Sooner student-athletes help Haiti rebound with weeklong mission trip
Faith, education and love. These are things several OU student-athletes brought to the children of Haiti when they visited the impoverished country last week.
What started out as an informal trip to one of the poorest countries has turned into a reoccurring pilgrimage that benefits not only the Haitian children but also anyone from the Sooner family who goes.
“This was my third trip, and the one thing I always take away from these missions is seeing just how big my God really is,” senior guard Whitney Hand said. “When we’re over there seeing this different culture, it’s always refreshing and encouraging to see how the country is so involved in their faith. It really makes me appreciate my own faith and that it can extend all the way to Haiti.”
When the Sooners first partnered with Norman’s Journey Church to take a mission trip to Haiti in 2010, the country was just ravaged by an earthquake that reportedly killed more than 250,000 people and left millions homeless. Now, two years later, Hand and the rest of the Sooner entourage — which included members of the OU women’s basketball and football teams — we’re able to see how far the country has improved since seeing tent cities lining the streets.
“This time around, I really got to see how much progress has been made over the past couple of years,” Hand said. “The kids are less needy and attention-driven; on previous trips, you could barely put the kids down without them crying or complaining. But now, since more Americans have been over there, they’re getting used to us.”
And the Sooners are continuing to get used to Haiti.
A typical day begins around 6:30 a.m. with a quick devotional before breakfast. The group then sets out to work with the Mission of Hope, a program that helps provide food and education to the children of Haiti. They eat lunch and do more work around the surrounding properties before dinner and a quick debriefing that gives participants a chance to reflect on their encounters.
Senior forward Joanna McFarland, who also made her third trip this year to the country, continued to be surprised at how much the children gravitated toward her.
“We were at a local church, and a girl sat down on my lap and fell asleep,” McFarland said. “We’re athletes, so we get to run around with the kids when other groups from America may not get to do that. But this girl just wanted to be held, and it really took me by surprise.”
Both members of coach Sherri Coale’s crew said they stand by Mission of Hope’s idea of educating the people of Haiti so the Haitians can be capable of managing their own country on their own.
McFarland said she couldn’t believe the mission feeds about 5 percent of the country on a daily basis, while Hand said she was impressed that this mission is helping the next generation of people learn how to prosper and make a difference in their communities.
“If I had one thing to tell people about Haiti, it’s that they need to look up Mission of Hope,” Hand said. “They see what their country isn’t yet and they try to make it better through the kids’ education. I just believe in what they’re doing and know they are on the right track.”