OU student volunteers in Haiti

By Kay Nguyen

Saman Waquad did not want to go to Haiti after she saw the devastation caused by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January. 

Rather, she had wanted to go Haiti for four years. After reading “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World,” Waquad began making plans to visit the country. 

“The Haitians have struggled through a lot and they are very resilient people,” Waquad said. “That’s what sparked my interest and that’s why I wanted to go.”

A senior biology major at Oakland University, Waquad has since then been interested in Partners in Health, an organization co-founded by Farmer. 

Her intended trip during OU’s spring recess was first made impossible due to the freeze on commercial flights to the country after the earthquake. 

Waquad was unable to volunteer her services through medical organizations like PIH because of her lack of advanced medical skills. 

After the initial setbacks, Waquad met Christopher Younan, who had been volunteering in Haiti since 2004, through a mutual friend. 

She joined him and a group of volunteers from the Metro Detroit area in Haiti from May 19-27. 

After flying into Port-au-Prince, Waquad made her way to the small coastal town of Montrouis, which is about 50 miles north of the capital city. 

There, she volunteered at an orphanage that had been there well before the earthquake. She stayed at a home with other volunteers.

“(The trip) wasn’t necessarily because of the earthquake. This town had 4,000 refugees that spilled in from the earthquake, but they were also affected by a hurricane in 2008,” Waquad said. “All their problems are just compounded.” 

She attempted to gather donations before her trip, but efforts yielded an “unfortunate” turnout. 

Instead, Waquad brought her own clothes to give to the children along with practical supplies like soap and plastic grocery bags, which must be purchased in Haiti. 

Upon arriving in Haiti, Waquad was “in awe” of the country’s “natural beauty.” 

“The view from the sky was breathtaking, but as we got closer we flew over an area that I thought was a tent camp set up after the earthquake,” Waquad said. “But (a fellow traveler) told me that it was the poorest part of Haiti – the slums.”

From there, she quickly saw many other disparities between the way the rich and poor citizens of Haiti lived.

Montrouis is a popular tourist destination because of its white sand beaches and was not affected by the earthquake directly.  

Waquad saw the differences between the orphanage she volunteered at and its neighboring beach resorts. 

Because her trip was an immersion experience as opposed to a mission trip, Waquad was able to see the way the upper class in Haiti, the bourgeoisie, live as well as what conditions were like in earthquake refugee tent camps. 

“The poor have seemingly gotten poorer,” Waquad said. 

Though she felt compassion for everyone that asked her for money, she found it increasingly difficult to differentiate between who was in need and who was conning her. 

“If they didn’t know anything else in English, they knew ‘one dollar’ and ‘I love you,'” Waquad said of children begging for money in the streets. “For money, people will do a lot.”

Instances included children that claimed to have no parents who later turn up with an adult and a woman who, while buying a beer, offered to give her deceased cousin’s daughter up to volunteers because she could not afford the child.

In addition to the supplies she brought, Waquad and the volunteer group bought groceries to stockpile the pantry of the orphanage and paid the tuition fees for a few children, as education is rarely free in Haiti. 

She and the group also tried to come up with solutions to make nonprofit organizations in Haiti leaner by noting prices whenever they purchased something.

As a group, the metro Detroiters also began forming a nonprofit of their own that focuses on sustainability and added one more to the hundreds of nonprofits with a presence in Haiti.

“These were people genuinely interested in helping the Haitians and that were interested in coming back and doing this continuously,” Waquad said of her volunteer group.

The name of the orphanage will be “Haiti’s Orphanage of Love” and is planning to return to Haiti in December.

The organization’s aim will be to secure the future of the orphanage.

“Despite all of the misery and disaster, these people still have hope,” Waquad said. “They’re still making life work: even if it’s just one day at a time.”

Those interested in volunteering with “Haiti’s Orphanage of Love” can contact Waquad at [email protected].