By Kassondra Burtis ’12
Being part of a team means working together toward a common goal. Sometimes that goal is crossing the finish line first, throwing the hardest, or jumping the farthest. But the Saint Mary’s University track and field team extended their typical team goals this summer to helping bring fresh water to a poor community in Haiti.
Eight members of the track and field team, head coach Niels Anderson, and four other members of the Saint Mary’s community recently returned from Haiti, where they took part in a mission trip through Healing Haiti.
Senior Gabby Schauer organized the trip. She and Anderson extended the opportunity to the track and field team during last year’s season-opening team meeting.
Senior Gordy Paulman didn’t need much convincing. “Gabby talked about how great of an organization Healing Haiti is and how unique of an experience it would be,” Paulman said. “Niels talked about how life-changing it would be. When I heard them use those words to describe it, I knew I had to go.”
Cortney Beckman ’17 was not a member of the track and field team but got excited about the mission trip through Schauer. “Volunteering is part of who I am,” she said. “I wanted to give back. The aspect of helping others and making a difference interested me”.”
While Healing Haiti has many different projects, one of its efforts includes delivering water to to the residents who live in the slums of Cité Soleil. “Healing Haiti is the only source of free, clean water there,” Schauer said. “Without the support of Healing Haiti, the citizens of Cité Soleil would be forced to walk for miles to pay for clean water.”
Schauer, Paulman, and Beckman each agreed that the day they spent helping on the water truck was their favorite part of the trip. “We’d fill up the water truck hose and line up with 5-gallon buckets or garbage cans,” Schauer said. “The Haitians have to fight for water for their survival. While some of us worked on the hose, others played with the kids. You really see the hierarchy of needs going around. You see the kids malnourished and needing love, and we get to love on them.”
Participants were shocked to see the harsh living realities in Cité Soleil. “Coach Anderson said that he’s been on a couple mission trips before and this was the first time he’s seen people make a conscious decision between food, water, and shelter,” Paulman said. “That’s when it really hit me. It was also great to see the children because they were blissfully ignorant of the situation they were going to grow up in. All that they were worried about in the moment was playing with us.”
Beckman saw hope and joy in the children of Cité Soleil. “Even though they are in rough situations, they have so much love and it really showed in their faces,” she said. “We sang songs with them in their language and you could tell that they just really wanted to be loved.”
Schauer believes that she and her track and field teammates “100 percent” grew closer during their trip. “At the beginning, we kind of had our partners or friends that we knew best and hung out with,” Schauer said. “You could see the friendships spreading out. You could definitely see a bond forming within the team. It was cool to see it transform throughout the week. ”
Many track and field competitors don’t often train together because of the wide variety of events (like pole vault, sprints, hurdles, and jumps). Paulman said the trip gave him an excuse to better get to know teammates he didn’t know that well.
Schauer welcomes anyone who may be interested in volunteering with Healing Haiti to contact her. “When I volunteer, I feel like I’m helping myself,” Schauer said. “I get to see the light of Christ through others when I volunteer and I think that’s super cool. I feel like my faith in God gets stronger when I go.”
Photo caption: (main photo) Sophomores Bailey Joens and Madison Gueningsman play with local children in Cité Soleil, Haiti.