Volunteer Story: Gemma in Haiti

9 weeks. 63 days. 1512 hours. The time I spent volunteering with Hope Health Action (HHA), in Haiti.
HHA is a Christian NGO, passionate about providing life-saving health and disability care to the
world’s most vulnerable, without any discrimination. I had been considering volunteering abroad for a very long time. But there was always something stopping me. Excuses – work, time, money. When I eventually stopped distracting myself, I began my search. After flicking through many of the ‘big company’ websites, I became a little frustrated. The trips mentioned on these sites seemed expensive, and I had high doubts on where the money would go. Did it actually go to help the charity I would be working for?

I stumbled upon a post on Instagram, from a Love Island contestant, Camilla Thurlow. She was in the middle of a volunteering trip, and she mentioned Indigo Volunteers. After researching, I
discovered this fee-free volunteering organisation, which had some fantastic opportunities, all over
the world. HHA was the one that I decided to progress with as it offered the security I was looking for. They organised the accommodation, food and transport. Plus, the fees I paid went directly to the hospital, so I knew that my money would be used by the people who need it. I was concerned my lack of religious beliefs would be an issue, however HHA reassured me that this would not be a problem. Welcoming to all is their motto! After weeks of emails, CRB checks and vaccination appointments, I was ready to tell everyone the good news – I was escaping the cold and heading to the Caribbean for 2 months!

I deliberately didn’t ask too many questions ahead of my trip – as I didn’t want to have any
expectations. I knew that I would be admin based, but apart from that, I wanted to stay in the dark.
This was mainly due to the fact I didn’t want to overthink anything and end up disappointed or
worrying about what I couldn’t control. Most people were shocked that I was going to a hospital,
because of my lack of medical training. However, HHA reassured me that my other skills would be
utilised. And they were!

One of the tasks I was given was to interview various members of staff from the Hospital. The thing
that struck me the most was the pride in the hospital. The love they all had for each other and the
desire to see the hospital, and Haiti, improve. Of course, there were grumbles, ‘office politics’ and
various other difficulties. But their desire to improve their knowledge, their equipment, their skills,
was so impressive. Their tenacity to create make shift equipment, which the red tape police would
frown upon in the UK, made such a difference to the patients. They saved lives. They thought on
their feet. They made the most of what little they had – and trust me, they don’t have much.
I spent a lot of time in the Maison de Benediction, the respite care home for children with
disabilities. The stories of how children ended up there are harrowing, the reality that where you’re
born is such a lottery and if they have been born in the UK, they would have had such a different life.
Spending time with all the beautiful children, all full of life, and love, was eye opening. They didn’t
care that I couldn’t speak creole or that I didn’t know what I was doing. They just wanted to play,
take selfies, and dance. Sometimes it was deeply upsetting, knowing that they deserved so much
more. Knowing that the ones who made it to the Maison were the lucky ones. That so many children
deserved the opportunity to share the love and care that the Maison offers. Their positivity always
won me over. I became very attached, and I miss them all dearly.

It is a completely different way of life out there. The lack of resources, lack of funds, lack of stability.
Things that we, that I, take for granted, just assume we have the right to have. They don’t have that.
But they do have love, have passion and dedication. I met some incredible, selfless people during my time in Haiti. Volunteers, giving up so much of their time and money, to help with the development of the hospital. Projects and trials, all with the end goal of improving the service. Staff, that worked without breaks, that worked with limited, fragile equipment, and that gave everything they have. I am already looking at ways to go back, to bring people with me, so they can see what I saw, and fall in love with Haiti like I did. Haiti became my home, and I want to share this with as many people as possible. My time in Haiti with HHA, taught me a lot about myself. It taught me to see things differently, to not take things for granted, to focus on helping each other, rather than just helping myself.

If you’re reading this, thinking about volunteering but can’t quite decide what to do. Go for it. I said
it would be a once in the lifetime opportunity for me, but as you can see, I am already planning my
return. Sign up now – you won’t regret it. I didn’t.
9 weeks. 63 days. 1512 hours.
The trip that changed my life.