Seven Rock Rapids residents took time out of their weekly schedules to a period of time in the mission field of Haiti, an experience they are not likely to forget.
Elmer and Darlene Aeilts, Linda and Evan DeBoer, Lyle Kahl and father-son duo Bob and Jacob Tilstra left northwest Iowa Jan. 9 and returned Jan. 17.
Dell and Renae Grooters of Rock Rapids spend as much time as they can in Simonette, Haiti, working with their organization Touch of Hope. They extended an invitation to anyone who would like to join them.
“I wanted to see what they were doing and take my son along with me and show him what the other part of the world is like,” Bob said. “Quite a bit different than we’re used to.”
A highlight for much of the travelers included handing out dresses and toys to the orphans and children in the village. Women of First Reformed Church in Rock Rapids made the pillowcase dresses. The seven travelers each brought three suitcases filled primarily with the 160-plus dresses, toys for the children and other supplies.
Most of the orphans they handed toys to had never owned a toy before. While the Rock Rapids group was giving the toys out, other children were watching from a distance in the trees.
“These little boys got two Frisbees, and they handed one over the fence to these kids that didn’t get any,” Lyle said. “They’ve never had toys themselves, and they shared right away.” Their smiles were as big as could be and were thankful for anything and everything they received, he added. Even a hug and some attention brightened up the children’s faces.
The youngest traveler, Jacob, enjoyed the Tuesday night worship service. “It was a praise service where we came and sang and worshiped the Lord,” he said.
The most shocking realization was seeing how poor the Haitian people are.
“I’ve been to Mississippi and thought people were poor there, but without a welfare system, they’re on their own,” Lyle said. “There isn’t any help available unless it’s a handout.” Few jobs are available, and where job openings are, the people cannot afford or do not have access to the training.
“The amount of poverty, how terrible the soil is and that they don’t have any type of fishing down there (was shocking),” Jacob added.
The men in the group spent the majority of their time working at the local orphanage. They made a stand for a water tank, fixed the water pump, added a new pump, and fixed other parts of the orphanage that needed attention.
“For the little bit we did, we helped a lot of people,” Lyle said.
The women spent much of their time at ViBella Jewelry, where Haitian women make jewelry. They also worked at the school built by Touch of Hope and made a filing system to make the grade transitions easier for each school year.
Meeting the sponsored children
Roughly one-third of the students at the Simonette school are sponsored to help with the cost of uniforms, food, and school supplies. Lyle and his wife, Rosalyn, and Linda and Evan sponsor one of the children, and they had the opportunity to meet their sponsor child.
Lyle gave his sponsor child a scratch pad with colored pencils and three toy cars. It didn’t take much to make that little boy’s day, Lyle said. He also had the chance to meet the child’s mother.
Bob is very grateful he was able to share the experience with his son, Jacob.
“I think it opened him up to how we live and how other people in the world have to live,” Bob said.
Currently, those who go to Haiti to work with Touch of Hope stay with the Grooters, who own a home off the shore in Simonette. The Grooters are planning on building an apartment building near the orphanage for visitors to use while doing mission work. Another group from Lyon County will be leaving for Haiti in March.
Touch of Hope is always looking for donated items. Items Lyle feels they could have used more of were clothes for the boys, different sized dresses for the smaller and bigger girls and baby blankets. To join the effort, donations can be dropped off at First Reformed Church in Rock Rapids and labeled for Touch of Hope.