Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Journey To Haiti

MY JOURNEY TO HAITI I took my first international mission trip when I was 12 years old to a small orphanage in San Luis, Mexico. When I had to leave, I left a part of my heart there. I returned to Mexico six times, and every time, I left more and more of my heart. At that point in my life, I thought I would someday live as a full-time missionary in Mexico, never thinking I could be more in love with and feel more called to a different place. Well, God had other plans. When I was a sophomore in college, I went on a prayer walk. As I walked down the road with another girl, I talked all about Mexico (my passion at the time), and she talked about Haiti. Something on that walk really hit me, and the next summer I was on a plane to Haiti. I had anxious feelings because I felt like I was betraying my Mexico family by going to Haiti. It only took a few days before I realized that this was where God was calling me, and this is where my gifts and talents would be best used. At the time, I was going to school to be an Occupational Therapist. Why Occupational Therapy? Well, I always knew I wanted to work with kids, and God had given me a heart for children and for helping. In 6th grade, a lady at my home church had quadruplets, and I loved helping out with her kids after school. I asked her who the people were who came into her house and played with the children when they were little. She told me they were Occupational Therapists. I decided that would be the best job ever…get paid to play with kids. In school, I soon found out that Occupational Therapy involved so much more, and I fell in love with it! That first summer in Haiti, I fell in love with 14 children in an orphanage called Heaven’s Waiting Room (now the Miriam Center), a home for children with special needs. When I found out how society in Haiti viewed them, my heart broke. They saw them as worthless, cursed, and possessed, and they were often hidden away, starved to death, abandoned or worse yet, killed. At Heaven’s Waiting Room, they were being taken care of and better off than they would have been on the streets. As the week went on and I saw these children getting very little interaction from the American short-term missionaries at the mission, my heart broke even more. By the end of my 10 days in Haiti, I knew I had to come back. I had to fight for these kids to be seen. I had to find a way to increase the quality of life for these precious children and help the Haitian people see their worth and potential. Since I was in OT school, I knew I would not be able to come back until the next summer. As soon as I got home, I applied for a summer internship in Haiti but later found out that I was not accepted. I was CRUSHED…I was ANGRY…WHY GOD…I had so much planned. These kids need me! It took me about a month to come to peace with this decision that had been made for me. I decided to still go to Haiti that summer for a 10-day trip to work with the kids and love on them. I later learned that God said “NO” to an internship at that time so I could spend the rest of my summer at a 10-week residential disability camp that taught me so much. The summer of 2009, I did my first summer internship in Haiti under the Miriam Center. I evaluated each of the children, worked one on one with them, and developed treatment plans for each of them. I was really making a difference and using my major! My heart ached to stay in Haiti. Part of me wanted to just stay and forget everything in the states, but deep down, I knew my time in the states, learning and gaining experience, would ultimately benefit the children in Haiti. I graduated with my Masters in Occupational Therapy in May 2010. Three days later, I returned to Haiti for another summer internship to continue doing OT with the kids. At the time, we had a waiting list of about 50 children (who all had parents) for the Miriam Home. We saw this as a problem and therefore started the For Jonathan’s Sake Outreach Program. This program was created to train parents how to take care of their children, provide the resources to do so, and show them how special their children are to God. God revealed to me that this program was going to change the view of disabilities in Haiti and cut down the number of orphans with disabilities. During the same summer, I decided to take on the role as Miriam Center Therapy Coordinator. While working stateside to pay off my loans, I had the opportunity to advocate for these kids. I emailed therapy companies to ask for donations and share the work that we were doing at the Miriam Center. I also talked with other therapists about the ministry opportunities in Haiti that they could use their OT degree in. Summer of 2011 was a time of implementing ideas and making therapy sustainable. While teaching the outreach parents how to do therapy with their own children, I trained Presidue, a Haitian staff, to oversee this program. I also trained Nahum, another Haitian staff, to be an OT. He was AMAZING with the children, a quick learner, and a hard worker. I was most EXCITED about the Visibility Box system that broke down the barriers of not knowing how to work with the children. Each box included a picture of a child, their biography, the goals they were working on in therapy, a picture of each toy in the box, and directions for how to use it with the child. Any short-term missionary could walk into the Miriam Center and walk right into any child’s world. The missionaries and children LOVED the boxes. The children would drag the missionaries to the cupboard asking for them to get their box out and play with them. At the same time, this provided a way for the missionaries to do therapy with the kids. My dream of broken barriers had become a reality after 3 years! I returned to the states and took an Outpatient Pediatric Job in Las Vegas, NV, where I gained more experience working with children with disabilities. While in Vegas, I also took 3 continuing education classes to give me resources and skills that I could take to Haiti and train others in what I had learned. This past summer of 2012, I spent the majority of my time working on increasing the nutrition for the children of the Miriam Home. I also trained Miriam Home workers and For Jonathan Sake Parents to do therapy brushing, stretching, oral motor stimulation/massage, appropriate feeding techniques, full-body massage, and tummy-time. I continued training Presidue (the Haitian overseeing For Jonathan Sake) on how to do therapy and help the children progress while I am back in the states. I put a lot of thought into my training and only set up simple programming that I believe is sustainable. It was a very successful summer, and for the first time, I feel very confident that what I did this summer will continue when I am not in Haiti. While in Haiti this past summer, I felt God lay heavy on my heart that the time for me to go to Haiti full-time is now. After much prayer and a few phone calls, there was no turning back. I recently returned from Haiti and will be moving back to Pennsylvania to be close to my family. I am searching for a 3-month position as an Occupational Therapist to pay off my student loans for the next year while I serve in Haiti. I am also raising financial/prayer support to be in Haiti full-time. There are so many unknowns and uncertainties, BUT I am trying to TRUST my BIG God who has each step planned out and has guided me every step of the way. He is FAITHFUL, and I know He is working every detail out. I plan to be in Haiti full-time by January 2012. I will serve for 8-9 months out of the year and come back to the states for 3-4 months to work a therapy stint to earn enough money to pay my loans for the following year. This will also give me time to travel around to raise support and spread the word about all the AMAZING things God is up to in Haiti. I am INCREDIBLY thankful that God has chosen and called me to serve the AMAZING staff, parents, and children at the Miriam Center. My daily prayer is that God would use me to be His hands and feet and that I could bring the Joy of the LORD into my work. Through Christ, I can do the IMPOSSIBLE and Bring Hope to the Hopeless. The journey God has me on is by no means easy…I never know what tomorrow holds but I do know who holds my tomorrow! For More Youtube videos of the work I do in Haiti type Haiti4Life99 into the search engine on youtube page and all my Haiti videos will come up. Thank you for all your prayers and support. Autumn Marshall OTR/L Miriam Center Therapy Coordinator Email: Blog: