Name: Kara Eisenberg
School: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Major(s): B.S. Kinesiology
Class year: 2018
When and how did you get involved with YSI?
Freshman year, I became friends with a few brothers from the Kappa Sigma fraternity at UMass. Some of them had traveled with Your Story, and a lot of the brothers were involved with YSI and continue to be. One of them urged me to go on one of the Summer 2015 trips and it took me awhile to get out of my comfort zone and do something like that but at the very last minute, I decided to apply and received my phone interview with our director, Kevin. It was history from there.
Which expeditions have you gone on?
I went for ten days on session 3 from May-June 2015, and I returned for eight days on second session in January 2016. I do not have plans to be there this summer due to a couple of other commitments, but I anticipate joining the winter and summer 2017 expeditions and perhaps staying for a longer period of time.
What is your current position? Can you describe your main responsibilities?
I will be taking over as secretary for the UMass chapter after this summer’s projects start to wind down. As secretary, there are various obligations I will be responsible for. This entails a lot of recruiting, preparing presentations for potential advocates, and organizing certain aspects of trips such as flights. Another huge part of my job will be taking measures to make sure that all advocates receive the proper background education and preparation for their upcoming trips. I expect to be needed on almost what can be described as an on-call basis, as communication with our board of directors as well as my fellow chapter leaders will be demanding. I remember being a volunteer getting ready for my first trip and needing to ask a lot of questions regarding my trip to the leaders, so I expect future advocates to need no less than immediate responses for these types of situations. During my time in Haiti, I will be responsible for coordinating with other executive members to plan out the agenda for each day of the session and ensuring that YSI’s current to-do’s get completed in the allotted time period.
What is your favorite memory from your trip(s) to Haiti?
This is a hard question simply because there are so many great moments in time that come to mind when I think about this. One moment that really sticks out to me was during an afternoon after a lot of hard work done in Léogâne outside of the compound. It is a day that we spent doing follow-up medical visits with patients that we had seen during our clinic. My group completed visits and were done for the day, so before heading back to the compound we walked over to the home of the family that resides just south of the YourStory compound. Instead of seeing them going about their daily activities that usually involve cleaning clothes, cooking lunch and dinner, caring for the animals they own, and kids playing or helping with work, my group had the pleasure of seeing something else. It looked like the entire family had paused what they were doing for the day to practice playing music with various wind and percussion instruments. While I do not know how long any of them had been playing music or what kind of instruction they have ever had, it is clear to me that this is something they take passion in and are very talented at. They played two or three different songs that, to my understanding, they composed. After watching for nearly half an hour, my group returns to base camp.
We went about the remainder of the night’s activities, including dinner and reflection. Around 10 p.m. or so, we started to hear the same songs that were being played earlier by the band. But this time, the sound seemed to be approaching the compound. As it began to get louder and closer, it was clear that the band was headed our way. When they marched through the doors of the compound it was not just the group of instrument players that decided to come by, but what seemed to be every family within our relative area. They came right up to our building and played the songs that we heard earlier, just a little better practiced this time. All of YSI rushed out to listen and dance with everyone. I will never forget the way the Haitians danced together in this moment and the happiness that the music and unity brings them. The smile on their faces and they energy they brought with them created an atmosphere that felt like we were really part of the community. It was apparent that this was all done in gratitude of what we have brought and continue to bring them.
Why did you choose to become more involved with YSI?
YourStory International is so different from most other non-profit organizations that seek to make the same kinds of impacts as we do. While we spend short amounts of time throughout the year in Haiti, what sets us apart is that we give health care, education, and other intangibles that will make a lasting impact on the community we serve. I am reminded of the difference I can make as an individual each time I arrive in Léogâne. I have developed relationships with some of our neighbors and even though we often have trouble communicating with language, we find ourselves connecting through means of communication that do not require a single word. Usually you can catch us dancing to songs together, passing a soccer ball, or playing chicken in the water at the black sand beach. This is another reason YourStory is so unique. Each and every individual goes to Haiti for a purpose, that purpose gets fulfilled, and nobody is ever just a number. Each volunteer that travels with YSI always gains an incredible amount of experience working with this population and gains just as much as they contribute.
What is your biggest take away from the experiences that you have had with YSI?
My time in Haiti has shown me what it is to be happy without having “things.” Everyone has heard the saying “money cannot buy happiness,” but it is important to experience some time as a minimalist with people who do it for their entire lives to really understand the depth behind this meaning. To feel the joy of being surrounded with people who love and support each other without the delicacies of food, fancy amenities, or technology is an experience unmatched. We bring intangibles to Haiti such as health care to help better the lives of these families so that they are able to thrive in a world that does not allow most of them to have the “extras.” We are always trying to get better, and if everyone could find a way to be happy without all of the “extras,” I truly think the world could be better. I often think about what it would take to create such a revolution and I hope that more people start to see what is possible just through spending some time helping others.