Thursday, October 16, 2003

Mission work gets 'in your blood'


Friendships, simple life draw volunteer back to Haiti

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer


Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear on Fridays.


Angela Henry lives in Liberty Township, a northern suburb of paved streets and spacious homes with roofs, hot and cold running water, air conditioning and freezers - with ice cubes!

Time was when the 19-year-old took such simple things for granted. But not after spending parts of the last three summers volunteering with a mission group in Haiti, where 80 percent of the 7.5 million people live in abject poverty.

"It was real culture shock," says Henry, a 2003 Lakota East High School graduate now enrolled at Miami University's Middletown campus. "You realize everything you've got at home that they don't have."

Her first 10-day trip was in summer 2001. Working with Frankfort-based Northwest Haiti Christian Mission (www.nwhcm.org ), Henry and other teen volunteers pitched in wherever needed. Some days she manually hauled rocks out of a river and loaded them into dump trucks for use in road construction.

[IMAGE] A doll and a mirror are among Angela Henry's souvenirs from Haiti
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
Sometimes she assisted with the mission's Vacation Bible School. "There were always more kids at the gate than we could take," Henry says. "There were always kids we had to turn away."

She helped in an orphanage. It was only 8 miles from St. Louis du Nord, the village where her group stayed, but getting there meant an hour-plus drive over bone-jarring roads in the back of a truck.

And Henry, who plans to be a nurse, sometimes worked in a free health clinic, which has a birthing center. "That was the first time I'd seen a baby born," she says. She also cleaned and bandaged wounds, and marveled at the Haitians' high tolerance for pain.

Each morning Henry woke up in a sweat, greeted by oppressive heat and humidity. She grew accustomed to the ever-present stench caused by lack of sewers.

At the end of those 10 days, "I knew I wanted to go back the next year," Henry says.

Terri Hopton understands. "It gets in your blood," she says. "You can't help but want to go back."

Hopton, who is 42 and lives in Mason, has made more than two dozen trips to Haiti, the first coming when she was in college. In 1995, she began making trips with youths from Mishpachah Inc., a non-profit theater group she founded.

Angela Henry joined Mish, as it's known, her sophomore year of high school. That's when Hopton first noticed Henry's work ethic. "Then we got to Haiti, and it really kicked in. Angela's definitely a leader, a kid I can give a project to and say, 'Here, run with this,' and she does.

"It's absolutely grueling work there," Hopton says. "Never, never did Angela complain. You're (volunteering) for people who have nothing. And I think that's what makes a huge difference."

Before her first trip to Haiti, Henry says, she wasn't so much motivated by the chance to do mission work. She wanted to go because her friends were going. Also, she was curious.

Ten days in Haiti changed her perspective.

"I fell in love with the country, the beauty of it, and the people, and the love they have for God. We take so many things for granted. They've got a fraction of what we've got, (but) show their love so much more."

She returned in the summer of 2002, again for a 10-day trip. Then this past summer, Henry signed on as an intern with Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, and spent five weeks in the country.

Each trip cost at least $1,200. She has received contributions from family members and friends.

"I plan on going back next summer," she says. "I would like to stay longer than I did this year. I've made friendships; that's one reason for going back."

There's another reason, she says, one not easily explained.

"There's just a peace that I've got while I'm there. Living there is very simple. I really don't worry about anything."

E-mail jjohnston@enquirer.com




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