December 11, 2010 by wcobserver
By Susan McCarthy
West Fork-A week-long trip to Haiti has brought new perspective and increased thankfulness to a West Fork woman who traveled with five others from Northwest Arkansas on a mission trip to a country where clean water is still not widely available after a devastating earthquake on Jan. 12.
Katrina DeGraff, who lives in West Fork and operates her own business, West Fork Martial Arts said it’s been hard for her to look at things at home in the same way since she returned from a mission trip to Haiti on Nov. 19.
“I just tried to make some sense of it…all that I saw, experienced, all that I smelled,” said DeGraff. “It’s pathetic. How can their government sleep at night?”
DeGraff traveled to Haiti with five others from the Baptist Association in Fayetteville and had luxurious accommodations compared to most. She slept on a twin mattress in a metal building without air conditioning or a bathroom, but had fans and clean drinking water.
DeGraff says she is still surprised that she went on the trip.
“I don’t know why. I thought I had to go.”
She said she’d just spoken to her husband a few days before about wanting to travel when she received a newsletter from the Baptist Association and responded to a notice about a mission trip to Haiti. She said the cost alone would have normally scared her away, but she was determined to go and started raising funds to pay for the trip.
She said she made 550 jars of jams and jellies with two friends and sold them at several area fall festivals including West Fest. She cleaned her mom’s house, sent letters for donations and held a jewelry party fundraiser. She said she received donations from two families; one paid the remainder of trip balance, the other purchased 100 pairs of flip-flops and 300 pairs of underwear that she took to Haiti. She used her remaining funds to purchase some Bibles while she was in Haiti.
“It was a real experience in the first three hours of being there,” said DeGraff who said it took three hours to travel just 21 miles.
She spent the next week traveling to a different camp every day, but not to help build a house a day in each camp like she thought she would, but to help answer a more immediate need; trying to head-off a cholera outbreak by distributing clean water.
“Those people saw you coming down the road; they were lined up waiting for water. For the most part, people were nice to each other. It was obvious they were afraid they wouldn’t get fresh water…they didn’t know when it would come again.”
She also visited an orphanage and held church services on Sunday in an open-air tent.
“I only saw one building that looked like a church. The rest were all tents…the buildings are gone.”
DeGraff said most of the people in the camps she visited lived in “blue houses”, small temporary houses with no windows.
On the last day, she said she visited Port au Prince.
“If you can imagine five blocks; 70,000 people in a five block radius in tents. They’re on top of each other. There was no neighborly space in between. They’re on top of garbage, on top of dirt.”
She said she saw one big market, but otherwise, people lined the streets to sell everything from sodas and crackers or to cook foods to sell.
“Something I was surprised by is how resilient the people are. Most are doing laundry, doing laundry for others, trying to make their homes better,” she said, then questioning how many people could get up every day and keep going if they were faced with similar circumstances.
DeGraff said one of the highlights of the trip was when four water filtration systems and tanks were delivered to her camp from Fountains of Hope for delivery and assembly. She said each tank would provide clean water for 5000 people and its operation would employ three people in each camp. She said they built block foundations and “housing” to store and secure the filtration systems; each in a different camp.
“A lot of people, a lot of different countries are helping in their own ways,” she said.
DeGraff said she knew she was spoiled before she made the trip to Haiti, but the experience has made her realized just how blessed she is.
“I am sick of people complaining about our country, our government. They should spend a week in Haiti. I think especially teenage kids should go to a country like that and see what it’s like and see if they come back the same person,” she said.
As for DeGraff’s experience, “I’m waiting for the next step. You don’t have to go to Haiti to help people. I’m just trying to figure out what to do next.”