Jameson Leo, a native of Haiti, responded to his nation’s call when disaster struck. He returned to Haiti with a teams of volunteers from Headwaters Relief, assisting with translations and conveying their deep understanding of cultural norms. Here is Leo’s story:
When Headwaters made its first trip to Haiti, we had experienced a terrible earthquake. I was the “right hand man” for the director of ACTS, and I met the team from Headwaters for the first time when we were preparing the group for their work. Part of my job was to go to the sites before the teams went out to make sure they would be safe, and that everything was ready for them. I was also an interpreter – helping them with communicating, and to understand how things work in Haiti. Psychologists and social workers from Headwaters, specializing in mental health, came in to work in orphanages. No one else was doing that, and it seemed so important because of what we had been through.
I learned a lot from them. In fact, I didn’t know that I needed to talk to someone about what I had been through until I met them. I lost family in the earthquake and had been keeping that inside me. Everyone in Haiti was experiencing the same thing. We had lost a lot. Sharing the stories was a relief, and you could see the happiness on people’s faces. That inspired me.
People in Haiti are usually happy, even though they are poor. We live with and are happy with what we have. Many people who came to Haiti tried to help us with physical needs, but no one looked at mental health needs. I don’t even think there are psychologists in Haiti. There was another group – a medical group – working with Headwaters on that trip. As people were getting medical attention we kept the children entertained and occupied. Being able to interact with the group from Headwaters helped everyone to forget their troubles for a little while. It was amazing, because there is little time to relax in Haiti. You have to work with them while they are there for something else. I was so glad to be part of that – playing games with the children, dancing, and singing. For that amount of time, they were focused on the moment, not on the past.
The Headwaters team came down several times, and they eventually asked me if I wanted to return with them to the U.S. to complete my studies. My University had been completely destroyed by the earthquake; my dream was shattered. Everything was gone. When that opportunity came up I repeated something I hear a lot in Haiti: “The prayer goes up and the grace comes down.” That is what happened to me. It was the greatest opportunity I had ever been presented. I got a student visa, and am now studying bio-chemistry. I want to go to medical school. I have had some problems with the language barriers here, but everyone here is helping me. I want to be a doctor and go back to Haiti with Headwaters; do the same work that they are doing – helping people. Helping MY people.
Now I like to go out with Headwaters when they do relief work. It is always good to give – to help people. You never know what is going to happen as a result.
Headwaters Relief Organization responds to disasters around the world with support for emotional loss and rebuilding. Headwaters believes that developing cultural competence is critical to serving those whose lives have been upended by disaster. Read about another Headwaters Relief volunteer, Arceli Diona-Diaz, a native of the Philippines, who also returned to her native country on a relief trip.