 3-hour drive through the back roads of Haiti and into the mountains to Cayes Jacmel where we would spend one week with our partner, Patrice Talleyrand. The Talleyrand family was generous enough to open their home to us and help us navigate through the week.
The week consisted of meeting with our local partners – Mabouya Dlo Pwop and ASSHLA. The local water solution we use in Haiti is a silver-impregnated ceramic water filter that sits in a 5-gallon plastic bucket.
With the help of Mabouya Dlo Pwop and ASSHLA, Shilpa and I were able to distribute 50 brand new filters to families in need. For me personally, this was a highlight of my field trip. We distributed them on a very auspicious day in Sikhism – Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Birthday (the first Guru). I was so deeply touched to do seva on this day and to see the look of joy on the community member’s faces upon receiving their filters.
ASSHLA tends to the holistic needs of the community (mobile clinic, medical trainings, micro finance, kids club, etc). We were very fortunate to meet Dr. Erol from the ASSHLA group and see all of his hard work firsthand. We got to be a part of some of these programs and developed a deep respect for this amazing man who we are so proud to partner with. His dedication to his community was awe-inspiring. Dr. Erol has a children’s club every Friday and was gracious enough to designate the Friday we were there to let Surge educate the children on proper sanitation.
On our way to the club, I realized we were trekking almost 30 minutes deep into the mountains. I was a bit uneasy as I knew that it would take the same time coming back, but this time it would be in the dark. Once we arrived we were able to hand deliver the care kits that were made in March at our youth summit in Chicago. The walk back actually was a lot better than I anticipated. It just goes to show that this is everyday life for those in this community. Day or night doesn’t matter to them. The week in Cayes Jacmel was very fulfilling. Every evening we watched the sunset over the Caribbean Sea – life doesn’t get any better than that! Among the poverty and distress, it’s a beautiful beach town with equally beautiful people.
Our second part of the trip was spent in Port au Prince. On a whim, we found a wonderful place called Haiti Communitere (HC). HC is a Haitian-based organization that allows different grassroots organizations to dwell together. My first impression was a little weary since we were going to sleep in a “Geo-Dome” with bunk beds and share communal facilities. As a child, I never went camping, so this was my equivalent! The community members at HC were very warm and inviting from the minute we arrived. One of the managers, Samuel, took us under his wing and took us to a local orphanage where we dropped off rice, pasta and cookies. We visited with schools that were in need of water solutions. We also met Ronald Lacrete from Life Giving Force who has engineered an amazing UV filtration solution. We hope to partner with him in the future.
Finally, in our last week we spent time in Croix des Bouquest at the Ecole Shalom School we have partnered with since 2012. Lorinord, our contact at the school, was a wonderful host. My favorite moment was when we arrived at the school, a little boy instantly came running up to me and threw up his hands motioning he wanted to be picked up. For the remainder of the few hours the children were still at school, he was constantly by my side. I wasn’t able to catch his name, and that evening he was weighing heavy on my heart. The following day, Lorinord took time out of his day to walk us through the community to assess current water filters in the homes. We stopped at a local orphanage that had our donated filters and to my surprise – that same little boy came running up to me! I can’t describe in words how I felt. I instantly became teary eyed and picked him up. I heard a young lady call him Mono. I learned his name! For the hour we spent there, he melted my heart. It was very difficult to leave the orphanage, but it was comforting to know how well kept it is. He’s just one of the many special Haitian children we met.
The two weeks spent in Haiti touched my heart in ways I didn’t know was possible. Everything that encompasses the country from the beauty, people and culture was incredible to see firsthand. I have been proud to be a part of Surge; however, my appreciation for the organization has deepened after this field trip. There is still a vast amount of work that needs to be done, but it’s moving in the right direction. It’s not possible to make a dent in Haiti … We definitely have made drops. I will continue to do seva, as it is one of the things that warms my heart.