Ten Vernal Christian Church members, earlier this year, gave up their hard-earned vacation time to travel to Haiti on a humanitarian mission – a service the congregation has been performing for six years.
It’s been one that we’ve done since 2014,” said Julie Todich about the mission during an interview before the trip. “Every year we go down for humanitarian reasons.”
This year’s volunteers included 14-year-old Stacyn Thorlaksen, who said the experience was an eye opener.
“It was a lot worse than I thought it was going to be,” Thorlaksen said about the living conditions she saw while in Haiti. “The homes and the structures not having anything like we have here.”
Even though she had learned about impoverished countries during her school studies, Thorlaksen said those teachings didn’t come close to preparing her for what she experienced firsthand.”
“There would be like little tiny kids carrying two jugs of water. They would have a jug on their head and carry another for like miles and miles. It was crazy,” she said. “Adults, going to work, they would take Tap Taps, it’s like a taxi, they would take like three or four to get to one job every day. Like three or four hours one way.”
Thorlaksen said it was the schooling in Haiti that surprised her most, though.
“Only the families that were rich or the kids that were sponsored got to go to school,” she said. “They take advantage of their schooling, unlike kids here.”
Seeing how much the children in Haiti worked to get the most from their education has helped make Thorlaksen a better student.
“It showed me how many opportunities I have,” she said.
“I wanted her to see the opportunities we have in America,” said Stacey Thorlaksen about why she took her daughter on the mission.
Stacey, though, was just as surprised about the conditions in Haiti as her daughter.
“I was thinking I was going to go hold little babies,” she said.
When they got into country, she discovered that children younger than two didn’t wear clothing below their waist because families couldn’t afford diapers; families lived in cinder block houses and the windows for those houses were cinder blocks turned sideways; all cooking was done outside as homes didn’t have kitchens.
“I was not prepared emotionally,” Stacey said. “I have faces to poverty now and it breaks my heart.”
The mission group spent eight days in country. While there, they distributed food and clothing to nine locations, and helped out in any way they could. Their day started between four and five in the morning and ended around 10 or 11 at night. Their work began almost as soon as their airplane landed.
“The day we got into country, we started bagging rice and beans,” Stacyn said.
Two locations stood out to both the mother and daughter: A refugee camp for Haitian people in the Dominican Republic and Rapha House, a sex trafficking safe house where, according to Stacey, “most of the girls are younger than Stacyn.”
“I feel guilty that I live here, that I have what I have,” Stacyn said about the experience of seeing those girls.
The mission wasn’t all about physical labor, though. Other activities included putting on skits for entertainment, taking part in arts and craft activities, dancing, singing and just being a kid.
“We tried to make them laugh,” Stacyn said.
The volunteer missionaries, who paid their own way, said the mission was a success thanks to the donations made by Vernal area residents.
“We’d like to thank everyone who made donations,” they said. “We took down 1,000 pounds of stuff and $8,400. $2,500 of that went to purchase the food we distributed.”
“When asked if they would consider going again, both mother and daughter said yes.
“It taught me a lot of lessons,” Stacyn said. “It showed me experiences. Now I have faces to those starving, scared and hungry people.”
“You realized how blessed you are here,” Stacey added.