Trip to Haiti opens alumna’s eyes to poverty

When Natasha Janicki ’11, a recreational therapy major, wasn’t accepted into a graduate program for occupational therapy, she decided to make other plans. “I was unsure of what my next move should be and just really felt that I needed to do something more productive with my life,” said Janicki, who grew up in Kitty Hawk and returned there after college.

Natasha Janicki

Natasha Janicki ’11 and some of the children she met during a mission trip to Haiti in early 2013.

A member of Kitty Hawk United Methodist Church, Janicki asked her pastor for ideas and learned that a neighboring church, Bethany United Methodist, was planning to send a team of volunteers to Haiti for approximately two weeks in January 2013. Janicki, who didn’t know any other participants (although she did meet her boyfriend on the trip), hopped on board for an experience she describes as “life-changing.”

Janicki and her teammates spent the majority of their time on a construction project in Croix-des-Bouquets, about 20 miles northeast of Port au Prince. While construction was new to Janicki – “it’s very different to see everything done by hand as opposed to using all the heavy equipment we have here in the U.S.” – the day-to-day living conditions were the real eye-opener.

“The most shocking part of the trip was the poverty and hunger I saw,” she said. On the final day of the trip, Janicki and her teammates distributed a food donation of rice, beans and oil they had collected before the trip, enough to feed just more than 100 families of six for one month. When the food ran out before everyone had received some, a riot began; the mission team made its way to safety through a screaming, grabbing crowd.

“I have always known there were starving people in the world, but there is nothing that compares to seeing it up close,” Janicki said. “I thought ‘feeding the hungry’ would be a joyous experience, but it was the exact opposite.”

Janicki now works as a behavior therapist for special-needs children, and while taking an extended break isn’t an option at the moment, she hopes more mission trips are in her future. “It definitely is something I would like to do again if I got the opportunity,” she said.