Six leaders from the Gathering returned March 20 from a trip to Haiti, where they worked to address needs resulting from the Jan. 12 earthquake and to maintain their relationships with the Haitian community.
The group left March 13 for Percin, a slum within the Haitian town of Petit Goave, where they have been visiting since 2008, according to John McGowan, director of the Gathering. The Gathering is McLean Bible Church’s Christian ministry based at various college campuses in D.C.
The group cleared rubble in the morning and conducted Bible School activities with the children from Percin in the afternoon, according to McGowan.
Natalie Bingham, the Gathering’s campus director for AU, said rebuilding was very overwhelming.
“The town had kind of been paralyzed by the earthquake — it was only two weeks since the last aftershock,” Bingham said. “[When] we started removing houses ... kids would want to help and come up and form assembly lines. Whatever we did, the Haitians wanted to get involved.”
It was extremely important that a group returned after the earthquake to show the community that its American friends were not giving up on them, McGowan said.
After the earthquake hit, most of the community did not expect to see anyone from the Gathering there any more.
“Even our closest friends in Haiti assumed that we would not come back,” McGowan said. “A lot of it was us coming back and saying, ‘No, we’re not going anywhere.’”
The small team that went included McGowan; Bingham; Rachael Jankowsky, an AU alumna now working for the Gathering; two medical personnel and two seniors from the University of Maryland.
Originally, the Gathering had planned to send a larger group of students from University of Maryland that week, and a trip for AU students was in the works for May. But World Hope International, a Christian non-governmental organization partnered with the Gathering, was not ready to send large groups of college students, and the trips had to go on hold, according to McGowan.
A group of students from George Mason University were actually in Haiti on a Gathering trip in January when the earthquake hit, McGowan said.
“The conditions are pretty rough; the need is pretty severe,” McGowan said. “We weren’t sure if we wanted to expose students to that directly.”
The smaller group that went last week assessed the situation in Haiti to see when AU students will be able to go. They expect that by the summer, conditions will be more permissible for larger student trips, McGowan said.
When they found out the trip was pushed back, AU students were disappointed, Bingham said. However, they still wanted to help make the leaders’ trip a success.
“[Re-scheduling student trips] was a hard decision to make, but ... AU is super proactive in helping out,” Bingham said. “They were like, ‘What can we still do to help not only get you guys down there but to help the community in Haiti?’”
AU’s members of the Gathering started sending out e-mails to fundraise for last week’s trip in February. They filled eight suitcases with supplies to take with them, according to Bingham.
“We just brought so much stuff to give them,” Bingham said. “We collected clothes, medical supplies and food.”
Sarah Desrosiers, a senior in the School of International Service, has been to Haiti six times — three of which were trips through the Gathering. Desrosiers and Steve Fittery, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, were supposed to lead AU’s May trip, she said.
“I’m dying to go back at this point,” Desrosiers said. “It’s definitely been hard for me kind of sitting back and not going ... Hopefully, we’ll go in the summer.”
Bingham, for whom last week’s trip was her first time in Haiti, said she was inspired by hearing about previous Gathering trips and witnessing how relationships with the community have progressed since then.
“Our partnership is far from over,” Bingham said. “We’ve been going before the earthquake, and we will continue to go long afterwards.”