A most unusual spring break trip

Three soccer players head to Haiti

April 12, 2011 · Athletic Communications
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  • Three members of Middle Tennessee's Sun Belt Conference championship soccer team chose to spend their 2011 spring break on a mission trip to Haiti recently. Whitney Jorgenson, a rising junior from Olathe, Kan., Allison Stallard, a rising junior from Colleyville, Texas, and Jessica Gilchrist, a rising redshirt sophomore from McKinney, Texas, all made the trip to the earthquake-devastated island to spend their vacation time and funds helping the Haitian people. GoBlueRaiders.com sat down with them recently to get their story.

    GBR.com: How did this project get started?

    Whitney: Before winter break, we had talked about doing something different this year on spring break and we all three had on our bucket list to do a mission trip. After Christmas, I told Allison I was on a mission to find us a mission trip. I came across Salisbury Presbyterian Church in Richmond (actually suburb of Midlothian), Virginia, and saw where they were going to take a group of college kids on a spring trip to Haiti.

    I thought this sounds amazing and we had never talked about where we wanted to go, we just knew we wanted to go somewhere, thinking in the United States. I saw this and I tried to imagine us going there.

    So I went out on a limb and emailed her (the director of the trip). I told her we were three girls in college, about 20 years old, and we really want to go on a mission trip, and I know this is really random. We are from Tennessee, but if you guys are needing people and need some more help, we really want to be a part of it.

    She emailed me back and they only had four people signed up, and weren't going to go because they didn't have enough and could take up to 10. But, they were thrilled to have us and it turned out well. We got all of the details worked out, and when it came time we drove to Virginia, about nine hours, checked into a hotel about 11:30 p.m., got up three hours later, and they picked us up at our hotel at 3:30 a.m. to go to the airport. That was the first time we got to meet the group we were going with.

    We left on Friday the 4th (of March) got back on the 12th and drove home. We wanted to make sure our flights to Haiti were with the Richmond group so that we didn't get separated.

    GBR.com Note: The players paid for all of their expenses themselves, taking the money they would have spent on spring break. The flights were around $600 each for a round trip. Boarding in Haiti was very inexpensive and was what amounted to a donation to the foundation. They were on their own for breakfast and lunch and they were cooked a Haitian dinner at night.

    GBR.com: How were the Haitian authorities?

    Whitney: They were actually waiting for us at the airport when we landed. Our group leader worked with the leader of our compound where we stayed through Skype. He was American and they had another person who followed us, just for safety reasons.

    Allison: We landed in Port-au-Prince and it was a two-hour ride to the compound, which was in Léogâne, west of Port-au-Prince.

    GBR.com:What pre-conceived notions did you have about Haiti and what was it really like when you got there?

    Jessica: When I think about Haiti, I had always thought about just straight poverty, primarily because of the earthquake, but it wasn't too good before that. When we got there, in my eyes, Port-au-Prince was horrible. There was trash everywhere. I could not imagine living in the tent cities. But as we were driving to Léogâne, I noticed how pretty Haiti is. It's like a jungle forest with mountains. Allison actually compared it to the TV show "Lost". It is gorgeous. When we were swimming, we'd turn around and look at the mountains and the forest. It is just gorgeous.

    GBR.com:What about the housing you had?

    Allison:Actually, we were really fortunate. I had imagined it being no running water, no clean water, no anything. But we had clean, filtered water and we got to take a shower every day. The compound was right next to the beach and had two gates. I never felt like I was in any danger at all. We didn't hang out with the locals at all, but the compound was great. Jess and I shared a room, and Whitney shared a room with the leader of our group. It was a great facility. It could hold up to 30 people. There were others there while we were there.

    GBR.com:What were the Haitians like to work with?

    Allison: They spoke Creole, which is a form of French, and I can do basic French, so I could do basic communication with them, especially the officials and such. But when we played soccer with the kids, there wasn't much communication. If you ran into somebody, it was just a sorry.
    There wasn't much interacting with the officials, except at the airport, and that was a complicated deal, but we worked through it. They gave is a piece of green paper that had our information on it, and that was our green card for the week.
    The UN still has a big presence there, especially in Port-au-Prince, and we saw a lot of trucks and buildings that had UN logos on them.

    GBR.com: What kind of things did you work on while you were there?

    Jessica: On our last day there, we did a deworming clinic for the people. Between the water they would drink and the food, and walking around barefooted, it was a problem. We had an EMT go with us, and we walked down the mountain, then back up to a school that CODEP supports. CODEP is the Comprehensive Development Project, the group we were actually working for. We gave all the kids a deworming pill, and we gave them pudding as a reward because those pills were not the easiest things to take. The community heard about it, so we helped out the community as well, not just the school. There were about 105 total that took a pill, and that's awesome, because the pills last for about six months. The kids that came were adorable and the youngest one was only a couple of months old.

    GBR.com:If you had to pick one thing that melted your heart, or left you with a warm, fuzzy feeling while you were in Haiti, what would that have been?

    Whitney: Mine would be how welcoming they were to us. Here we were, staying in the compound, which was the nicest thing place there was. There were gates that walked up from the ocean and the kids would wait there for us to come out and play. They would do that every single day and they didn't care that we came back in and were sitting on the porch and getting fed, and we had showers. We had our cameras on them, and they loved looking at themselves in the camera. It didn't matter to them that we had more than they did, they just wanted us to come out and play.

    Jessica: Mine was on the Friday we went up to the school to help. We were playing soccer with the kids outside the school, which was just a tent and I went back inside. I was sitting on a bench and a baby girl walks up to me, kind of stumbles and puts her hand on my knee. And she looked up at me and smiled, and I got chill bumps. Her mom was laughing and just kinda walked away. Everytime I think about it, I get chill bumps. It warmed my heart. It was a precious moment.

    Allison: Playing soccer with them was my moment. The field we played on was nothing but dirt with gravel on it. And the dirt was like concrete. The goals were cinder blocks that they had put upright and you had to hit the cinder blocks to score a goal. They were barefoot for the most part, some of them had sandals like flip-flops, and we were in tennis shoes.
    Some of them were really good. This one girl, who we called spark plug, was incredible. She played barefoot, in shirt and shorts and weighed like maybe 50 pounds. She was not afraid to go into any tackle, she must have been only seven or eight years old. Some of the older guys, who were in their 20s, had some amazing skills as well.

    GBR.com:How did they know you were soccer players?

    Allison:We mentioned it to our leader Debbie and she said the kids loved soccer. We had a cheap ball and took it outside, and the kids just swarmed us. She found us a field where we could play, and every afternoon after that, we played.

    GBR.com:Were you in Port-au-Prince at all? What was it like there?

    All:The only time we were in Port-au-Prince was when we flew in and out of Haiti. The devastation was awful. I have a picture of the Palace that was three stories to begin with and has now crumbled to one. And they said it looked better then than it had a couple of months earlier. We still thought the damage was horrible.

    Allison:It is really funny too because the buildings that were finished, you wouldn't know it because they always leave some steel rods in the ground. It's not finished as long as there is construction going on, and they don't have to pay taxes on it.

    GBR.com:What did you see that made you wonder how the Haitian people could live like that?

    All: The tents, it was the tents. You literally see neighborhoods compacted into tent cities. And it wasn't even a tent. It was more of a tarp on two poles or sticks. And if you didn't live in a tent, you lived in a broken down building with a tarp over it.
    And the trash. It was everywhere because there is nowhere to put it. It was piled up everywhere, along the roads, in the middle of the road, piled up against buildings.

    GBR.com:Would you go back?

    All: Oh yeah! For sure! Definitely! Without a doubt!

    GBR.com: Is this a project that the rest of your teammates would like to be involved with in the future? Is there a bigger project that could spring out of what you three did?

    All: Oh sure. We think so. We hope so. Aston actually knew the Haitian soccer coach, so he wanted to send us some balls and soccer equipment, but he wasn't able to because of NCAA rules.

    Whitney: There is a 23-year-old girl down there who has started a project called GOALS, and if we were going to go back, that's where I would want to take the team (my teammates). To get the kids to come in, they have them coached and play soccer, but it's really to provide them with a nutritious meal.

    Jessica: And they teach them basic survival skills like cooking and gardening but they use soccer to attract them. Soccer is the reward that they get. It's what they get to do after they learn the things they need to know. She had just graduated from Brown and she came over one night for dinner, and told us her story. It was amazing. I would want to go work with her.

    Allison: And she was living in a tent at that point. She'd been down there for eight months and plans to be there for three years. I really want to work with her.

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