Sunday, July 14, 2013


Haiti is beautiful in so many ways.  Today, the group and I tried something different by going to a beach.  The beach was absolutely stunning, having some of the clearest ocean water I have ever seen, music, excellent food, and a gorgeous view of the mountains and ocean.  I also had the opportunity to snorkel!  Seeing this gave me hope for Haiti, as it would be nice if some day every part of Haiti could look this beautiful along with its wonderful people.

Being as this is my final full day in Haiti, I'd like to share some of what I have learned throughout this trip.  I came on this trip knowing that the country was poor from hearing stories from my various family members (many of which were influenced by my absolutely incredible great uncle, Father Reiser) and seeing many pictures and blogs.  Because of these things, I thought I had some idea of what to expect, but once I arrived here my mind was blown.  If you ever have the chance, please come down to Haiti.  Experiencing Haiti in person did so much more than any picture or blog was ever be able to do and has change my outlook on life.  The amount of happiness and friendliness everybody has, despite living conditions, is unbelievable.  Everybody is always willing to greet one another and share their own personal stories.  The amount of love I received from every child, man, and woman moved me so much.  Everybody made me feel like we were all part of one big family, a feeling which I will definitely miss in the U.S.  The Haitians truly understand the power of love, which allows them to value the important things in life.  Nothing in my life has every moved me so in such a short period of time.  Last week, I never thought I would want to spend more than a few days in a place with beat up roads, tin shacks, and so much poverty, but now, it brings tears to my eyes knowing that I leave tomorrow.  I know my life must continue back in the states and there is much I can do to help at home as well.  I will miss the Haitian people and hopefully be able to visit this country again one day, a country that feels like a new home.

Haiti, you may only be a small dot on the map, but you have earned the biggest place in my heart.

Writing with love to every Haitian and those back at home,

Alex Kopen

Thanks to my wonderful Aunt Susie for helping me immensely with all of my blogs!

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Today, in one of the hottest days I have been here, I visited two typical orphanages in Haiti.  We played with the children, which involved basketball, Legos, decorating cookies and slippers, and jumping rope.  We were awarded with many smiles, songs, and hugs.  Throughout the trip, I have noticed Haitian children are very loving and grateful for the smallest things, which can be seeing with children from orphanages or even children on the side of road.  They seem to have a better understanding of the value of the small things in life compared to many people in the states.  We brought a bag of Legos that a team member no longer uses and the children were definitely appreciative of every last block.

When I first arrived in Haiti, everything was so new to me.  Seeing tin shacks, goats, open air markets, and unattended children on the side of the severely beat down roads was an incredible sight and almost hard to believe.  As I was riding through the country side today, I came into the realization that witnessing this way of life now seems ordinary to me.  I am no longer surprised at seeing any of these sights. When I first arrived, I could not understand how somebody could possibly be happy in such conditions.  How do the children, men, and women have smiles on their faces as they're sitting in a tin shack with no food and a bucket of water to last the whole week?  How can people, especially the people with no homes and the elderly, be so friendly and outgoing when life is literally a struggle to even survive every day?  How can they thank God for the little they have?  I think in the daily struggle to survive, it's easy to be thankful for the blessings one receives.  The Haitians value the things in life that really matter.

Next time you're taking a hot shower, eating a warm meal, sitting in an air conditioned room, watching T.V., enjoying a comfortable bed, or driving your car to work, realize what a blessings these things really are and what an excellent life you lead.

Alex Kopen

Friday, July 12, 2013

A High Schooler's Perspective on Haiti

Haiti is a place unlike any other, it is a place where people are more grateful for what they have even though they have less than us in the USA. People in Haiti constantly praise God for what they have even though over half of the population would be considered the poorest of the poor in the US. Haiti is a place were wherever you go it feels like you personally know others. In Haiti it is acceptable and encouraged to greet someone with a smile and wave as you are walking past them in the streets.

An aspect that is truly amazing about Haiti is the way they praise God, they believe that God will provide for them and is always watching over them. They are by no means ungrateful however as they thank him constantly for the little they have, even though most of them only have a few possessions  Houses consist of a small metal and wood shack that is hand built, yet if they invite you in you can tell just by looking at their eyes and the way they talk that they are proud of what they have.

A little bit about me now so you can understand my perspective. I am 16 years old and becoming a sophomore in high school next year. Truthfully, I went into my Haiti experience with a bad attitude. I reluctantly agreed to go and didn't plan on truly embracing the experience. Haiti however has changed me. It has showed me that something we all take for granted such as taking a hot shower is actually a huge luxury. It has taught me that things I  and others call, "needs" really are not relevant or important at all, such as having a new car every 3 years, not having the top of the line computer or wearing the, "coolest" clothes in your school. I believe that Haiti has done more for me then I have done for it, I came to Haiti to help the people here but they helped me be a better person.

Kyle Spencer

The Will to Live

Haiti has a special way of opening the eyes of those who visit.  This morning, we visited a home for sick and dying children.  It was an emotional experience, and we left with huge respect for the kids and staff that works with these kids.  There were many sick babies in cribs in multiple rooms, and it was heartwarming when something as simple as holding them would calm their tears.  Some of the babies needed to be changed which led me to the opportunity to change my first diaper!

Later this afternoon, we traveled to Titanyen to visit some of the elderly which Reiser Relief helps to support.  The people live in conditions which would be totally unthinkable in the U.S and their will to live is inspiring.  Their homes (tin shacks) are so hot it's almost unbearable just to stand in them.  Many of us had to step out frequently to catch a breath of slightly cooler air.  One old man even sleeps under his bed because the floor is more comfortable than the 90 degree air above his bed.  To me, living in such a place would be similar to living in a sauna 24 hours a day.  We brought food and water to many of these people, but it must be hidden to avoid be stolen by their family care givers.  We also visited a 21 year old boy who has severe brain damage from an epileptic seizure.  His mother has faithfully cared for him every day of his life, ever since the seizure happened at age 5.

We then visited Grace Village, a village with a school, the largest playground in Haiti, orphanage, sustainable farming, a feeding center, and a church.  Walking into Grace Village after seeing the elderly homes felt like I was entering heaven.  The buildings were in excellent conditions, many thanks to the donations through Reiser Relief which contributed to the village.  Seeing the village was a nice example of the beautiful, clean, comfortable side of Haiti.

To end the day, we stopped by the 2010 earthquake monument/burial ground which contains over 300,000 unidentified bodies.  Brunet, one of our interpreters, told us of his experiences during and after the earthquake.  The story was heartbreaking and  really brought the whole experience to life.  The earthquake had many effects which are even still prominent today, one obvious example of this being the tent cities throughout Haiti.  Even at the monument, there were hungry children begging us for food.

Quoting one of my favorite bloggers, "Oh, the things I learn in Haiti".

Alex Kopen

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Lucky Few

Yesterday morning I visited Gertrude's, a Haitian orphanage that accepts special needs children.  By American standards, the living conditions are sub-par, but by Haitian standards, these kids are considered the lucky few.  They have beds, bathrooms, regular meals, and even a playground.  When I first walked in, I was somewhat repelled.  Many of the children were dirty and smelled.  As I started to play with them, I realized these kids appreciated everything that my team and I had to offer.  Due to Gertrude's being significantly understaffed, any individual attention these kids were able to receive clearly meant a lot to them, which was shown by the smiles on their faces.  One example of this was clearly evident with a baby a team member of mine was taking care of.  This baby had been a burn victim, and had burn scars going from the top of her head, down her arm, and ending at her hand, which had no fingers.  She looked like she had gone through more pain than most people do in their lifetime, and she appeared to only be around a year old.  Another thing that stood out to me was the wheelchairs some of the special needs kids were in.  The
seats were made out of cheap plastic lawn chairs and had clearly gone through extensive wear and tear.

After Gertrude's, I visited the general hospital.  The hospital had many sick babies, but it was heart warming to see that the parents were sitting next to the cribs.  Work in Haiti is scarce, and I can only imagine what a commitment it must be to stick with your child every day.  It was obvious that the parents felt a brief moment of relief when we offered to hold their kids for a short period of time.  The hospital had 2 main rooms for all of the kids, unlike some hospitals in the U.S. which have a room for each patient.  Seeing some of the kids was quite difficult, especially one little girl who had parasites, which made her stomach bulge way out, appearing as if she was pregnant with triplets.

Next time you're complaining about something, stop for a minute and just realize how blessed you really are.

Alex Kopen

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


The amount of happiness that goes along with the unfilled needs in Haiti is unbelievable.  As this is my first trip to Haiti, I was not too sure what to expect.  I had seen the blog posts from my wonderful Aunts, Ann and Joyce, but seeing everything in person is a world of difference.  Yesterday and today, I was trying to think of words to describe what I saw, but I was not able to think of anything even close to accurately describe my experiences.

Yesterday we worked the water truck.  On the way out to our water truck destinations, we were traveling on roads that were in worse conditions than any road I have ever been on in the states.  The roads were made of all rocks and it is not uncommon to see goats running across the street in the mingle of cars and motorcycles which appear to always be on the verge of hitting each other; it's even crazier that the roads are in the capital of the country and traveled on by thousands every day.  When we arrived at our destination, we were immediately swarmed by children wanting to be held, all of which had smiles on there faces.  The common greeting for a child was jumping up and down and yelling "Hey, you!".  At our first stop, I immediately started manning the house with my oh so fabulous cousin Kyle.  People, mostly kids, would line up ecstatically with their plastic buckets, many of which had broken handles, waiting for their precious water.  After a bucket was filled up, the kids would carry it back to their tin shacks, often by placing the buckets on their head despite the weight of the bucket and the size of the child.  Some of the youngest children would put their mouth against the connection of the hose to the truck where small droplets of water were shooting out and try to catch as much water as they could/  The rush of people and joy those people receiving water gave off an atmosphere similar to a party.  After filling up dozens of buckets, I interacted with some children that were literally begging to be held.  With these children, I walked by many of the shacks.  Seeing the living conditions of the world's poorest was surreal.  Any conception of "poor" I had before this trip was blown out the water.  Everything is so difficult to grasp that even immediately after being there I had not yet completely processed or was able to comprehend what I had just experienced.

We later played soccer with a group of wonderful boys that live in tents near our guest house.  The boys were experienced soccer players and were having just as much fun, if not more, than any young athlete in the U.S.  The field we played on was quite interesting due to the cows on the field.  That did not stop us from having a great time which ended up being an excellent bonding experience for us all.

19 year old first time Haiti goer and first time blogger signing off.

Alex Kopen