The poverty was evident to Kyle Adams as soon as he stepped off the plane.
There aren’t terminals at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, only a tarmac.
Haitians in the hundreds lined up outside the airport, hoping to help carry a bag or two to earn a dollar.
Vendors and broken-down cars scattered the streets. Naked children, some with distended bellies from malnourishment, sat near the road. There were potholes the size of trucks, 5 feet deep.
Upon arriving near the town of Croix des Bouqets, about 30 miles east of capital Port-au-Prince, he saw sights just as severe.
More children without clothes or shoes. Some with sores unable to heal. Some with worms on their hands. Some who looked 8 years old but actually were 13 or 14, their development stunted by lack of food. Some had orange hair, another sign of starvation.
Images Adams won’t forget.
Everywhere he looked, he was struck with the overwhelming desolation.
And then, the smiles in spite of it.
And the spirit.
All just as overwhelming in their inspiration and encouragement.
And reasons that Adams, a tight end on Purdue’s football team, already is eager to get back for his third trip to the Operation Double Harvest complex in 2010.
It was a shock, coming from the wealthiest country in the world to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, he said. There’s just poverty. Poverty like you’ve never seen in this country. It’s hard sometimes and you cry sometimes, and you’re like, Man, how do people live like this? And how is this so close to us and going on?’
A lot of people suffer a lot down there, but a lot of people, despite all the suffering and all the poverty and everything they face, are happier than a lot of Americans I know. They don’t have a lot of possessions, but they have their faith and their family. They have some of the strongest faiths I’ve ever seen. Pretty impressive.
A new perspective
Like many college students, Adams’ life seemed to focus on cramming for exams, getting along with his roommates and seeing whether he could get up the courage to talk to a girl at a party. Unlike many, he also worried about excelling in football and finding a place for his faith.
As a Christian growing up in Texas, Adams always figured he’d go on a mission trip someday. He’d seen commercials showing children in underdeveloped countries and thought he should help.
When he got to Purdue, he became involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and chaplain Marty Dittmar talked to him about annual mission trips that members took to Operation Double Harvest in Haiti.
Adams raised $850 for the trip by asking family and friends to contribute $20.
Nothing has been the same since that first trip in May 2008.
Adams returned to the U.S. with a new perspective, a strengthened faith and a shift in priorities.
There’s so much more to life than what our culture says: the fashion and the cars and the having a pretty girlfriend or being great on the football team, he said.
You see you can make a difference at 20 years old, 21 years old. You can go and help people who really need it, and there are people who really need it all around the world.
Adams and some of his friends raised several thousand dollars to send kids to a weeklong camp near the ocean, quite a treat for many children who usually don’t make the 90-mile trip. Adams also teamed with Nate Mills, the president of the FCA, to sponsor a child for a year.
But Adams didn’t only help fuel financial contributions.
Adams also loves to talk about his experiences in Haiti, and that passion sparked others’ interest.
Roommate and teammate Jeff Panfil, also a member of FCA, was encouraged by Adams’ enthusiasm.
Kyle told me (about it) and I had seen pictures, but you really have to be there to experience it. I thought I knew what to expect but I really had no idea. It blows you away. Obviously, you feel so bad for the children. It really breaks your heart. But we’re there and trying to do good things.
Getting things done
Good things certainly are getting done.
In addition to the school and clinic at Operation Double Harvest, there’s also a church and a 150-acre agricultural project managed and staffed by Haitians. The organization also has a housing project in the village near its complex that builds and provides new homes for the poorest families.
Adams and his fellow student-athletes helped with that cause in May. They spent about seven hours a day making bricks by hand to construct the homes. Members of the group also dug a trench about 250 feet long and strung Internet cable and PVC pipe through it so the school could have Internet access.
Even for a 6-foot-4, 250-pound football player, it was exhausting.
Using pick axes to break up (the ground), my hands were shot in like 20 minutes, Adams said. They were all blistered. I’m sitting there swinging really hard, trying so hard, and then this like 13-year old Haitian comes up and does such a better job than I do. I’m a football player.Adams smiled when he relayed the story.
I never thought I’d do it, and now that I have, I wish I had been doing it since I was 5. It’s awesome.