Just over two years ago a devastating earthquake hit the small country of Haiti destroying the capital city of Port au Prince, killing thousands of people and leaving even more homeless.The country received aid from around the world in the months after the earthquake, but two years later the needs of the Haitian people continue to be great.
When Devon Prep senior Connell White visited Haiti recently he was amazed by the devastation.”The roads were disastrous from the earthquake,” he said. “When you fly in you fly right over a refugee camp, filled with tarps and wood boxes where people were living. It was pretty bad. The 2½ hour ride from Port au Prince to Leogane was just a continuous slum.”
White was in Haiti with his father, Dr. Francis J. White, and about 20 others, who had been invited by the University of Notre Dame to visit a hospital-research center in Leogane staffed and funded by the university. Leogane is located just 18 miles from Port au Prince but the drive takes 2-3 hours on dirt roads filled with pot holes and debris made even more difficult by the earthquake.
The purpose of the trip was to recruit physicians, engineers, architects and volunteers to help improve the quality of life through Notre Dame’s Haiti Program (http://haiti.nd.edu/). Founded in 1993 this program is a world leader in the fight against lymphatic filariasis (LF), a disfiguring, mosquito-borne disease that afflicts more than 2 million Haitians.
During his visit Connell went to Mary Queen of the Apostle Orphanage, where he distributed soccer equipment donated mostly by the Haverford Township Soccer Club. In addition he visited an all girls’ elementary school, two hospitals, a leper colony and a market place. He also attended a lecture on LF, and Mass at the St. Rose of Lima Church.
“Before we got there I didn’t know what to expect,” Connell explained. “What I learned was that Haitian people are really proud. They have so little and yet they are willing to share whatever they have.”
“In the orphanage the kids were excited to see us because we had the soccer balls, but also because we were visitors,” he said. “We went to Mass in a church that had been completely obliterated by the earthquake. It was basically a tarp over some wooden beams and some pews. But there were a lot of people in the church. Despite all they have endured, the Haitians have a very strong faith.”
Back at Devon Prep Connell is finishing up his senior year and enjoying all that goes with it. However he hasn’t forgotten his experience in Haiti. In fact Notre Dame is at the top of his list of college choices. His father is an alumnus. If he gets in, volunteering for the Haiti Program may be a possibility.
“I’d love to visit again,” Connell said. “It made me appreciate what I have, as clichéd as that sounds. It was really eye opening. Definitely, one of the best experiences of my life.”