Why would someone leave their home to sleep on a floor in Haiti for eight days?
That's what residents of North Carolina and Tennessee discovered when they rang in the New Year by lifting shovels and spirits instead of champagne glasses.
"You have to realize that your life in the United States is not what most people in the world experience. We think that we are average people. We're not average," said Kris Lomonaco, of Harrisburg.
Kris and 13 others, from college student to retiree, spent most of the week in Jacmel at Trinity House, a home in St. Joseph's Family (SJF), an organization currently providing shelter, education and employment to 82 boys who come from unsafe or unstable living conditions. SJF's two other homes, St. Joseph's and Wings of Hope, serving children with disabilities, were destroyed by the earthquake forcing residents into temporary housing.
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SJF founder, Michael Geilenfeld, and nine boys, ages 15-18, stayed in Port-Au-Prince to clear the rubble of the seven-story St. Joseph's home. Kris watched Haitian men dig a new foundation using shovels and cracked buckets filled with dirt and rocks.
Kris's daughter, Kim Lomonaco, a 24-year-old Speech Pathologist and Yoga Instructor from Tennessee, organized the trip. At the yoga studio where Kim teaches, she began designated "karma" classes to request donations instead of tuition. In two months, instructors collected $2,000 which went directly to Haiti.
The trip participants, mostly yoga students, each contributed approximately $1,000 for their travel. Karma Krew, a non-profit outreach usually focused on U.S. service, helped manage travel donations. Kim traveled to Haiti twice before as a teenager with her church, Harrisburg United Methodist.
"(Haitians) are still facing all the same issues they were before. Cholera wasn't as prevalent, but health crisis is not new to the area. Problems with food and water - not new. The things that were different were on a personal level. The boys' home was destroyed. It was just gone," said Kim.
In Jacmel, the American group wielded pick axes and shovels in 90-degree heat to start a foundation for another dormitory. Kris described how the soccer field at Trinity House is now a tent city where curious residents watched them. One man bartered with another tent city resident for her hammer, then used it with a metal spike for hours to chisel away larger rocks. The group taught Trinity House residents to use a solar oven provided by Rotary International. They also ran a day camp and helped them operate their own bakery.
"Having groups come from the States to join in our lives is a tremendous source of affirmation and encouragement for us. Their presence in our lives lets us know we have not been forgotten," said Geilenfeld.
Geilenfeld earns money by hosting visitors, but says many have canceled trips because of negative press reports. Kris admits feeling cautious when she arrived, but felt very safe with her group and Geilenfeld's hospitality.
Kim said the trips comfort her, "...(in Haiti) it's easier to strip down all the layers and see what it's like to be human and live day to day. To eat, sleep and take care of the people you love."