On A Mission
July 7, 2009
By Larry Watts
The community with the largest percentage of Purdue fans could very well be Coupon, Haiti, an impoverished farming complex located next to a small mission called Double Harvest.
Double Harvest, which is home to Haiti's largest greenhouse complex, is dedicated to assist the Haitians better understand their own lives and to share the message of faith in Christ. At least once, and sometimes twice, for each of the past 16 years, Purdue athletics chaplain Marty Dittmar has organized a group through the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes to spend nearly two weeks at Double Harvest, where they have literally gotten down and dirty with the locals.
"It was such an eye-opening experience," says junior soccer player Katie Seeger, who was one of 13 Purdue FCA representatives (including eight athletes) to go on the mission last month. "I learned so much down there; it's hard to point out just one thing."
The majority of each workday was spent making bricks. They made 700 bricks during their stay and it takes 120 bricks to build a three-room home. Double Harvest hopes to build 50 such homes over the next year to replace many of the homes currently built out of mud and sticks.
"A lot of people were making homes out of whatever they could get their hands on," Seeger says. "Some people just had four sheets of aluminum propped up for shelter.
"I think there was one home with 11 children and no parents. They slept in shifts because there wasn't enough room in the home for all of them."
The FCA members also built a 250-foot trench, where cable will be laid to provide Internet service to the church offices.
"The hardest work I had ever done before this was painting homes a couple of summers ago," says Seeger, who is a native of Fallbrook, Calif. "There were two older men running things. One day I was out there sawing wood.
The FCA members roomed above the clinic. Each day began with a 6 a.m. wakeup call followed by a prayer service with approximately 30 Haitians.
"We didn't know what they were talking about, so we mainly read our Bibles," Seeger says. "When they sang, we tried to sing along with them. One day they asked us to sing and we did "Amazing Grace." We probably could have sung our fight song and they wouldn't have known the difference."
The workday would run from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with an hour break at noon for lunch. Then the rest of the time would be spent interacting with the villagers, especially the children.
"The children were always waiting for us to play with them," Seeger says. "They came up yelling, 'Blanc, blanc' (white) because there are no white people around. They wanted to touch our arms and smell us because we were so foreign to them.
"We played soccer on four of the days. We made a field on the dirt and used rocks for goals. I think they were pretty surprised to see a girl could play the game so well. A couple of the athletes who were nursing injuries stayed on the sidelines singing Bob Marley songs and played with the younger kids."
While there was a lot of happiness during their time with the children, Seeger says it was a bittersweet feeling.
"All of the children were so malnourished; it was so sad," she says. "Kids who looked like they were 7-8 years of age were actually 14. And so many of them didn't have parents.
"At the end of the day some of us would just break down because it was so hard seeing them in these conditions. They had such a positive outlook and were so happy, yet they had nothing."
A common saying in Haiti is, "An empty stomach cannot learn." Seeger and volleyball player Stephanie Lynch tried to remedy that situation for one child, but it turned out to be one of their more frustrating moments on the trip.
"We offered to sponsor one boy so he could go to school," she says. "When you attend school here, you are guaranteed of getting one meal each day.
"We thought he was about 9 or 10. Then the principal told us he was actually 14 and would have to go to high school even though he could only read at a third grade level. We were very upset, but he was just happy we were trying to help him out. Going to school and having all these opportunities is just something we don't even think about."
The night before their departure, Dittmar pulled all the FCA members together to make sandwiches. Into a bag for each child in the village went half a sandwich, a toothbrush, soap and Tootsie Rolls.
"The kids were so hungry and begging us for food all the time," Seeger says. "We could sneak them a Power Bar or something if we were alone with them, but we just couldn't do it around a large group.
"After we passed out those bags of items, we all sought out some of the children we had really bonded with. There were a couple of them I became close to and I made sure I gave them some special attention. I've been sharing e-mails with them ever since I arrived home."
By the time the Purdue contingent left for home, there were many Haitian children sporting Boilermaker caps and gear.
"I only came home with the clothes on my back; my suitcase was nearly empty," Seeger says with a laugh.
According to Seeger, all of the athletes who still have athletic eligibility remaining have expressed a desire to return to Haiti next year. In fact, they are trying to convince Dittmar to make two trips.
"The trip usually falls on senior week and we don't want to miss those activities," she says. "So we're trying to convince Marty to take the underclassmen on the first trip and let the seniors go on the second. I've already convinced six other athletes to make the trip, so it looks like cuts will have to be made.
"That shows you how much this trip affected us. We feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity. This trip changes you in ways you can't even imagine. I'm going to make sure I take more clothes and food to give out next time."
The Purdue chapter of FCA already sponsors a shoe drive for the Haitians each year, but Seeger is hoping to help start an organization called "Athletes for Haiti."
"We're trying to think up ways, like selling T-shirts, to raise money so more children can go to school and be fed," she says. "After an experience like that, you just want to help out so much more."
A biology major, Seeger, who will turn 21 next month, is hoping to attend medical school so she can follow her father's footsteps and become a doctor. She would also like to do missionary work with the Peace Corps.
"I would like to join Doctors Without Borders," she says. "There's not a better feeling. All the material stuff in the world is not really important. It's just the happiest feeling knowing you're helping people."