Someone once told me that if they won the lottery THEN they would have the time and money to help others. I beg to differ.
My name is Lia Vu and I work part time as a surgical tech and a full time nursing student. Once I heard from my piano instructor, Richard Malnati, that he would sponsor me if I wanted to go to Haiti, I didn’t think twice. I immediately met with a group of strangers, who are now my mission team in Haiti, and started planning. I was not sure how safe or what the consequences were, but I knew that this is one opportunity to be closer to God. I got on that plane leaving my single mother worried at home.
Getting on the plane to Haiti was very different from other plane rides. There were mixed feelings of excitement, nervousness, and expecting the unexpected. As the pilot gave us the cue to prepare for take off, I closed my eyes and prayed, “God, I am your servant, let me serve you by serving others.”
Never have I been on a plane with so many people of the same interest. If you were not a Haitian on that plane, you were there to serve the Haitians. As I turned to my left, two strangers began to ask me questions about which team I belong to and what would I be doing. Within two minutes the three of us were no longer strangers, but rather brothers and sisters who were called upon to serve in Haiti.
As we approached landing, there was a sudden silence as all eyes were looking desperately out the window for a glimpse of what was coming. I heard a sniffle and turned to see a man sitting by the window with crutches by his side. He just stared outside and tears went down his face. I believed he may very well be a Haitian returning home.
We landed in Port-au-Prince and had to take a 6-hour bus ride to Les Cayes, which is only 100 miles away. I could see hundreds of tents set up side by side for what are now homes to victims of the earthquake. Buildings looked as if they were dollhouses that have now been crushed. There is no privacy- I can see a girl struggling to keep her towel on as she tries to bathe on the side of the street. It is dusty and the hot weather is not helping. There are random mountains of garbage collections on the streets with people sitting next to it selling produce!
A girl smiles inside a makeshift tent in Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince February 28, 2010. Seasonal rains and hurricanes spell trouble for Haiti in the best of times, but with hundreds of thousands of people living in flimsy makeshift shelters after last month’s earthquake, this year the dangers are much greater. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
Once we arrived in Les Cayes, the sun was down and of course there were no lights on the road- just headlights from other moving vehicles. The next morning I came to realize what a beautiful country Haiti is. The mountainous view took my breath away as I stood on a rock brushing my teeth. We hopped onto a school bus and off we went to the hospital.
As I got off the bus, I could hear patients’ screaming from the wards. The hospital was not like any that I’ve been to. It was dark inside and there was a potent smell of human ordure. Within several days of work, word got out and we were slammed with large crowds of earthquake victims and local residents. People were lined up to see the “American” doctors hoping to seek medical attention that they lacked. We had a 17-year-old patient from the Port-au-Prince who was persistent on saving her leg. She was trapped in her dormitory for two days and was told that her leg had to be amputated. We debride her wound and came to find that with the right nutrition and wound care, it was possible to save her leg. With proper care, only half of her foot would need amputation. Stories like hers just wrap around my mind as I try to accept the reality that they are forced to live in. Working at that hospital has allowed me to witness the extent of damage the earthquake has committed.
At the end of each day of work was our reward- the orphans. Down the hill from our guesthouse was an orphanage that housed about 249 orphans. A number of the orphans were victims of the earthquake with no family left to care for. Despite their grieves and circumstances, they greeted us each time we visit with the biggest and brightest smiles. I was spending time with two girls of age 10 who love to sing. They taught the song “Jesus Loves Me” in English and Creole. Excited about what I learned, I shared it with the group at our meeting that night. I came to find out that everyone knew that song except me! I had to explain that I grew up in a Vietnamese Catholic church and have not heard of the song. Everyone laughed but was kind enough to sing the entire song for me. “Yeah, Jesus loves me!”
Days went by quickly as we worked. As time for us to depart drew near, I began to feel that I’m not ready to leave. My work here is not finished- I need more time. Previous teams who have been to Haiti warned us that we might feel frustrated, as if we have not made a difference. I felt as though I have not helped the Haitians to the fullest. Did I make a difference? One person in our group told us the story of saving just one starfish can make a difference. The story reminded everyone in the team that what we did surely made a difference.
We made it home safely but the voices of the orphans are still singing in my head. I watched our video blogs over and over again on www.ahandupforhaiti.org. I am anticipating for our next group meeting to see when we are able to return to the people of Haiti.
Thank you, to all who have prayed for me during this mission trip.
Lia C. Vu
BSN student at Queens University
Words from Father Martino:
Lia C. Vu is a friend-supporter of One Body Village. She went to Haiti after the terrible earthquake in January 2010 to help out! Before she left she and Fr. Martino had many conversation (since Fr. Martino had been there) We, at One Body Village, are very proud of her work in Haiti and we look forward for her to join OBV’s team on the mission trip to Vietnam this summer!