How Founder Hayley’s “not-so-cliche” trip to Haiti left a mark...

I know Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but as grateful as I am for independence and privileges that come with being an American - I can’t get Haiti off my mind...
This week - as I returned home from a short four-day MADI-sponsored underwear drop-off in Haiti - friends, family and customers have exploded with questions and curiosity.  “What was Haiti like?” they understandably ask.  But it’s as if they’re predicting my response - maybe not the details of my trip, but the outcome.
I’ve come to realize I think people are expecting me to give the typical, cliche answer - “It was so sad…the people are starving…I cried a lot…I left everything I had there…I am so thankful for everything I have in America…I’m so glad to come back to hot showers and constant power and conventional comforts” - but, the truth is... I don’t have that answer.  
Haiti was many things - but one thing it wasn’t - pathetic or helpless, and I sense that many are sort of disappointed when I explain my experience differently from how the Media or other mission trips portray it.  

It’s hard to explain the endless beauty everywhere.  The mountains are overwhelming - in an intimate way - as if your steps on its incline are different from the person’s next to you.  The dark shaded mountains behind the lake on the border of Haiti and Dominican Republic somehow cause the lake to reflect a perfect crystal turquoise blue.  
One afternoon, after Haitian friends we met cooked an amazing fish stew with local favorite dumplings called “boy”, we sat on rocks by the water and I can’t say my tastebuds were ever as clear.  We swam in the lake and even after years residing in a beachside Florida town, I’ve never felt more “one” with the water watching the skies behind the mountains slowly evolve to pink.  We laughed so hard in the water and it’s been awhile since I felt so alive.
One day, we climbed a big mound near the lake.  A couple times - as we neared the top - we took a minute to sit and take in the views.  One thing I’ll always remember is the SILENCE.  There are no vacationers like next-door-neighbor Dominican Republic - so the land feels almost untouched, except for local residents and occasional mission-type visitors.  Another day we climbed Mount Coron to a remote town up the mountain called Betron.  Women and children had walked from surrounding villages and waited hours for our arrival to receive underwear and hygiene kits.  Once our meeting concluded, I got goosebumps watching the women scale up the mountain like ants, returning to their respective homes.  There was such a beauty in the simplicity of these remote villages on the mountain, of people spending an entire day waiting and walking to receive a menstrual need and added comfort.
Below: Painting by Hayley depicting Mount Coron hike
What did I learn?
I have a higher-than-average empathy level for others.  But, surprisingly it wasn’t the poverty that makes me tear up, it’s the immense beauty in Haiti that is stuck in my memory forever.  Sure, it would be ignorant to look past the extremity of poverty everywhere you look.  Animals are treated much differently, and that was hard for me to grasp.  They were worked so hard or overlooked - but it’s survival mode, and animals are low on the totem pole.  But being here felt bittersweet or a taste of heaven in the midst of so much poverty.  Life is precious, and simply can’t be stomped on.  It’s a gift to even be here, and perhaps this whole time I thought I was somehow entitled to this life - when really, my outlook should’ve been focused on soaking in the “now” with a grateful heart. 

I’ve heard stories from people who’ve visited Haiti who said they couldn’t stop crying, they left everything they brought with them and brought all kinds of supplies.  I’ve learned, it’s great to help, but asking what is needed in particular area or community before “dropping and leaving” items that may not be useful is KEY.

Why am I thankful for Haiti?
So many things come to mind but one sticks out.  I imagine one day I’ll want to be a mom, but as an American I’ve become more and more hesitant as I grow older.  I cringe at the tantrums, the disrespect, the self-absorbed and “bubble” lives that seems to be almost instilled in our children.  Always looking for the next best thing, not appreciating the “now” or the simple gifts of time with family and friends...If i learned one thing it was how I want to instill appreciation in my future kids to live for the “now” soaking in other cultures, for gratitude, to be slow to speak and contemplate respectful communication.  Because, Haiti - in areas so remote with such fewer “comforts” as we would say, the children were SO refreshing.  They were happy, grateful, ecstatic about new faces, playful and seemed to respect and truly find the “now” within their families and lives.

What did I give? 
Sure, my company donated underwear...and in a physical way, that was roots of the trip.  But, when I thought hard it wasn’t just about the underwear.  I gave my whole heart to being in the moment and giving to the best of my ability: my ear to listen, my feet to reach remote women, my hands to hold with children who wanted to make a connection, my eyes and nose to soak in the atmosphere of Haiti and pass it on to others, my mouth to pass on wisdom about menstrual hygiene.
Contrary to how many may portray me as a business owner, yes, I’m an adventurer, but I’m actually a pretty big homebody. Usually when I’m traveling in the states (even a just a few hours away) I am relieved to get home.  But not this time…this time I wouldn’t have minded missing my flight home if that’s how it panned out…I wouldn’t have minded my email boxes flooding for a few more days in this powerful place.  The people, the landscape, the intimate moments in silence or interacting - are not to be missed.  I can’t wait to be back.

November 27, 2015 — Alonzo Williams

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