"The heart cannot feel what the eyes have not seen" Haiti through the eyes of a Fairfield University student

Back in October, during the Parents Weekend brunch, I surprised my parents by telling them I wanted to go to Haiti in the summer. When they asked the "Why?" I had a lot of difficulty answering. I gave a few vague, veiled answers about "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," but nothing substantial. I just knew it was what I wanted to do.

Now that I have returned home from Haiti, there are many words I can offer to the question, "Why?" But perhaps the best ones are not my own, but the words of an old Haitian proverb: "The heart cannot feel what the eyes have not seen."

I and five other Fairfield University students, along with Father Paul Carrier, S.J., university chaplain, and Dr. Suzanne MacAvoy, professor of nursing, left the safety and familiarity of our homes so that we could see; and through that sight, feel compassion and love for the people of Haiti; and then act on these feelings, conforming our lives into alignment with these new emotions and thoughts.

We saw so much in our two weeks there. So much pain and so much beauty. It's hard to know where to begin. I could tell you the shocking stories of suffering, hunger, and disease. But shock fades too quickly, and does not respect the humanity of the people we met. I could also tell you happy stories, about people who are grateful for their few meager possessions; happy just because they are alive. That, however, would imply that what they have is enough, that there is no need for change; and that is not the case.

In the end, what really matters is the people we met; the human beings we encountered, each with a face, a name, and a voice. I want to give you a glimpse of the people of Haiti; people created in the image and likeness of the same God who created me and you.

Blaize was one of the people we met. A 16-year-old orphan, Blaize has been a part of the Pierre Toussaint Program from the beginning. That's a program for street kids in Haiti, started by Doug Perlitz, a 1992 graduate of Fairfield, who went on a Mission Volunteer Program himself as a student and was so moved by the people of Haiti, he returned to work among them.

Recently, an older man took Blaize into his family, welcoming him as a son. Proud to have a home for the first time, Blaize invited us to visit him and his "father." The scene hit us all very hard. Blaize's home, of which he was so proud, was a one room four-by-six ramshackle hut, constructed of rusted tin and discarded wood. His neighborhood consisted of a labyrinth of similar huts and a decomposing garbage heap that rose 20-feet high next to a slaughterhouse.

The only colors visible were brown and black, except for one load of white laundry. Blaize's father, who welcomed us with a beaming smile, was kneeling on the ground scrubbing a shirt in a laundry basin. Although he had so little, he was willing to share it with Blaize. In spite of the filth all around, he scrubbed with a tedious tenacity until the white shone like a beacon in the desolate scene.

Blaize and his father taught us a lot about the Haitian people. They showed that despite the desperate setting, their hearts hang on to hope. In the comfortless misery, they find a way to have faith in God. Although they have nothing, they find a way to give. They give of themselves; they share even when there is not enough for one. They are always open, always caring.

The beautiful people of Haiti touched all of us. The challenge of our trip, the point of our experiences, is to take Haiti with us as we continue our lives. To take the love, and pain, and faith, and hunger, and compassion of these people and make it a part of us; to serve as witnesses of their spirit to the people in our lives. The point is not to end this mission; not today, tomorrow, next month, not ever.

I hope, also, that we left a piece of ourselves in Haiti. A piece that says we care, we love, we listen, we respect, admire, and have compassion for all that you are, all that you do, and all that you endure.

This article is taken from a talk Matt Day gave at Fairfield University in June after returning from Haiti. Matt is entering his senior year at Fairfield.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 1, 1999

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