Making a Difference
Areas in the Caribbean region may be a vacation destination for a lot of Americans this summer, including some here in southern Louisiana. While many might think of the Caribbean’s beautiful countries with images of luxurious resorts, warm sand, palm trees and clear blue water — unfortunately, the majority of the people in that region experience a life far from a vacation.
For instance, Jamaica — even with their gross domestic product (GDP) slowing rising in recent years — is faced with high poverty percentages, devastating natural disasters, widespread corruption in government and a significant lack of life’s necessities for its people, all of which is similar to the island’s neighbor to the east, Haiti.
Except Haiti is far behind Jamaica, being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to worldbank.org, with $870 GDP per capita in 2018 compared to the United States last recorded $53,128.54 GDP per capita.
Always being a community willing to help, brave and kindhearted volunteers of the Bayou Region have traveled to these two countries to do their part in turning their situations around. Two of whom — Houma natives Darian Cheramie and Gillian Breaux — each answered the call to do missionary work in Haiti and Jamaica, respectively, when they were just 17 years old.
Encouraged by Others to Make a Difference
For Darian, she was inspired by Dr. David Fakier, who was a duke on the Krewe of Houmas Royal Court when Darian was a maid on the court. David started building homes through local non-profit organization, Haiti Mission Inc. (HMI) and dedicated them to his daughter Rebecca Claire, who unfortunately passed away at a young age due to cancer.
“I always thought it would be a good idea because God has blessed me so much in my life just from having loving parents, a nice car to drive to school and a private school education,” Darian shares. “My parents are very into giving, and I wanted to do something on my own to be able to give back to people that could never even repay me for what I have given them.”
At an early age, Gillian knew she wanted to make a positive impact in other’s lives while admiring her mom. “My mom was a nurse and I always found interest in taking care of kids and doing stuff like that. So once I became old enough to go, that was the first thing I wanted to do: spend my summer helping others.”
Stories that will Stay with Them Forever
Both Darian and Gillian both admit they were nervous at first, being in a foreign country and knowing the crime that is prevalent in impoverished areas. But their fears quickly subsided when they met the people of the communities they helped.
“Once I got in the atmosphere with the kids and the brothers, I felt so safe,” says Gillian who went to Kingston, Jamaica last July through the organization Missionaries of the Poor (MOP) and her church, St. Anthony of Padua. “Never once during the experience did I feel unsafe.”
For most days during her trip in Jérémie, Haiti for a week last June, Darian and other HMI volunteers dedicated the homes already built through the organization — bringing toys and household supplies, praying with the families and blessing the homes. Other days, they would visit the local prison and orphanage — the latter of which housed toddlers, children and the elderly.
Darian remembered a story of a young man who lived in one of the houses they visited that had cerebral palsy. His family would carry him up and down every day to bring him to church, school and anywhere else he needed to go. “I remember just going to the house and they were so thankful for a chair for him to sit in; I just started crying,” she recalls. “These people have it so hard already, and to on top of that just to be so positive and grateful that he is even still alive, just spoke to me.”
Besides handing out suitcases full of supplies, Gillian fed, bathed, talked to and more to residents in Kingston at children, women and men’s centers. She and her group also worked at an AIDS center and exercised physically disabled kids.
“I was at one of the centers and my job at that moment was to lotion the patient’s legs. And so I was lotioning this one lady and saw this older woman watching me. She kept coming up to me and putting her hand out, like she wanted some lotion. So I would squirt some for her, but she kept watching me,” Gillian remembers. “She just held the lotion and while she was watching me, she went to a resident next to me and started lotioning her legs…So it just kind of made me realize that not only are we there to help them, but they learn from us, take what we do and apply it to their own people.”
A Life-Changing Experience
The two young missionaries can’t express enough how their trips have changed their lives, making them more appreciative for what they have. They also say that no other experiences can really compare.
“It was such an eye-opening trip,” Gillian expresses. “The genuine joy and happiness that the people there had, even with their low poverty, just made me realize how much of a lavish life we live and how I need to appreciate that more.”
Darian echoes those same sentiments. “I think it is one of the most eye-opening experiences you can ever go through in your life,” she adds. “I mean you see it on TV — like the commercials and stuff — and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s really sad.’ But going there and physically seeing it is something on a totally new level; it changes you for your whole life.”
Encouraging Others to Make a Difference
The two high school seniors – soon to graduate from Vandebilt Catholic – are inspiring others to help their respective causes here at home and abroad.
As Queen Terre LXIX of the Krewe of Terreanians, Darian — who plans to return to Haiti — helped organize a fundraiser, sponsored by the Krewe, that raised $38,000 for HMI earlier this year.
Motivated by stories of her trip, Gillian’s mother and two of her friends will now join Gillian on her two-week mission trip to Jamaica this summer.
“In preparation for the trip I am preparing myself mentally to go into this country full of love and selflessness to truly help those who need it,” says 17-year-old Katie Haydel, the Vandebilt Catholic junior joining Gillian this summer. “…I want to bring home the love and hope the people have in Jamaica to my family and friends back home, so that maybe one day they will want to do the same.”