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Review for People for Haiti, Tampa, FL, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

If you talk about it, it's a dream, if you envision it, it's possible, but if you schedule it, it's real. – Anthony Robbins

Every one of you reading this testimonial has a bucket list, right? At this time, please find that wrinkled piece of paper that has been hiding underneath the dusty “To Do” work pile or open that Word Document which embarrassingly has last year’s time stamp next to it since it was last edited. Now that our Bucket Lists are in front of us, lets begin …

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014, was finally here. To the readers, this was an ordinary workday compacted with traffic, meetings, paperwork, and stress. To the fifteen volunteers of People For Haiti (PFH), this was a significant dot on our Life’s Timeline with a powerful caption. To some, the caption was a continuation from prior Mission Trip experiences. To the first timers, this was an empty text box waiting to be filled with memories, photos, and life’s lessons.

Gathered in Tampa Bay’s airport on that Wednesday morning, volunteers were quickly welcomed into the PFH family. Although the majority of us had never met each other, the group naturally found “hidden” friendships within minutes of conversation after handshakes and introductions were given. These same introductions and handshakes would turn into tears and goodbyes five days later.

Port Au Prince is located on Gulf of Gonâve overlooking typical clear, blue Caribbean water surrounded in the background by fertile valleys interspersed between mountain ranges. From the plane, these views were a classic Kodak (now, Instagram) moment. On the decent, the flight attendant calmly informed the plane, “please buckle your seatbelts, we are about to land.” Quickly glancing back to the window, the once beautiful landscape from above changed as the wheels connected with the runway. Welcome to Poverty.

The PFH Team collected 30+ checked bags from baggage claim with No Bag Left Behind. Dressed like tourists, we easily passed through Customs unscathed. Outside waiting for the PFH family with all smiles and love were Mike (Head of the Orphanage), personal undercover security, and the translators. Strangers to whom we have never met welcomed us into their Country as if it were a family reunion. Each hug, handshake, and smile expressed an underlying “Thank You” which was unaccustomed considering we had not seen one patient, treated one urinary tract infection, or extracted any teeth. That non-verbal “Thank You” would be the exact reason why 15 volunteers from PFH had “Do a Mission Trip” on their Bucket Lists.

A tap-tap, Haiti’s version of a taxi, drove the team 45 minutes to Cabaret, where the orphanage was located. That lengthy drive redefined the word “Poverty.” Pungent street smells emanated from piles of trash littered along the roadside, malnourished animals drank from open water canals full of human waste, and children played outside of what they called “homes.” The vivid scenery of Third World brought tears to the strongest men and women of the group. A basic Life lesson was learned at that moment.

“Never take anything for granted.”

Close your eyes and imagine 50+ boys and girls darting through a dirt filled courtyard with open arms, whitest of smiles, and screaming gaily as the Tap-tap enters the Orphanage. What a peculiar feeling? Your body overwhelmed with a warm sense of importance and self-love while looking at these children’s response to your presence. Before you can internalize more of this emotion, a child nests in each arm with four others wrapped around each leg. Welcome to Cabaret Orphanage.

Sunday, March 10, 2014: Day of Departure
Three full days completed, over a thousand patients treated, lifelong friendships formed, People for Haiti was finally packed for departure as the roosters sang in the background. There was a chilling silence amongst the group. It was an understood silence. Fifteen volunteers quiet for the first time, each one rewinding and analyzing their own Haiti Trip movie reel. Looking out from the back of the tap-tap was a beautiful landscape that was initially scene as “Ugly” from the runway. Within five days, the People of Haiti convinced me the most beautiful people in the World are found in such terrible conditions. Their non-verbal “Thank You” was finally understood. We gave them Hope.

“Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”


Matt Koepke, DDS (Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Resident Physician)

Role:  Volunteer