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Thursday, January 14, 2010

My time in Haiti.

As most of you know, barley & birch was created because of the people of Haiti and, later, El Salvador and Central America as a whole. I am sickened watching the news footage of Haiti and seeing the photos of buildings collapsed onto masses of people, so I wanted to share just a few of my own photos (scanned from hard copy) to share another, more beautiful side, of this country and talk a little about why I love it so deeply. When I first traveled to Haiti, it was my first time out of the country. (Photo below is of the Port Au Prince airport.) I was going to help others, is just about all I knew.

I traveled in cattle trucks with a team to deliver rice and water to schools all over the area.

We would travel 4 hours one way to bring food and water, wash their hair with anti-fungal shampoo (the fungus can spiral into a variety of more devastating health issues), and giving various vitamins and medicine. If we had time, we loved to get a moment to play with the kids before we had to head back home. Sometimes, if we had enough people though, we would perform a puppet show in our best (though still sloppy) Creole and English. Giving the kids a chance to just be purely silly, unburdened by their worries of malnutrition and worms, was amazing.

Then one day we went to the market. And someone tried to kidnap me.

Then we went to town, and walked by a social area where two bodies lay, shot by a local gang leader for whatever reason, families forbidden to move them so the leader could make his control clear. They obeyed for fear of their own lives.

Then women asked me to hold their child and ran away, hoping that I would take the baby and give it a better life in my country.

Then we went to hospitals, and I made the mistake of breaking off from the group and poking around, looking for some kids to play with to break the sorrow. I stumbled into the room of people. I asked a nurse, "Why are there flies all over these people?" She said, "They are dead." I asked, "Why are they still laying here?" She said "The families are legally obligated to deal with burial, and no one can afford the headstone or casket, so they don't claim the body."

I was only 17. And got a huge dose of the real world. I was too young to effectively cope with the emotional shock and just internalized it, ignored it, and became a Haitian so the hurt I was feeling would go away. I mastered "bon jour" and "bon swa" and smiled a lot.

The landscape was stunningly beautiful. (These photos don't do it justice, but I will upload more soon.) The little villages were warm and happy.

The people were beautiful, inside and out. They were gracious and appreciative and felt blessed in their lives.

I ate bananas for breakfast and mangoes for dinner. And breadfruit, which I still unsuccessfully seek out to this day. I would cry with my head between my knees so no one would see me crying about their malnourished babies as we drove away. I would smile and hold the hands of dying kids, not allowing myself to blink because I knew a tear would fall down the cheek that they could clearly see and did not want them to see how sad I was that they had to suffer.

We danced and sang and talked and watched the cool fisherman in their cool sailboats and ran over to see what they had caught every sunset when they came in.
So this was how we lived. Happy and filled with sadness at the same time.

Then, I had to go back home. To my family and friends. I remember driving my car home and needing to roll down the windows because it was so silent. I hadn't been in a closed in car in who knows how long. I got home and I instantly missed Haiti. I missed the slow way of living. I missed not caring about all the silly things, but only caring about buying food at the market and helping bring food and water to others. I missed feeling like I was doing something good, rather than just spinning my wheels with the meaningless things of life.

I had Haiti on my brain from then on. I moved my paintings that I bought there from home to college to new home to new home, each time hanging a particular one so it was the first thing I saw in the morning, reminding me to be significant with each day, to do something good. Not to be "just another pretty face" as my father so kindly reminds me.

And so I traveled and worked in Central America. And graduated from DePauw. And started barley & birch, a clothing line created to give kids a healthy option and world, while using the profits to fund schools and clinics in Haiti first, and then Central America.

When town halls in the area in Haiti in which I worked were destroyed, they called us. When a school near one of our schools was reporting 90% of their children as malnourished, we broke the bank to send rice and water to an additional school immediately.

And now, the earthquake.

I feel sort of like I felt in the photo below. Idly standing by, letting those who are trained professionals do the work, because I don't know where to start or how to be most effective. (Sans Haitian braids and really cool outfit, of course.)

I miss Haiti and want the people there to not suffer anymore. I want to go back and see my friends and build it all back up.


  1. Beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing both the good and bad of your experiences there. It's hard to imagine the pure terror and devastation happening there right now.

  2. This is an amazing post. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I got the chills reading this. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I fully believe everyone needs to experience something like that in their lifetime. I don't think most of us can begin to imagine what it is like to be Haitian right now...

  5. im 99.99999% sure that not even YOU know how amazing you are... i know you HATE when I say this... but for one second button your lips and listen... ;) Your amazing... and selfless... and smart... and a pretty face... and a wonderful business owner... and a hero among so many of those children that you helped... what a great thing you did... I couldnt even imagine the things you saw... let alone at just 17 years old. You are a much stronger woman than I am... I like to give & help & donate... but you just do SO much... and Im reminded just how much MORE i need to be doing for others... Its time we all step up and do our part... Kyle you're an inspiration... I look up to you so much... as a "internet" friend (for now, someday we will hang IRL) and as a business owner... and just as an all around great person... I hope when you look in the mirror you can see just how great you really are...

  6. Wow! You are the woman!!!
    What a heartfelt & amazing post this is! What incredible experiences you lived through. You are pure love. :)