Who do we need to help next? This is a question we constantly revisit at Vessel as we strive to give back and help improve education in places in need. It was time we thought of something out of the box.

“Why not Haiti?” our intern Tiffany suggested. Her father had just returned from Haiti where he served as a dentist on a medical mission trip. While there, he experienced a rich culture where the people were in need of medical care, food, and education. Like most other Latin American and Caribbean countries, children have to rely on village churches and private schools for education. So, when Vessel learned that the literacy rate in Haiti is extremely low compared to these other countries, it became evident that Haiti should be the next place we focus our efforts.

Located in Temecula, just 30 minutes from Vessel’s headquarters, the Haiti Endowment Fund (HEF) proved to be a perfect partner in fulfilling Vessel’s mission. HEF offers five different programs that help to establish well-being and strengthen communities in the city of Hinche including: a medical clinic, agriculture systems, and water wells.

This is Stephanie's story:

My body was filled with fear and anxiety as I began to mentally prepare myself to step into a different world. Virgin to the international scene I had spent the past few months between passport appointments and doctor appointments to make sure I was physically and properly equipped for this adventure.  The phrase “You’re going to come back with a changed perspective on life” replayed over and over as I began to tell friends and family on my latest adventure. They were shocked it wasn’t the normal weekend adventure to Laguna Beach. The words “changed perspective” instilled in my heart. How school backpacks would change lives, while bestowing me with an international experience that would forever change me.

Just days after the presidential riots in Port Au-Prince that left Haiti in turmoil and unrest, I left the comfort of my home to to embark on my weeklong adventure to the most remote and desolate villages of Haiti. Water, electricity and sanitation were things that I had to give up to immerse myself in the Haitian culture.  The Port Au-Prince streets were lined with trash and small shack homes. The air was filled with Haitian cuisine, smog and smoke residue from burning and burned waste.  Coming from Southern California, my naive understanding thought people had only lived like this in movies. I was speechless.

I soon learned that education is the most important necessity to salvage their culture. Everywhere I looked out the window, there were school busses loading kids ages from 4-15 dressed in their village specific colors to go off to a day of learning. I stopped one young girl and had asked the translator to ask “Why are you going to school?” She timidly replied “Because I love school. I love to learn.”  Despite the difficult circumstances and low literacy statistics, Haitian students’ have a love for learning and an admirable motivation to excel. How could these kids have so much motivation with so little?

Over the course of my trip, I realized that the backpacks served to be more than just a sack that carried school supplies. To these children, they meant so much more, the symbols of love and hope. Students were overwhelmed with joy as they each received a new backpack. As huge smiles filled their faces and happy squeals that filled the air, it illustrated that even a vessel as simple as a school backpack can be filled with such huge purpose.

As I handed out my last backpack, tired and ill (I had come down with a bad ear infection and recovering from the flu) I felt my purpose. Despite the sanitation, chaos and infection that filled this city of Haiti there is an outpour of love. I was a positive influencer of their main values. The backpacks inspired, motivated and reminded these children to pursue their education and were reminded that they unconditionally loved. Without me being there to deliver these backpacks the kids wouldn’t know that someone across the world cares about how they are doing in school.

To this day, Haiti will be a special spot in my heart. My first global experience, and an opportunity to bring light and hope to kids who have nothing.  I don’t know where Vessel will go next, but I do know firsthand that Vessel’s backpacks are changing lives for the better.

The best is yet to come.