• Rachel Anna Gaufberg

From Haiti and Back, to Around the World

I have always had a passion for traveling - whether it be an organized backpacking expedition to Ecuador or Costa Rica, a family vacation to visit our friends and relatives in Russia or Israel, or a semester abroad across the world to Australia, a feeling of inspiration, curiosity, and pure bliss always accompanies me on my travels. But traveling to me is not necessarily a completely enjoyable experience; in fact, the most valuable and positive travels I’ve had in my life have been the ones that were the most difficult, whether it was meeting individuals who challenged some previous perceptions or ideas that I had of the world, a painful life truth that I witnessed first hand such as poverty, war and death, or something that pushed me to my limits physically, such as scuba diving in strong currents in Mexico or climbing Mt. Cotopaxi in Ecuador. The tremendous amount of joy as well as the discomfort and hardships I’ve experienced abroad have shaped me into the individual I am today, and I am forever grateful to these experiences for that.

The first time I traveled to the village of Pont Morel was over a year ago in the summer leading into my Junior year of college. Since then, I’ve returned to Haiti once more and stayed for twice as long as before, and brought along three recruited advocates from my university. The reason I decided to return, and am planning to return in the future, is simple: I not only see the enormous value in the work that YourStory International does for the community we serve, but I also recognize the impact that traveling to a place such as Haiti has on myself and fellow advocates. Living in the YSI compound for one, two, or three weeks is not comfortable in the slightest. We eat when food is served and what we are given, we are exposed to heat and humidity and have no way of escaping into air conditioning, there is no running water, electricity, or cell phone service; but most importantly, we are constantly being confronted with the difficult realities that the members of the Pont Morel community face on a daily basis. Despite being physically uncomfortable and emotionally challenged during our stay in Haiti, I will never claim that I lived in poverty for a period of time or that I fully understand the hardships faced in an impoverished community, because the reality is that our advocates can pick up and leave whenever we like and return to the relative comfort of our lives. These are of course luxuries that our community members do not have.

Countless times while in Pont Morel I have heard our advocates say things like, “I’ll never take a shower for granted again!” or “when I get home, I really want to go through and minimize all the ‘things’ in my life.” Although some of those who visited Haiti may have changed certain aspects of their lifestyle in direct response to their experience, the truth of the matter is that most will not. A valuable lesson I personally took from Pont Morel is that you do not need to feel extreme guilt about everything that you have when you see how much others don’t have in this world, because such guilt can sometimes be debilitating rather than fueling you to take action against injustices in our world. Although I have found myself victim to this overwhelming guilt in the past, I’ve worked to redirect this recognition of my relative privilege to do something. I may not always perform an immediate physical action, like how we administer vaccinations and provide check-up appointments to residents in Pont Morel, but I do believe my overall outlook on life and the world has been broadened as a result of my experiences. My work with YSI has impacted the way I think about economic and social disparities in our world and the part I may both actively and passively play in them, and has strongly influenced my aspirations for a future career in global health.

I have just returned from spending the past four and a half months in the glorious land “down under”, i.e. Australia, studying on the West Coast in the city of Perth. Aside from when I traveled for a short time to Bali, Indonesia where I witnessed rural poverty comparable to that in Pont Morel, the majority of my time in the Eastern Hemisphere was relatively very comfortable. Although cultural differences do exist (the Australian ‘accent’ and their slang; the overall more laid back way of life), Australia is similar to the States in that many of us are shielded from many problems that are faced in places like Pont Morel. So, the “now what” question many of us ask when we return to our comfortable, privileged lives in the States from Pont Morel, remained for me in Australia. Regardless, in ways that I may not have even realized, my past experiences in Haiti have allowed me to better face challenges that I faced while abroad, such as interacting and making connections with people from completely different backgrounds than myself, analyzing the tense political relationship between Indigenous communities of Australia and ‘White’ Australia, working hard in my science classes, despite being abroad, so I can get into medical school and eventually continue the type of work we do that I am so passionate about in Pont Morel. I realize how much my traveling experiences build on one another and influence how I approach the next, especially my travels to the inspirational and beautiful community of Pont Morel.