SEATTLE — The Borgen Project sat down with Sarah Aubry to discuss her commitment to working in Haiti. Aubry is not famous, but she has spent considerable time in Haiti working with children. Her interest in Haiti began at church. A group came to her congregation and gave a presentation on their efforts to build schools in Haiti. Each of the presenters had industrial skills to offer, such as plumbing, electrical and engineering.
Sarah asked herself what skills she had to offer and settled on two answers: teaching and caregiving. She began researching needs to see how she could help.
What did you do on your first trip to Haiti?
That trip was in 2009. I found an orphanage called God’s Littlest Angels in Fort Jacques, just outside Port-au-Prince, looking for caregivers. I decided to put together a team of six or seven women from my church who could work at the orphanage for 10 days. We organized supplies in a warehouse, cleaned facilities and fed, diapered, rocked and played with the babies.
What was that experience like?
It was eye-opening to realize why the babies were there. Many mothers left their children at the orphanage as a last resort because they couldn’t feed the baby or themselves. In some cases, the mothers left their babies temporarily in hopes they could come back. There was a cap on the amount of time a child could be left at the orphanage. The mothers usually did come back for their babies, but eventually returned because their situation hadn’t improved.
Did this trip give you the inspiration to come back?
Definitely. I was hooked. I went back again in 2010 for eight days to Pillatre, Haiti to assist with soccer and basketball camps for the summer. When the Haitian children were out of school, there were no childcare options. Our camp gave kids a place to go during the day. Part of our team built a simple basketball pad, while the rest of us coached soccer. I came home with 62 mosquito bites from that trip! It rained the entire time.
You eventually went back to Haiti for a year. Is that what came next?
Yes. During Christmas of 2011, my husband received a phone call asking for a full-time professor to teach business at Emmaus Biblical Seminary of Haiti for two years. We had three small children at the time, so this was a big decision for us. We decided that our whole family would go for one year. It didn’t take long for me to find a position teaching English at an international school.
Where did you teach?
I taught reading to grades K-10 at Cowman International School in Vaudreuil. Many of the youngest students were learning English as a second language, which made reading in English very complex for them. Older students were learning vocabulary, fluency, and various elements of literature such as point of view, setting and character development. We studied both fiction and non-fiction.
What was the school like?
The typical school day is 8:00 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. Usually, we had power only between 9:00 A.M. and 12:00 P.M. and no air conditioning. The school was a one-story, concrete building and all the furniture was second hand, including the old-style green chalkboards. Everyone shared two restrooms, one for boys and one for girls. There was one source of potable water for drinking, so we had to use a lot of hand sanitizer. There was an open-air eating area, where ducks and chickens roamed freely, cleaning up our scraps of food. We were fortunate enough to have a small jungle gym for the children to play on. They also spent free time playing a lot of soccer in the school yard. Grades three through ten read a selection of English novels, and although they were old books, they were still classic stories.
How was attendance?
Attendance in school was very consistent because the parents were paying for education. All the parents I came into contact with valued their children’s education a great deal. It was a gift to them and they took it seriously.
Where did you live and what were the conditions?
We lived for part of the time in a house near Vaudreuil. Our house did not have potable water, which was a constant concern for me with three small children. We had a 500-gallon cistern on top of the house. We got some help determining the status of our water supply and were instructed to thoroughly clean and disinfect the whole system. I emptied the cistern, scrubbed it with bleach and then ran bleach-water through the pipes. I poured a cup of bleach into the cistern every third day so that we could bathe in the water. We had to buy drinking water and we kept personal water bottles with us at all times. We had a generator that supplied some electricity for some tasks and our house was surrounded by beautiful palm trees and flowering hibiscus plants.
How many times have you been back since the year-long visit?
I’ve been back twice with a team from my church and an organization called Living Waters for the World . A problem in Haiti is that many of the water wells are too shallow, which allows for a great deal of contamination. Living Waters drills very deep wells to ensure very clean water.
Why does working in Haiti mean so much to you?
My interest in Haiti started as a spiritual quest. I believe God calls us to leave home and our comfort to be his hands and feet on Earth. Once I was there, everything changed for me. My perspective and priorities changed as I came to know a group of people who are resilient and amazingly tough. I want to be part of the good things happening there. Working in Haiti is something I am called to do.
Are you planning future visits?
Yes, in February 2017. The next project is a water well at a school in Ouanaminthe, which is located on the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I previously visited a school and farm there through a former job at Alltech in Lexington, Kentucky. I can’t wait to go back. Working in Haiti is something I see as a constant in my future.
– Mandy Otis