The horizon stretched between green and pink, sealing Haitian nature and the world’s setting sun together. Wind carried children’s laughter with sounds from the river lazily turning below us. “Bèl anpil,” I would try to describe in broken Creole, gesturing to the mountains wrapping around us. Very beautiful. Little Woodneiby’s on my shoulders, and all the other local children were chasing after us. Older students and friends were still hiking up the beaten path to the top of the hill where we stood, a chatter of excited Creole and English.
St. Gabriel’s high school was just down the street. Founded by Pierre-Louis Joizil and supported by the non-profit, Friends of Fontaine, St. Gabriel’s is now the top school for students in Fontaine. With its well, garden, and solar panels, St. Gabriel’s is able to not just provide education, but to be a strong resource in the community. Siena College sends a group of students down to St. Gabriel’s annually and this January, I was extremely fortunate to join.
Just a week in Fontaine has brought understanding to why so many people come back from these trips with life-changing mindsets. A week forced us to look past the stereotype the world has placed on third world countries. Though poverty has a huge impact on communities like Fontaine, it is in no way the sole identity of them. A week taught me friendship, love, and happiness in a community that is usually overlooked as another poor town. We can see the empowering work Pierre is doing, through the school and the opportunities it brings, to give students a chance out of the stereotype. His work is truly inspirational and something more people should believe in. I want to be a part of something that impacts, that cherishes community and hope, and that’s what St. Gabriel’s has a chance of doing and actually is doing, impacting and changing so many young lives.
There’s something very powerful in seeing the world stripped to simplicity. The state of content that we exhaust ourselves in finding seems immediately discovered in Fontaine. Overlooking the mountains and trees and breathing it all in, I understood why people dedicate their lives to communities like Fontaine. They fall in love with the people and their culture and see the real injustice of the imbalance in society. There shouldn’t be a first or third world. To first-hand experience this community with these overwhelming emotions genuinely changed my life and expanded my worldview. I hope and encourage everyone to not just participate in service like this, but to truly engage in the work being done and the powerful relationships created. “Map retounen nan yon ti tan ankò,” I promised, watching the pink sun disappear into green. I’ll be back soon.
Siena College Class of 2021, Albany Medical College Class of 2025