By Shane Hulsey
Four-letter words shroud us in negativity. People hate things, kill each other, and damn things that don’t go their way.
In Haiti, though, one positive four-letter word stands out above the rest:
It’s a simple word, really: one syllable, four letters, common in everyday language. But to the people of Haiti, love is more than just a word.
It’s a way of life.
Quincy University students Justin Rodriguez, Anna Konczak and Jose Rojas soaked in this way of life during their nine-day mission trip that began Dec. 13. The three of them, along with the rest of QU’s Haiti Connections Club, spent the majority of their trip with Haitian children, playing with them, aiding them at school, and just spending quality time with them.
It would take thousands and thousands of words to articulate every moving story the group shared, but nearly every story revolved around a central theme:
Rodriguez recalled a particular moment on a hike from one of the schools, during which he carried a young child in his arms.
“This little kid didn’t know me,” he said. “He started hugging me and squeezing me and giving me kisses on the cheek. It’s a beautiful moment because it’s crazy how a kid like this, who doesn’t know you, can’t talk to you, can show his love and affection.”
When it was time to say goodbye, the child clung to Rodriguez as if he were the boy’s father.
“He didn’t want to leave,” he said. “He wanted to stay in my arms. I let him go and eased him to the ground, but he kept his arms around my neck so he wouldn’t fall and he was shaking his head, ‘no.’”
On the last day of the trip, Konczak formed an unexpected bond with a preschooler who melted her heart.
“I’m not the greatest with children,” she said. “I’m all bummed out because I don’t think I’m going to make a connection. This little boy and I cannot speak the same language, I barely know his name.
“But we fell in love with each other. He even told me multiple times he loved me. My translator overheard him saying that and she was almost in tears. He would go up to Justin and play with him, but he would always come back to me. And when we left, he came up to the truck and wanted to talk to me. I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I have to go,’ and this little kid and I just started crying. I just didn’t want to leave him.”
There is always a bit of a culture shock when travelling from a country like the U.S. to a third-world country like Haiti.
Rojas said, however, it was far from a bad culture shock when the group arrived in Haiti.
“The kids come up to you and hug you,” he said. “The women give a kiss on the cheek to the men and women. There are hugs and handshakes all around. Even though there’s a big language barrier there, you just feel more loving there than you do here.”
Konczak said the trip filled a void she didn’t even know existed.
“I didn’t know I was missing this or needed this until I went,” she said. “My heart is just so happy having had this experience and met these people.
“They might be some of the poorest people in the world, but they are the richest in humanity.”
The group may have returned to their physical homes in the U.S., but their hearts will always have a home in Haiti.