A trip to Haiti has proven to be a life-changing experience for a Swanton teenager.
Isaac Thomas, 16, a sophomore at Swanton High School, joined his dad, Peter Thomas, and 18 University of Toledo students and six teachers who traveled to the Caribbean nation earlier in March as part of their course on servant leadership.
While the college students were there for credit, Isaac was auditing the class.
Peter Thomas teaches the course, Learning Through Service, with Sammy Span and Sara Clark. The course’s goal is to foster socially aware and civically involved students.
Peter Thomas cleared his son’s participation in the class and Isaac raised the money for the cost of the trip and the cash that would be used in Haiti.
“He sold donuts at a basketball game,” Peter Thomas said about his son. “And he sold coupons to local restaurants. He took $700 on the trip.
The group visited hospitals, pediatric wards and orphanages. At one hospital the group spent $100 purchasing medicines for 20 families.
At the orphanage, the students handed out hand-made dolls to the children.
At one school, the group installed ceiling fans and lights giving a bit of coolness to the sweltering conditions, Peter Thomas said.
The group cleaned two litter-strewn beaches, a prime example for the American students to see what can happen when there’s no local authority to enforce rules, Peter
Thomas said. An encounter with a local woman who promised to clean the beach when the group came was a special moment.
“We were able to teach people the value of precious resources,” Peter Thomas said.
An offshore trip to a nearby island showed what Haiti could be like with the right oversight, he said.
For Isaac Thomas the trip showed him what real poverty was and how people lived in conditions that were beyond anything he could imagine.
“Seeing all the poverty there is much worse than we consider poverty,” Isaac Thomas said.
What would be considered a slum in the United States was just another village for the locals, Isaac said. The children craved being held by the foreigners because their parents would not hold them.
Living conditions are absolutely terrible, there is no sanitation.
A sewer was a hole in the ground with a tire over it.
Living spaces are about 10 by 8 foot sections and if the people can get a roof, it’s a piece of rusting metal. There are showers but no one can afford the monthly bills to have running water of $7 per month, Isaac Thomas said.
The mission team brought food to give 160 families one meal and medicine for a hospital.
The team handed out donated clothing to the children and gave them clean water and food.
Isaac donated some shirts from the Swanton football team. One recipient was so excited, Isaac gave him the last two shirts he had.
“Just him having one shirt that was nice and not ripped up, was just like having a new car for us. That’s how excited he was.
He related his interaction with a deaf and mute man and their attempts at sign language in trying to communicate.
“He was the nicest person you would ever want to meet and the most generous person you would want to meet,” Isaac Thomas said.
Isaac said he has changed since he returned by not complaining about the basics of life we take for granted.
“We have clothes to wear, a roof over our head, we are fed, we can get awesome water from the faucet every time we need,” Isaac Thomas said. “Those are the necessities that they don’t have.
“People have nothing down there. I am super appreciative of everything I have,” Isaac Thomas said.
He would like to go back someday and really didn’t want to leave because the people were so friendly.
Peter Thomas, an instructor at the University of Toledo, and his son, Isaac Thomas, were part of team from the school who spent a week in Haiti ministering to local people.
James Pruitt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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