By Kristian Partington
Heather VanPatter spent a decade of her life living in Mexico, working in schools and supporting some vulnerable communities during her time there. She’s says she’s always enjoyed getting involved in the lives of others who could use a little help, and at times she’s missed that part of her life since she left Mexico.
This is a big part of the reason why she was eager to join a diverse group of Schlegel Villages ambassadors who are planning to travel to Haiti in early 2016 to work alongside some of the people the organization has been supporting through four years of fundraising efforts. Out of a great many applicants, 25 people were chosen, and Heather says she's happy to be one of them.
Plans for the upcoming excursion are still in the early stages, but the hope is that the team will have a similar experience as the group that travelled to Haiti in 2014, utilizing various expertise to offer whatever support they can to the many people in Haiti who are working to build a better future.
“You hear all the stories from everyone who’s gone in the past and how much of a grand effect it’s had on their life and their outlook,” Heather says. “I’m looking forward to experiencing that for myself.”
During the last trip, the team divided their time between an orphanage, a hospice, the Ti Kay clinic supporting people living with AIDS and tuberculosis, and at the Haiti Communitere base where they lived for 10 days. The group also toured an urban garden program supported by the Foundation for International Development Assistance in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, were immersed in a small sampling of Haitian culture and they connected with a few team members from Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program, where the bulk of funds raised through Schlegel Villages’ annual Hand up for Haiti fundraiser have gone.
The hope is that during the upcoming trip an even deeper connection will be made with the CLM team and the women in the Central Plateau it supports in a long journey out of extreme poverty.
For her part, Heather says she has a picture in her mind of what she might expect in Haiti and she has heard all about the experience of the 2014 team, and the idea of experiencing a new culture is exciting.
“You never really truly understand a culture until you’ve lived it,” Heather says. “Even in a week, it’s a glimpse only, but I’m sure there are some amazing things about the culture and I’m looking forward to keeping an open mind,” Heather says.
To experience the real Haiti, beyond the one portrayed in the typical media, and bring that story home is part of the journey the Schlegel ambassadors is on. In doing so, the team is representing an entire organization that is eager to support neighbours who are working towards a better life.
“At the end of the day, you hope to bring hope and smiles to a lot of faces,” Heather says.
The following is a list of the 2016 ambassadors:
Candance Manwaring St. Clair
Arlo David Llanita - St. Clair
Natalie Hall - St. Clair
Susanne Schmidt-McQuillan Riverside Glen
Hubrecht (huib) Quist - Riverside Glen
Matilda Johnson - Riverside Glen
Jennifer Gould - Sandalwood Park
Heather VanPatter - Taunton Mills
Sebastian Korzun - Erin Meadows
Gopa Patel - Erin Meadows
Jake Corrent - Aspen Lake
Cadin Forrest - Aspen Lake
Charlotte Umbac - Aspen Lake
Kylie Pineau - Tansley Woods
Laura Fearon - Coleman Care Centre
Kim Skinner - Glendale Crossing
Donna J Calvert - Glendale Crossing
Debbie Wilson - Glendale Crossing
Ashley Mathews - Glendale Crossing
Francine Georgopoulos - Humber Heights
Barb Sutcliffe - Winston Park
Mike Putt - Support Office