A Story of a Trip to Haiti for a School Psychologist
In Support of Sous Espwa and Quisqueya Christian School
In the winter of 2007, my wife Sharon and I listened to a mission presentation at our church in White Rock, B.C. Canada. There was a call to support various kinds of material and spiritual assistance to Christians in Uganda. After the service both of us were moved to think about going. It was to be a short-term trip in the summer of 2007, and would involve helping distribute medical and school supplies along with other tasks.
We followed up on our interest with the young pastor from our church organizing the trip. As we found out more about it, we became convinced that it was not what God wanted us to do. We exchanged emails with our pastor, and I explained that while the work in Uganda was important and well worth supporting, I wanted to take advantage of my 34 years experience in education and especially my qualifications in school psychology and special education and the Uganda trip did not allow that.
“What is a school psychologist?” our pastor wanted to know – this was something beyond his experience. I explained, and he replied, “…well I don’t know anyone needing that… but you should probably pray about it and see what God does.” We prayed, and exactly two days later our phone rang – our pastor had not yet made any contacts on our behalf but God had heard our prayer and acted – fast! We did not know it, but Sous Espwa, a CRC group in Haiti, had mentioned in their newsletter as early as November, 2006 their need for a “professional psychologist to test for learning disabilities.”
The call I received was in fact from a friend who had been contacted by another friend who had been called by another friend, who had heard about the need… God was moving the prayer request toward us months before we prayed. When I told my wife about the opportunity, she was amazed at the speed of God’s response and simply said, “…Dave, I think you really better go!”
After much planning, and with the wonderful assistance of Carol Sybenga at Service Link, I flew to Port au Prince, Haiti on September 3, 2007 – having come from my home outside Vancouver, B.C. via Montreal. Nothing (and much was done) could have prepared me for Haiti. I was welcomed by Steve Hersey, the Director of Quisqueya Christian School and his wife Ruth, and soon also met Ruth and Howard Van Dam who are missionaries with Christian Reformed World Missions. They and their wonderful families welcomed me warmly, as did the many teachers and other missionaries involved in the work there.
I brought my testing/assessing equipment with me, and planned on trying to do complete psycho-educational evaluations on as many as eight children during my two week stay. In Canada, that would comprise more than a months work – but I was hopeful. I was asked to assess the children of missionaries, Haitian children who had been adopted from orphanages by staff in Haiti, and the children of Haitian nationals who send their children to QCS.
Some of the adopted children showed the learning effects of early malnutrition and neglect. One had been nursed on sugar water alone for the first year and a half of his life and still showed the scars of rat bites to his head. Another was a child who is probably profoundly deaf (and I say “probably” because there is no audiological service in Haiti and the child cannot yet obtain an exit visa to seek help outside of the country.). The severity of deafness was first confirmed when this tiny, beautiful little girl did not startle to the sound of nearby gunfire.
Because of the level of cooperation by the staff, families and especially Steve Hersey, we managed to complete ten full assessments and do many more “side bar” consultations. At home in Canada, that would be more than a month full time work! Although I am now far away, contact continues with the school and some of the parents – and I will remain at their “internet disposal”.
Nothing could have fully prepared me for my visit. I struggled with the heat and humidity (but adapted fairly well), and the fact that there were weapons everywhere (and especially with the UN forces bringing order to this troubled country) worried me, but I was safe. I was surrounded by staff and parental prayer – as we all knew that if I became ill, children would not be seen… my family prayed at home, and God answered. I was taken good care of and remained healthy and strong throughout.
At about 5.30 am one morning, I lay in my bed thinking and praying about my experience – I had only two days left and wanted to get as much done as possible. I decided to turn on my little digital camera and record sounds – the sounds of Haiti in the dark. Generators roaring, roosters crowing loudly and by the dozens (even in the blackness), dogs barking, and the sounds of people waking up in their tiny shanties in the ravine behind my room. As I listened and recorded, I whispered these words so that my family at home in Canada would know how I felt – about the privilege of doing this job, of being with these children, and helping support God’s workers in Haiti. I simply whispered, “…back in Canada I want you to know this has been the most satisfying two weeks of my professional life.”
Now I am home and I have had a chance to “process” my feelings. I did not cry while in Haiti – did not cry for the poverty, disease, and violence. I did not cry for the struggle the Haitian people face every day. I did not cry for the wonderful work that teachers and missionaries are doing in Port au Prince.
I cried when I got to a little motel room in Montreal where I slept overnight on my way home. I cried when I heard my wife’s voice on the phone for the first time in two weeks, and I cried when I told her what the trip had meant to me as a Christian.
My trip to Haiti has shown me a number of things. It has shown me the endurance and courage of the Haitian people and the missionaries and teachers who help them. It has shown me that I can play a small part in their work – of providing services to missionaries, teachers and Haitian nationals alike.
One of the administrators at Quisqueya school asked me a question on my second day there. Tony DeKoter smiled warmly and asked, “Dave, what do you do back home?” I replied “…well I am kind of semi-retired now.” He grinned and said words that are the most powerful lesson God taught me in Haiti. “There are no retired Christians, Dave.” Tony is right, and I hope to do this kind of work again - in Haiti or elsewhere if He calls, and next time my wife is coming with me!
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