One Williamsport native used part of her summer to see a different part of the world - by helping at a camp for children.
Elizabeth Ratke, 21, a graduate of St. John Neumann Regional Academy High School who competed in basketball, softball and tennis, flew to Haiti on July 29 without knowing anyone in the Quest-Volunteers for Haiti program, all because she wanted to do something different and be known for more than just her athletic ability.
Quest-Volunteers for Haiti gives adults an opportunity to live in a community setting with the Religious of Jesus and Mary, while ministering to the needs of the poor at two locations. Ratke worked at Gros Morne in northern Artibonite, five hours north of Port-au-Prince. The five-week program run from the last week in June until the end of July.
Elizabeth Ratke, a graduate of St. John Neumann Regional Academy High School, flew to Haiti on July 29 without knowing anyone in the Quest-Volunteers for Haiti program, all because she wanted to do something different and be known for more than just her athletic ability. Here, she is shown with some of hew new friends.
Summer volunteers serve as counselors at Kan Kladin, which is Creole for "Camp Claudine."
Creole, a dialect of French, is the language spoken in Haiti. Ratke, who took German in college at Catholic University of America, relied on the Haitian counselors, Juno and Sony, who spoke broken English, to break down the language barrier at the camp for 300 students.
While there, she learned some of the language, in part because of the Haitian counselors teaching them simple, basic words - how to say good day, good night, sit down, hurry up and other phrases.
The camp counselors, which included Juno, Sony, Ratke and some Americans, ran the camp together. Every day campers were fed breakfast and lunch. They had a recreational activity after breakfast, which rotated with activities such as basketball and face painting, then they would go to the river to play, followed by a second recreational activity. After that, lunch was served.
The children ranged in ages from 8 to 12 and had to apply through their school to get into the camp. The principal tries to accommodate all of the children, but once the camp is filled to capacity, it is filled.
"I think the kids want to get into the camp (because) for a month their life is changed," Ratke said. "They have six American counselors altogether. We were the people they looked to that month."
When they walked along the streets, residents would tell each other.
"We were there to help them," Ratke said. "We were a light in their world. We were there to be in their culture.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, the kids practiced for a talent show they held at the end of camp.
The very first Thursday of camp, each child received a bright pink T-shirt "nou toujou kon reve! Kan Klodin" and a picture of a smiling Haitian.
"The theme of the camp was to bring out the kids' dreams," Ratke said. "We also had a banner that they would sign saying what their dreams were. (Some) kids wrote that they wanted to be a pastor, teacher or doctor, and some kids just dreamed of eating food."
The children wore the T-shirts every day because to them, they were the best thing in the world.
"The kids were honestly amazing and I wish I could bottle up their smiles and had brought them back with me," Ratke said.
For Ratke, the children became the best part of the experience.
"Every day we would come home, we would be exhausted, but I would always look forward to the next day," Ratke said.
The culture shock was the most challenging part of her trip.
"When we first flew into Port-au-Prince, it was my first time in a Third World country," Ratke said. "The first thing you see when you look out the airplane window are blue tarps. Those are their homes. 'Oh my God, I'm going to be here a month. How am I going to do this?' "
When she attended this year, St. John Neumann students helped by donating crayons. Otherwise, they would have been short on supplies.
Next year when Ratke returns a week or two before the camp starts, she will try to bring $6,000 to go to the camp for supplies and its operating expenses. She will set up a blog or a website where people can donate money. Now she is trying to spread the word about her cause. While many people are afraid to donate money that could go to the government, Ratke said all the money that is donated to her will be used to help the camp.
Ratke is a junior psychology major, on a pre-med track, with big plans. After her time spent in Haiti, she wants to go to medical school and then participate in Doctors Without Borders.
"I would love to travel to Third World countries, giving back and helping," Ratke said.
While it might be cheesy, there is one quote that Ratke lives by - "Be the change you want to see in the world."
She wants people to stop thinking about themselves and see a different part of the world, not that everyone has to go to a Third World country to do so.
"I'm not trying to preach," Ratke said. "I want people to get the aspect of that. We're lucky. We're lucky we have the life that we do."
Before she left, people told her the stories of how poor and sad the people are.
"It was poor and it was sad, but they live simply and they're happy," Ratke said. "Most people live off less than $2 a day."
One of the ways they survive are with "dirt cookies," which actually is dirt from the ground, boiled and sold for the equivalent of an American penny.
Ratke became very attached to a child called Babylove, who told her that he did not know if he could go to the big Mass at the end of camp when everyone was expected to wear their best clothes and shoes. He explained that his mother was in the hospital with one of his little siblings, he didn't have any money and he had not eaten in two days.
"Wow, what am I doing?" Ratke asked. "I'm back at home and I can eat as much as I want. You don't know if they get a meal after camp."
Yet even though they might not see another meal until the next camp day, if a camper did not finish the provided lunch, he or she would give the food to kids who stood outside the camp.
"These kids don't have anything," Ratke said. "They share with everybody."
Every night after camp, the children would return home to pray and talk about what they saw and how they felt. It was both mentally and physically draining.
Yet it was worth it and Ratke plans to return next year.
"Before I went to Haiti, I was a normal kid," she said. "I was in the 'every day' routine. I was spoiled. I was selfish. You don't think there are people out there living like that. It's not about how poor they are. They changed my life."
"Mesi Pou Kan Klodin," Ratke said, which means 'thank you from Kan Klodin.'
For more information and to get involved, email Ratke at email@example.com.