One word described the pictures — destruction.
Piles of broken rocks, splintered wood and fallen trees lined the streets. They were joined by thin, frail humans scattered across the roads, desperately in need of food, shelter and life. Nothing stood. Just shots of a dying country.
These were the images Grace McGowan saw three years ago before her first vision trip to Haiti through the Global Orphan Project. They gave the Barstow High School freshman an idea of what to expect. Yet, the now-junior had no clue that the experience was about to change her life.
“I feel like I learned lessons of appreciation and joy while I was in Haiti," McGowan said. "When I came back, I didn’t want to let my experience die."
Of all the things she saw on that trip, the drive from the airport to the hotel had the biggest impact. Litter, filth and poverty paved the streets. Yet despite the impoverishment, people still smiled and waved. Even in the shambles of destruction, left from a massive earthquake back in 2010, they still had upbeat attitudes. There was hope.
After returning to the states McGowan wanted to grow that hope, especially for the children, and so she created Geaux Haiti. This nonprofit helps raise money, awareness and food for the youth of Haiti. Her first year, the organization raised several thousand dollars and hosted multiple food drives for Haitian orphans. She also started the Geaux Haiti Club at her school to further assist the cause.
“I didn’t want to forget," the 17-year-old said. "I wanted to share my experiences with others because that was the most impactful thing I can do right then."
Soon she learned that most of the children were considered economic orphans, meaning their parents believed they had better opportunities living off the system. So, much like the Global Orphan Project, she is now working towards raising awareness and educating the children with life skills. From farming to cooking to sewing, they teach the youths how to survive without relying on full-time jobs, which are scarce in the third-world country.
That is McGowan's dream and why she has raised funds for the past three years through Geaux Haiti — and will do so yet again this year. On April 24 from 4-6 pm., come support the Global Orphan Spring Carnival at the Colonial Presbyterian Church (12501 W 137th Street, Overland Park, KS). Whether it's attending or volunteer (sign-up here!), the more the merrier.
There will be games, prizes and entertainment such as face painting, caricatures, sumo wrestling and more. Food is available through the Chris Cakes Hotdog Bash and admission is free, though donations are welcome. All proceeds benefit Haitian orphans through the Global Orphan Project, and a young lady's dream of giving hope to others.
"We didn’t have to communicate with words to understand that we wanted to bring joy into someone else’s life," McGowan said, "and that they wanted to bring happiness into ours as well.”