Preparing for a Summer of Service was different than any other year last spring. With the unknowns of COVID-19, students were not sure traveling internationally would be an option. Ultimately, Northwestern College sent ten students to Pignon, Haiti, Alayna Bakke, Emma De Groot, Kaytlyn Keeler, Dylan Kirkeby, Megan Nichols, Breanna Oolman and Jadeyn Schutt, where they spent three weeks in Haiti.
Pignon is a city surrounded by mountains on the central plateau of roughly 30,000 people. They stayed on the main campus of Many Hands for Haiti.
In Haiti, students partnered with Many Hands for Haiti, a nonprofit based out of Pella, Iowa. The students assisted with manual labor, helped in a health clinic, taught in schools, evangelized and organized camps from June 16 to July 9.
Bakke is a junior public relations major with a mission and justice minor. She was excited to see what the missions field looked like in a foreign country where there is an established organization. Bakke was surprised by how different yet similar the Haitians were to her.
“The lives these beautiful Haitians live is far beyond my level of understanding,” Bakke said. “Even sitting in the dirt floor under a tin roof with them in their homes, my mind can’t begin to comprehend the fear, uncertainty and suffering they face. Yet day after day, they say things like ‘God bless you,’ and ‘Lord willing.’ They know who is in control.”
While Bakke was able to see the beauty in the nation, the political turmoil over the summer put a stop to serving. On July 7, the President of Haiti, Jovenal Moise, was assassinated at his home in Port-au-Prince in an attempt to seize and remove the government. As a result, the international airport was closed, and travel was restricted as a manhunt began.
“I was originally supposed to go home July 9th, so I actually stayed one extra day due to the political turmoil,” Bakke said. “People kept saying we were ‘fleeing the country’, but it didn’t feel like that to us. We simply felt so blessed, and even a little bit guilty, to be able to go back home while for all of the people we just spent three weeks living with, Haiti was their home.”
For junior elementary education major Oolman, her original plans for a SOS fell through. When the opportunity to go to Haiti arose, she was very excited. Oolman and the group poured a concrete floor, painted a house, lead a bible school, visited an orphanage, planted corn, distributed mobility carts and provided food to families.
“Going into the trip we did not really have any idea what type of work we would be doing while down there,” Oolman said. “We knew that God was sending us there for a reason and we simply trusted in the plans He had for us.”
Junior and business administration major Jadeyn Schutt had traveled to Haiti once with her family prior to this summer, so she was excited to go back. One memory that stuck out to her was when they distributed mobility carts, which are wooden wheelchairs.
“One of the cart recipients was a little boy, maybe 10 years old,” Schutt said. “Before receiving a cart, he was always sitting off to the side while all his peers ran around and played. As soon as he sat in the cart and learned to pedal, he couldn’t stop smiling. His smile was brilliant. It was incredible to see the transformation of this boy after gaining mobility.”
One thing each student spoke of was the impact the Haitians had on them.
“I was extremely disappointed to come home early,” pre-medicine major Keeler said. “Not only because my trip had been cancelled, but because of all the people and relationships we were leaving behind.”
Bakke echoed the same sentiment as Keeler.
“[Haitians] can’t put their trust in money, success, family or anything else the world has to offer,” Bakke said. “America is definitely wealthy in light of materials, but Haiti is wealthy in light of their hope and trust in God.”