Three years after the Haiti earthquake, Champlin residents Paulette and Craig Caroll find their mission work in the country as important as ever. Having supported her brother and late
sister-in-law’s White Bear Lake-based organization, Healing Haiti, since it was founded in 2006, Paulette found herself completely transformed when she finally visited Haiti for the first time herself in 2010. She arrived back to Minnesota two days before a devastating earthquake ravaged the country, claiming 300,000 lives, displacing countless more and making even more orphans out of so many children.
Paulette and Craig just returned from their 8th mission trip to Haiti, now as trip leaders. This time they had a very special guest on their team — their 12-year-old son, Evan Carroll.
Evan, the youngest of five, had seen many of his siblings and other relatives go on mission trips to Haiti and wanted to be a part of it.
“He has been begging to go to Haiti with us for three years,” said Paulette. “We told him he could not go until he was a teenager. However, this year Santa Claus brought him a mission trip to Haiti.”
He calls it the “best present ever.”
Evan made his first observation of Haiti on the ride to the mission house from the airport.
“I can’t believe that people live in such devastating conditions and just 90 minutes away exists Disney World,” said Evan. “It seems to unfair.”
When Healing Haiti’s founders Jeff Gacek and Alyn Shannon — Evan’s uncle and aunt — took their first mission trip to Haiti in 2006, they bore witness to the country’s poverty where people live with no clean water, no electricity, no toilet, little food and garbage everywhere. A dozen people live in a one-room tin shack with a dirt floor that turns to mud during the rainy season.
“I always saw the photos and videos from my family, but they do not compare to actually seeing Haiti and the people who live there with your own eyes,” said Evan. “It is an unbelievable, yet amazing sight!”
While these conditions still exist in Haiti, Gacek and his wife Shannon — before losing her battle with breast cancer in November 2010 — felt called by God to make it their life’s purpose to make a difference in Haiti. They have. Many others, like Paulette, Craig and Evan continue to join them in those efforts.
Healing Haiti volunteers have been making a number of strides towards making life better in Haiti. They began in 2006 by breaking ground on a new 4-room school which included clean water collection, sanitation and a kitchen.
Since 2007, they have been the only source of free water trucks providing more than 360,000 gallons of clean water each month in the slums of Cite Soleil.
Today, they provide the teacher salaries for three schools throughout the country and feed hundreds. Last month, they celebrated the one year anniversary of the opening of Phase I of Grace Village in Titanyen, Haiti. Phases I includes an orphanage that is home to nearly 80 children and the country’s largest playground.
Feed My Starving Children, another Minnesota organization based in Coon Rapids, is a big partner in food distribution at Grace Village where up to 300 children receive meals daily. Additionally, the school at Grace Village teaches 306 students.
Phase II of Grace Village is underway and will include housing for Restavak Rescue (child slaves) and the orphaned elderly. They are working to provide rest and rehabilitation for rescued child slaves before reuniting them with their biological families or transitioning them to Grace Village. There is a new temporary church with plans to build a more permanent one in the future. By late March, the medical/dental clinic is scheduled to be complete. They also set up an integrated aquaponic tilapia farm which provides a constant source of protein and fresh vegetables for children to eat.
“Haiti can’t grow vegetables in the ground so this top down system of growing vegetables is just amazing,” said Paulette.
Healing Haiti acknowledges that most of the children that come to Grace Village will never be adopted. They encourage a non-denominational Christ centered life. Their website states, “By caring for their spiritual needs, their personal needs, educating them and eventually teaching them a skill or trade, they will be able to be self sufficient and provide for not only themselves but their future family. Our goal is to raise up the next generation of Haitians leaders that will help build a better future for all.”
They started with coordinating a handful of mission trips. Eventually they grew to offer a mission trip every week of the year. 2013 marks the first time they are sending two mission teams to Haiti in the same week. Many individuals give financial assistance to support Healing Haiti too, whether they embark on a mission trip or not. Approximately 96 percent of the funds donated to Healing Haiti go directly into helping people in Haiti. Back in Minnesota, the Carroll’s are realtors at Keller Williams Classic Realty in Coon Rapids. They donate a portion of every real estate transaction to the cause.
Another significant aspect of Healing Haiti’s mission is the focus on the biblical parable of teaching a man to fish. Instead of just giving Haitians food and resources, they spend a lot of time teaching and encouraging them to be self-sufficient.
“They have tons of time and talent but not a lot of treasure, so we provide that through knowledge and money,” said Paulette.
For example, Haitians drive the water trucks and do a lot of the building.
“When we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the elderly, the youth helped and were the ones to deliver and distribute them,” she said. “We believe in Haitians helping Haitians.”
Paulette and Jeff were first introduced to Haiti’s plight as children when their parents went on a mission trip there. It wasn’t until they were adults that they too, followed in their parents footsteps and visited the country.
“It completely changes your life,” said Paulette, who wanted Evan to experience that as a youth. “I want him to get it at an early level.”
Paulette is a former self-proclaimed shopaholic but now she barely does any shopping anymore after seeing what life is like in Haiti.
“You think about every penny and ask ‘do I need or do I want it?’” she said. “We [Americans] have so much abundance that we’re used to but we are so malnourished spiritually. It’s out of balance.”
Although Haitians live in what would be considered unthinkable conditions in the United States, Paulette says its inspiring to see how happy they are as a people and how their faith plays such a significant role in that.
“They have nothing, yet everything because they have God,” she said. “Funny how we think that we are going to Haiti to help others; however, once in Haiti, it takes no time at all to see that there is no possible way that you could help the people of Haiti as much as they help you. The people of Haiti touch your heart and leave their imprint forever.”
Evan’s experience was similar.
“I have never seen such happy and friendly people. I thought that they would be sad and mad because of the way they live and because they do not have anything but the clothes on their back,” he said. “I did not think that they would believe in God or even know about Him. But I saw them singing praises to God just for being alive. I have never seen such pure joy or powerful faith until I came to Haiti.”
For more information on Healing Haiti visit their website at www.healinghaiti.org.
Contact Mindy Mateuszczyk at [email protected]