MANATEE COUNTY — As Kirstin Shontere leaned her head back against the airplane seat, the week’s events pressed on her chest like a 2-ton weight.
After nearly a week in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, it felt like her efforts — and those of her missions team — had been a mere pebble cast in an ocean of need.
During their trip, the East County team built two latrines at a local school, passed out more than 1,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and played games with children there.
“You kind of feel like, ‘Wow,’” Kirstin said. “In the end, what were we really able to do to help anyone? We were able to help them for the few days we were there, but there’s so much need. You have to tell yourself: You do what you can, and if everyone can help just one more person, that’s one more person that’s helped.
“We’re here because God cares about them and that’s why we’re trying to help,” she says. “It really does make a difference, even just a little bit.”
Last month, Shontere, her husband, Dan, about a dozen college students in their Young Life College group and others loaded suitcases with clothing, shoes, crafts, games and more than 200 jars of peanut butter and jelly and headed to the streets of Haiti, where they distributed goods and shared their faith with children at the Good Shepherd School, the only educational facility in a small urban slum of Port-au-Prince called Pele.
“The trip was awesome,” said River Club resident and Christ Presbyterian member Kelly Pleasant, who went to Haiti with her daughter, Karlie. “I (loved) the kids, and I have so much admiration for the (educated) people there.”
Haiti does not offer a free public education for students, so families must pay for their children to attend. Sponsorships for students at the Good Shepherd pay for classes, uniforms and one meal per day.
Because of the rising prices of foods such as rice and beans, only about two-thirds of students are fed each day. The missions group distributed about 100 pounds of rice and beans to the Haitian people in Pele and used the peanut butter and jelly donated by their home church, Christ Presbyterian, to make sandwiches for the students, particularly those who wouldn’t be eating.
“For a lot of them, it’s the only meal they get for the day,” Dan Shontere said “They have (peanut butter in Haiti), but it’s not something they ordinarily would have. It’s a (nutritious) treat.”
At one point, the group was passing out sandwiches, but only had about 100 left, forcing them to close off the distribution area so they wouldn’t run out of food.
“You could see their little feet outside the gate,” Kirstin Shontere said. “There was one little boy who ran out, ripped his sandwich in half and handed it under the gate. It was so sweet.”
The Shonteres have been involved with helping children in Haiti for 20 years. Kirstin Shontere began sponsoring a child there after her sister visited the country. After she and Dan married 17 years ago, the couple took up the cause. They began visiting the country about two years ago when they were trying to decide where to take their Young Life group for a mission trip.
“We figured, ‘What better place to go than to the school?’” said Kirstin, a reading teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School.
“When we read (in the Bible) about ‘the least of these,’ they’re basically our neighbors,” he said of the Haitian people. “Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.”
And, while the Shonteres said they were excited to share with Haitian students, they were equally eager to rekindle relationships with Haitian teachers and others at the school.
“By going back there, we get to maintain these relationships and let them know people care,” Dan Shontere said. “They’re not this forgotten spot on the globe.”
The group originally was scheduled to arrive in Port-au-Prince in December but was forced to reschedule their trip because of rioting around the county’s airport. The Shonteres plan to take another missions team to Haiti again around Christmastime.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
For information about sponsoring a Haitian child at the Good Shepherd School, visit www.Haitichildsponsorship.org.