It’s not often you show up to work, and the co-worker you have sat next to for several years tells you that she is moving to Haiti with her husband. Yet that is exactly what happened to me in the summer of 2012.
I knew Patty and Jeff had been on mission trips in the past, but never would I have expected them to pack up their lives in the US and move to Haiti to run an orphanage. Who does that? I mean, I know people do that…but not usually people I know.
Have Faith Haiti mission is in Port Au Prince, which is the capital of Haiti, and located in an area called Delmas. This orphanage (which will be referred to as a Mission) was founded over 30 years ago by a pastor from the Detroit area. The Mission name was changed after the earthquake in 2010 and is now run by a non-profit foundation called A Hole in the Roof, founded by Mitch Albom in Detroit, Michigan.
There are currently 22 children ages 4-11 years old and 8 young adults and teenagers living at the mission. The mission is somewhat like it’s own self contained little city. Within the walls are a chapel, a school, a guest house, the children’s house, showers, bathrooms, a basketball court and what is used as a soccer field on cement. While it may sound large, in reality it all sits on an acre of land surrounded completely by cement walls and a steel gate that has 24 hour armed guards.
To learn a little more about the mission, and what goes through a person’s mind when they consider leaving everything they have ever known to run an orphanage in another country, I spoke to Patty Alley, my former co-worker. (Actually I emailed her questions and she emailed back the answers, but don’t get picky on me)
Q: What was your thought process involved in deciding to move to Haiti to care for the children there? What was the deciding factor for you?
A: This was not a long process for us. Jeff and I started visiting Haiti in 2011 as short term missionaries (week long trips). Something kept bringing us back to Haiti. I thought my last trip would be November of 2011, boy was I wrong. Through a friend of a friend we had been collecting items and donations to help out the mission for about six months when we heard the person currently volunteering at the mission was not going to renew her one year commitment. Jeff and I talked about it as wow that would be great if we could do it but quickly realized it was a crazy idea. The feeling never left either of us. We kept thinking about it and thinking about it. God had put us in a position financially that the only debt we had was monthly living cost including a house payment and a car payment. We thought we could do this. We met with the board of directors to discuss committing to a one year contract and moving to Haiti. We discussed and prayed about what it would take for us to leave everything and go. The initial meeting was May 1, 2012. We had lots of obstacles to overcome but each one just seemed to vanish as God stepped in and we learned to rely totally on Him.
Q: What was the date you left for Haiti, and how did you feel when you arrived?
A: We left for Haiti on August 23, 2012 with lots of excitement to save the world, and sadness of saying goodbye to our very close family. We were on the last plane that arrived in Haiti before they closed the airport because a hurricane was coming. Yep, the first five days in Haiti we hit the ground running. Jeff and I slept through hurricane Isaac, we had an electrical fire and we lost all of the fans in the mission and our air conditioner in our apartment. To make even more craziness, we didn’t have time to purchase a phone and the entire internet was out on the island from the hurricane. This meant no communication to anyone at home. We survived and things got better, but boy did we start things off with a bang.
Q: Were family/friends supportive? How or how not? What was the reaction when you told people you were leaving the US for a year to move to Haiti?
A: We were very blessed with an abundance of support spiritually, emotionally and financially. I don’t think we heard many people asking, “why?”. We heard more of people saying, “I wish I could do that!” or “that is awesome”. Our daughters and my mom were a different story. We had told them all along that we were going to do this and they supported us and knew it was the right thing and that we were called to do it. With that said, they didn’t have to like it. Over time they came to understand and even support our decision. My dad was one of the people that didn’t understand and wanted to know why I couldn’t help people in Detroit. I explained to him that God chose us to go and where to go. That each person is called to do good deeds and that we are not all called to Haiti as I am not called to stay and help in Detroit right now either. He supports our decision, but still doesn’t like it.
Q: What in your childhood prepared you for this journey?
A: I was born and raised in southwest Detroit by a single mom who did whatever had to be done to make sure that we were taken care of. I saw my mom physically abused both before and after my parents divorced. My father was not a part of my life, and I would have traded anything to have him in my life. I felt abandoned by my father, like an orphan. My mom did a great job of raising me and I was blessed with wonderful grandparents and family, but I was still missing a piece of the puzzle, my father. I believe I was called to Haiti to face my past and to help these kids here. I know the hurt they are suffering. Most of our children have a parent and/or family members that can visit once a month – most don’t, some do. I know how the feel and it hurts to know that but I fave faced it because I have to. I tell them all the time that God picked your mom and dad to be your mom and dad, but he also picked all of us to be blessed by being in your life and to help make you wonderful humans that can do anything you set your mind to. Christmas was very difficult. I was here with the kids without Jeff, and half of the parents did come to see the kids on Christmas morning. The ones that did not have parents here were crushed and some of the kids are true orphans and will never have visitors. What do you do, it’s a no win situation. So that day I was taking pictures of the kids who had family visiting, and taking pictures with the kids who had no family. At that moment I knew why I was in Haiti, and I felt it like I had never felt it before. The hurt, the anger, the happiness, and every other emotion that you can think of. I knew God knew I had to be there on that day for that reason.
Q: If you could go back in time, what decisions and/or preparations would you make differently?
A: I would have taken Kreyol lessons. Our kids speak fluent English and we communicate very well. The rest of Haiti isn’t fluent in English so I am unable to communicate with the staff and people outside of the mission. I am working on this, but it is not easy. The other thing we would have done is raise money for a vehicle. We do not have our own transportation and that makes doing anything normal outside the mission very challenging.
Q: What is the most difficult part of your day to day activities in Haiti? What brings you the most joy?
A: The difficult part of our day is when the kids are in school. From 8am-4pm Monday through Friday. We don’t have anything to do, and no way to go anywhere. It makes for long days unless we ask others for rides. The most joy is our devotion time each night. At 7pm, all of the kids come together in the gazebo for praise and worship time. They sing songs in English and Creole praising God and thanking Him for the day. They pray, and we ask them to share what they saw someone doing good that day. And of course afterwards, all of the hugs and kisses before bed.
Q: Tell me about a humorous incident involving the language or culture.
A: umm…can’t go into too much detail but xoxo means hugs and kisses in the US, but when a Haitian looked at it they read it as zoezoe. I repeated what he had said in front of others, and it turns out it is a derogative word for a male body part. I don’t know which one of us was more embarrassed – the Haitian when I said it, or me when he explained what it was!
Q: What was your most embarrassing moment (with the children, or in cross-cultural contact)
A: In Haiti the dress is a little different. You can have nothing, but you will make sure that you have a beautiful outfit for church. You don’t go out in the street unless you are dressed appropriately. This doesn’t sit well with me. I wear the same thing I wear in the mission as I do when I leave the mission except for one thing – I wear fuzzy slippers in the mission and I wear sandals or shoes when I go out. One day I went to the market and I forgot to change my shoes. I got out of the van and looked down. I said “oh no, look what I have on” and Jeff laughed and told me that no one would notice. Boy was he wrong. I had so many people staring at me and asking what I was wearing. For the record let me just say that three other people are now wearing house slippers at the mission too!
Q: What is your greatest disappointment with this experience?
A: My only disappointment is that I wasn’t able to give my entire self to this experience when I first got here. I wasted four months with self-pity, worry, being homesick and not allowing myself to just be here. Coming back in January and deciding to go “All In” changed everything and I feel more fulfilled and blessed than ever before. Haiti feels like home. In a different way, but still home.
Q: What is your most treasured memory of Haiti and/or with the children so far?
A: I cook with small groups, showing them how to measure and how to make people smile with food. While we are cooking we are able to spend time together and I really get to know each of them. They have opened up and confided in me about the earthquake, their family life before coming to the mission, and some of the things they miss. Those memories are priceless. I also will take home lots of cards and love notes. They have finally slowed down but it is not uncommon to find “I love miss Patty” on hearts outside our door or other parts of the mission.
Q: How has your life become richer, and/or what have you learned?
A: You can’t come to Haiti or any third world country and not have your life enriched. We treasure each moment here, and laugh often about the things we see and how crazy it is. In some ways they are much better off than we are. Here in Haiti life is simpler. You stop worrying about first world problems because you have to worry about third world problems. Clean water to drink, is the electricity going to go off, are my clothes going to dry on the line, what food will be available at the store and how much will it cost, did I wash the fruits and vegetables in bleach water before I ate them or will they make me sick, is the mosquito that just bit me going to cause me to be sick, do I have a parasite, etc. I learned that water is a luxury that we take for granted. Electricity, toilets, stoves and so many other things are not common things for people here. I have learned that life should be treasured. It’s not always the case here in Haiti. And with all of that said, when I hear “Miss Patty I prayed for you last night” or “Miss Patty I love you!” or “Miss Patty let me read a story to you”, these are the things that make the other things so small in comparison and completely enrich my life. These are the lessons I will take with me wherever I go, and share with whomever wants to listen.
Q: Is there a Haitian native that has had a significant impact on you personally? If so, who, and in what way?
A: Yes, but I can’t go into this right now. Stay tuned or follow our blog to hear the answer to these questions in the near future 🙂
Q: Is there any specific advice you would give to people interested in volunteering for long term missionary work?
A: Visit often, ask questions of current missionaries, do your homework, and the silly question is the one you didn’t ask. We learn new things each day from other missionaries, and we share things we have learned too. Never stop learning, that is how you will grow as a Christian and a human being. Make sure you are fully funded. Jeff and I didn’t think that would be a problem, but as we have learned, emergencies happen and unexpected financial issues happen all the time.
Q: Please share a favorite scripture or passage that relates to your experience in Haiti.
A: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
This verse is not about getting rich here in this world. The book of Jeremiah talks about struggle and war and being exiled for 70 years before God declared prosperity. This verse is one that I see as the hope that God has for Haiti, plans for a future maybe here on earth but guaranteed in Heaven.
Q: How can people help?
A: People can donate to the mission by going to http://mitchalbom.com/d/service/7084/have-faith-haiti-mission and click on Donate Now in the right side bar. If you put “Jeff and Patty” in the comments, we get to decide how the money is used for the kids (field trips, playground equipment, or what needs they have above the every day needs). If you would like to donate to Jeff and me for our personal needs, you can send a check to Jeff and Patty Alley, 9655 Washington St, Romulus, MI 48174 or through PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are very grateful for those that help us personally, but as always we love when you help us do more for the kids and with the kids.
All images submitted by Patty Alley and used with permission.
Want to learn more and/or follow Jeff and Patty on their journey? Check out the links below.
Jeff and Patty’s Blog: To Haiti and Back
Follow Patty on Facebook: Patty Alley
Check out the Mission website: Have Faith Haiti Mission (this page has info on donating to the mission – to give Patty and Jeff discretion on how the money is spent for the kids, put “Jeff and Patty” in the comments)
To donate to Patty and Jeff Directly for their personal needs:
Mail a check to
Jeff and Patty Alley
9655 Washington St
Romulus, MI 48174
Tressie Davis is a portrait photographer located in Chelsea, MI. Portrait work may be viewed at www.tressiedavis.com.