How are you and your family? My son and I are doing well. We have been out of the United States since June 5 traveling in Haiti and Belize. In Haiti, I served as the coordinator for a medical service trip via University of Houston. Now, we are in Belize, where I served as the U.S. fundraiser for a project with the Wagiya Foundation to assist the Garifuna community of Seine Bight with aesthetic revitalization in order to boost their tourism economy.
What I would like to discuss with you today is what it was like for my 12 year old son in both of these environments and how I managed his travel as a parent. Many of us feel super worried about taking our children to “developing” countries because of all of the issues that could possibly arise. What if they get sick? What if there is trouble? Is there risk of kidnapping? What if they hate the whole experience? All of these are valid questions that parents have when considering taking their children to a “Third World” country to volunteer.
To prepare for our trip to Haiti, I boosted my son’s immune system with Kids’ Echinacea compound and chewable probiotics. I was also careful not too let him eat too much junk food (i.e. vegetarian pizza, greasy chips, etc…) or consume too much dairy in the weeks before our departure. Mosquito borne illnesses are more likely to affect you if you have a low immune system.
Also, it’s important not to weigh your body down with a bunch of toxins right before a trip to a country where you will not be eating so many processed foods. If you do, your body will purge once you start eating mango every morning. On the other hand, if you are eating a pretty clean diet at home, you are much less likely to contract any illnesses or stomach viruses abroad.
In addition to watching his diet and using herbal prevention, I also made sure that he had a big noticeable water bottle to make sure he is getting enough water each day. We chose a bottle with a unique design so that it would not get mixed up with anyone else’s bottle. Once we arrived in Haiti, we were picked up at the airport by contacts I trusted and escorted to the non-profit compound where we resided, Haiti Communitere (HC).
HC provides a safe space in Port-au-Prince for international volunteers with 24 hour security, clean water, electricity, and wifi. HC also has a great community garden, fruit trees growing across the whole property, and lovely hammocks for resting. Each day, I organized activities for the pre-med students traveling with me with help from on-the-ground contacts. Outside of doing some fun stuff like visiting the museum and successful grassroots nonprofits, my group volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity Malnutrition Center, St. Joseph’s Hospital Wound Care, Orphanage Lillevois, an orphanage/school I can’t recall the name of that specialized in serving special needs children, and a few other locations.
We brought infant formula, children’s vitamins, diapers, prenatal vitamins, medicines, money for food donations, and many other necessities from the United States to distribute to grassroots organizations that were running low. In addition, we organized 2 clinic days with both American and Haitian medical staff. Lastly, we hosted a field day and planted a permaculture garden for an orphanage where many children previously suffered from malnutrition. We have been supplementing these same children for over a year and they are no longer malnourished, thank God.
In order to keep my son safe while accomplishing our trip goals, we participated in all of the excursions, all of the volunteer activities with children, some medical related outings, all of the planting, and none of the clinic days. I did not feel comfortable having him around sick people for full days in the sun, and that was fine. If you are planning a service related trip with your children, I recommend following your intuition as to what may be fine for your little ones and what may be overload. Also, be sure to keep an eye on how they are feeling and make sure they are drinking enough water. There were a few times when we got a little dehydrated and needed to put electrolyte tablets in our water. These are important to bring whenever you travel to a place where you may naturally sweat a lot.
While volunteering is a blessing in itself, I would like to share some fun highlights from our time in Port au Prince. There is a great cafe in the Delmas 33 area run by the Apparent Project, a nonprofit dedicated to providing Haitian parents with jobs so that they do not have to give their children up to orphanages. Many “orphaned” children are just children whose parents do not have enough money to feed them. If the parents have income, the families can stay together. In the Apparent Project’s cafe, they served smoothies, specialty coffees, slushies, pastries, pizza, and more. They also have music, Foosball, and a big chess board. My son had a great time there.
Also, you can tour the Apparent Project and see how parents are making dolls, clay cups, tote bags, custom tee shirts, and jewelry to support their families. My son loved learning about how to make necklaces from recycled cereal boxes. He also enjoyed seeing how the clay cups were formed by hand. Now, he wants to take a ceramics class.
Another highlight was having regular lunches at the UN base. They serve food and drinks from all over the world at affordable prices. It was refreshing to go there and have cold lemonade or ice cream after a long hot morning, and meet new people from exciting global destinations.
My little one also really enjoyed the Haitian National Museum, taking a car to the top of the mountain in Petionville, and playing with the children at the orphanages. We did not go to the beach on this trip to Haiti, but that is normally a really nice excursion too. Some of the best private beaches are Kaliko or Wahoo Bay, but if you want to save a little money, you can go to a public beach like Taino Beach.
During our free time, I found a balance between assignments to help my son process the trip, such as research and journaling, and allowing him space to just play games on his device or talk to his friends back in the U.S. on Google Hangout. On any volunteer trip, it’s important to remember that children are children and need room to just have fun.
I will post again soon with updates about how our trip has been in Belize so far and what the highlights are for my son. What other questions do you have about Haiti, or about keeping your children safe and happy while traveling? I look forward to hearing them!