The First Year by Laura Hagy

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It was almost one year ago now, the night that I sat on the floor of the Miami airport, anxiously thinking of the journey ahead of me, and writing my first blog entry of the year. I ended that post with this line, “After five amazing years in Pittsburgh, I’ve said ‘see you later’ to the city and people I love, and here I am; running full speed towards Haiti, with a heart on fire for God, praying that I’m running in the right direction.” And let me tell you now, as hindsight tends to be 20/20; I was absolutely chasing after God and running in the right direction.

I have learned so much this year. To say it simply, I have learned how to live in Haiti. My first trip to the market I could hardly look up from my feet, afraid I might trip or get lost in the chaos. I wondered how I would ever be able to navigate it alone. I can still remember the overwhelming excitement I felt about a week later, running home to tell Katie that I’d bought some bananas by myself, like a proud child mastering a new task. And that was the cycle of my entire first year, phasing through moments of fear and self-doubt, ending with a feeling of self-satisfaction as I mastered each task set in front of me. I know that I have incredible amounts of learning ahead of me, in language, culture, and general day-to-day things, but I can live in Haiti. And what was once so overwhelming and seemingly impossible has now fallen into a simple, peaceful rhythm to me.

I have also seen myself grow in the classroom, which is a very good thing, because I started the year having no idea how to be a teacher. My first day of school filled with jitters, I began teaching and will never forget the feeling of peace that rushed over me. Almost as if I could have told myself, “Oh, so this is what you were meant to do.” It felt natural and I was incredibly grateful for that. I have seen through this year how much joy there is in watching my 2nd graders understand a difficult subject or get excited about a science project they’ve never seen before. I have learned that teaching is so much more than giving an education, it is about creating a safe space, giving my kids a place to experiment and have fun. It is about forming relationships where they know they can bring me whatever challenge they may be facing and I will carry it with them.

This was especially true in my relationship with one specific student, Biolan. Last fall, Biolan taught me the importance of tough love. He made me cry, made me want to slam my head against my desk and made me very aware of my need for patience. We fought through the months leading up to Christmas; he didn’t want to respect me as an authority, participate in class or follow any established rules. I knew he was justified in his anger, in his resistance and his hesitation. But despite knowing this, it was hard. I’m not good at giving tough love, and it felt like a daily battle walking through that with him.

After Christmas, Biolan and I turned a new page. God broke my heart for Biolan and I have so much love for this little one. I would say I loved him everyday as he left my classroom, whether we’d had a good day or I’d had to carry him to the office kicking and screaming. And in telling him I love you I was often met with muttered words and rolled eyes. Then one day he said, “yeah, me too,” and that was a day I won’t forget. It was a breakthrough for us, and our relationship since then has made every second of tough love worth it. And for me, it shows me why I am meant to do this.

I have learned how to live in Haiti, how to teach well, but more importantly, this year I have learned how to rely on God. Through the lives of Manickson and Odilove, and the stressors of living in a country with few formal supports, I have been placed in situations so far out of my control that there was nothing I could do. I cannot medically care for a very sick child, I cannot provide oxygen without electricity, I am not strong enough to get through the day to day tasks of living in a third world country, but God can. This year I have seen in action the words that God works all things together for my good. Every need has been provided for, every fear has been met with peace, every anxiety calmed, every challenge overcome. This year I’ve personally grown more than I ever imagined I would. I have learned how to walk in the spirit, and how to trust that God will handle the situations that I cannot. I have seen time and again this year that he does provide for us and meet us where we are when we cry out to Him, every time.

This year was one of personal growth and I believe that through it I have built a strong foundation to build upon in the coming years. I know my time in Haiti is only beginning and I cannot wait to return to my home in the fall and begin my second year. I cannot thank you all enough for walking through this journey with me; for following me in the highs and the lows of learning to live in Haiti. I am blessed to continuing sharing it all with you.

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