Hand up for Haiti Walk/Run in September, Ambassadors visit in February
By Kristian Partington
In a meeting room at The Village of Winston Park in early July, a group of hopeful travellers gathered in a circle for the first time to go over early plans for a trip that will most certainly bind them together. Some of the people were known to each other and some were complete strangers, but by the time they return to their lives in southern Ontario from Haiti in late February 2016, they’ll be a tight as family.
This upcoming journey will mark the second adventure in the Caribbean nation for a team from Schlegel Villages. It’s a continued extension of the support the organization and its community partners have shown over the past four years for some of Haiti’s poorest families through Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program.
In the fall of 2011, Schlegel Villages hosted it’s inaugural Hand up for Haiti 5K Walk/Run fundraiser, drawing team members, residents, families and community partners together to raise funds in support of Haiti, which had been ravaged by a terrible earthquake in early 2010. That initial event raised more than $40,000 and began a tradition of involvement that will continue with the 5th annual Walk/Run fundraising event on Sept. 13 at the Williamsburg Town Centre in Kitchener.
But beyond raising funds, the organization wanted to do more and in early 2014, a team of 25 Schlegel Villages ambassadors visited Haiti to volunteer their time and skills and learn from the Haitian people and their stories. Another group is set to visit again in 2016, this time aiming to spend even more time with the women and families who, through CLM, are climbing out of the most desperate poverty in the rural countryside.
This team is a mix of people - nurses, kinesiolgists, personal support workers, neighbourhood coordinators and marketers. Each person brings with them a different reason for wanting to be part of the adventure, but they all share a common sense of compassion. That’s what led them to work where they do, one can assume, and that’s the reason they were compelled to sign up for this trip. During the summer meeting at Winston Park, each ambassador spoke to his and her hopes for their time in Haiti; in many cases the theme was a desire to help others while learning about a new culture.
“This trip, for me, I would say, is very important,” said Charlotte Umbac, a registered practical nurse from The Village of Aspen Lake. “I was really hoping I would be chosen as one of the ambassadors because, in a way, this is a way of saying thank you to everyone . . . a way of giving back.”
Charlotte explained that she grew up in The Philippines – a country that shares an intimate knowledge of poverty and struggle, not unlike Haiti. She recalls as a young girl dreaming of snow and of a career where she could help others. She found both after moving to Canada 11 years ago, and as she spoke to the group during the meeting, emotion welled in her eyes.
“I’m hoping that I will be able to encourage the young Haitian people and tell them dreams do come true; if you believe, keep hoping and aiming at your goal and your purpose in life, then you can achieve it.”
In Haiti, hope can be hard to find at times, and yet it’s there, building upon the resilience of her proud people, growing stronger as neighbours and friends from near and far join them in building a new future.