Upon landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, college student Kassi Galbreath was taken to a world different than she had ever experienced. It was her fourth mission trip and although she had been on previous international trips, this most recent trip had its own set of challenges. Although she was accustomed to having to adapt to lower living conditions, even the Haiti trip, “was a stretch,” she said.
But Galbreath’s enduring passion fueled her fire for progress. She is passionate about missions and her church, Envision Life Center. In July, she went on the trip to Haiti with the center. They were going back to Haiti for the second part of a three-part project.
Armed with warnings of danger, even upon arrival, Galbreath was still ready to go on the trip.
“They warned us that, at the airport, there might be people who want to take your bags. All the guys had to circle around the women. It’s just really dangerous there,” she said.
But the call of danger didn't stop her efforts. Assertive and strong, she and her teammates made their way to the city of their work site after a grueling, six hour bus ride.
Of the warnings before the trip and at arrival, she said, “They didn't want us to live in fear, but they wanted us to be mindful.”
Her introduction to how traffic operates in the country was also a surprising experience.
“There are people everywhere,” she said. “Everywhere you look, there are women carrying pots and pans on their heads and they’ll turn and look at you and still have their pots and pans on their heads.”
Although the cultural differences persisted throughout the 11 days the group worked on location, her heart was warmed by playing with some of the local children.
One child in particular, a little girl named Nika, ended up leaving a lasting impression on Galbreath.
“This may sound weird, but other than my niece, she is the first kid that I've really shown that motherly instinct,” she said. “The language of love is so powerful. You learn how to communicate without using words. I would carry her around and she would sleep on my shoulder.”
Nika liked to follow Galbreath around and hold her hands. Even though the two didn't speak the same language, they were able to communicate. “They speak Creole,” she said. “Gradually, throughout the week, we learned how to say ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’”
She brought some small items with her to give to the local kids. Galbreath’s mother also made hair barrettes, which her daughter distributed during the trip.
Although there was still monumental damage left over from several hurricanes and the 2010 earthquake, the group didn't let that stop them. “When we were first landing at the airport, you could just look out your window and find water in places there should not have been water,” Galbreath said.
The scenery during those July days provided another type of culture shock—one of absolute poverty. “People were living in tents and houses were ripped apart,” she said.
Even though Galbreath went on a mission trip, that didn't mean she stayed in a four star hotel and with a continental breakfast in the morning. Quite the contrary; the desperate conditions were shocking to many in the group.
“We got to our rooms and there were bugs in them. Everybody had problems with their toilets not flushing. Our water was ice cold. It was out of everybody’s comfort zone,” she said.
While their first world comfort zones may have been violated, Galbreath said the struggles of many people on the trip became sources of strength. However, keeping a positive attitude, she noted, while being immersed in a foreign environment with such arduous living conditions, was a challenge— even for the most dedicated individuals.
“Every single trip, I always second guess if I’m supposed to be there. I had bad asthma some days and I couldn't breathe. Everyone just had their challenge.”
She went on a mission trip to Ireland a few years ago and described the church work site in Les Cayes as similar, in terms of landscape.
“It kind of reminded me of Ireland, with green, rolling hills and there was a spring down the hill where people would bathe and lots of cows and goats and sheep. It’s a beautiful country, it really is, when you can walk around and appreciate.”
While the work was physically demanding on location, everyone expected it to be that way.
“We were lifting concrete blocks and buckets of cement. We had assembly lines going like crazy. I got hit in the face with a piece of wood,” Galbreath said.
Even so, the work day carried on.
Some of the local children would even help in the assembly lines. “They don’t know any other way than to work really hard,” she said, commenting that the workers all had gloves, but the children didn't mind getting their hands dirty.
The Envision group was lucky enough to have some translation services during construction. Church member Stanley Amazon went on the trip. His uncle, Pastor Enoch, lives near the site.
The site work carried on all day, starting at eight in the morning and lingering until after 10 at night. The days working were always 10 or 11 hours long and Galbreath described the weather as “miserably hot.” Bottle after bottle of Gatorade was consumed throughout the trip.
“We had to drink Gatorade like nothing else so we didn't get cholera,” she said.
Using the local water was not an option. The members of the group had to take antibiotics for 40 days and stored bottles of Pedialyte in case anyone became ill. They had to also be careful with brushing teeth, to make sure that none of the sink water was used. Common food items included rice, fried chicken, and fries.
Over the course of 11 days, her feelings about Haiti had changed.
“We didn't realize how magical Haiti was, until we were starting to come back,” Galbreath said. “We had a little party to celebrate and just hearing the stories of how many people were changed was really inspiring and encouraging. We really came together as a family.”