Hannah Stucker works with a student in an alternative class at the mission school on Bellevue Mountain in Haiti. Submitted photo
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Haiti mission trip is life changing experience for Hannah Stucker

by Elane Moonier ~ Features Editor

Books can often inspire us in many ways, and once in a while they can motivate us to make big changes in our lives. Such was the case for Hannah Stucker, when she read the book, Miracle on Voodoo Mountain, the memoir of a remarkable young woman who moved to an area of poverty stricken Haiti and founded a nonprofit organization to offer help and education to children and families.

Hannah, age 24, is originally from Kansas City, but has lived in Cape Girardeau for the past five years. Both her parents were born and raised in southeast Missouri, so she has a lot of extended family in the area. She was formerly employed in foster care work at Hope Children’s Home, but resigned from that job last summer.

Hannah received the book on loan from a friend, and read it over one weekend. She was greatly moved by the story and said she felt instantly connected and  led to get more involved. Hannah checked the website and learned that the author of the book, Megan Boudreaux, was going to be in town on Monday for a fundraising event.

She reached out to a friend to see if she could attend the fundraiser, not knowing that her friend was acquainted with Megan. The friend encouraged Hannah to come to the event to meet and talk with Megan, and Hannah did just that.

“We talked about our similar passions in life, and she told me a lot about the organization, Respire Haiti, and its needs,” Hannah said. “I talked with her about my background in foster care and mentoring, and we shared contact information. We left with the thought that I might come down for a week or two at some time.”

Hannah said she couldn’t stop thinking about the need to get involved with Respire Haiti, and on Wednesday, she reached out to a friend to try to contact Megan. The friend told her she had received a message from Megan, who said she couldn’t stop thinking about Hannah.

“Please pray and consider coming down for three months,” Megan texted.

By Friday of that same week, Hannah had committed to come to Haiti for three months in the fall. 

“It was definitely a God thing,” Hannah said. “There was no bump in the road.”

As she prepared to make the trip, Hannah had a list of items she needed to bring with her, such as an air mattress and bedding, toiletries and food items to last for three months.

She could bring two bags to check and two carryons for the flight. She also had to do some personal fundraising to help pay for the trip.

On Sept. 13, Hannah arrived in Haiti and immediately went to the town of Gressier, where Respire Haiti is headquartered. She would be staying in the staff house, along with other Americans who volunteered their services there, some for three month periods, others for a year and some for four to five years.

The housing was very basic, she said, a bedroom with a bunk bed, shelf and table. They did have plumbing, but it often did not work, Hannah said. As a result, bucket showers were the order of the day. There was no electricity, but a generator was available for four hours each evening, which allowed them to use a fan for that time.

Lighting was provided with battery operated lanterns, and cell phones could be charged when the generator was running. Hannah brought along a solar powered box charger which she said was very useful.

One of Hannah’s primary duties at Gressier was to homeschool the oldest adopted daughter of Megan and her husband, Josh. During the few years they had been in Haiti, they had adopted four children. After spending the morning with Johanne, the two would make the one mile walk up the mountain together to the school and clinic located on Bellevue Mountain.

There Hannah would help the administration with social work and other daily needs. Most afternoons, she spent time mentoring with a class of alternative girls, a group of about 25 who came from traumatic backgrounds. These were older girls who had never been in school before and were behind grade level. The class was designed to help them catch up with other students. Hannah helped with their weekly Bible studies class also.

The evening meal was provided for the staff Monday through Friday and was prepared by Haitian cooks. Beans and rice were almost always used, but prepared in different ways so they were tasty, Hannah said. Other meals for the staff were food items they had brought with them, such as protein bars and canned tuna. Children at the school were fed two meals a day, breakfast, which consisted of a peanut butter or an egg sandwich, and lunch, packaged meals provided by Stamp Out Starvation.

Hannah’s three month stay in Haiti ended Dec. 13,  and she returned to her family in Jackson. Looking back, she said there were some things that really stuck with her.

”On Thanksgiving day we had a big group of Americans who brought a suitcase of food. The Haitians were doing a Haitian meal, and we were going to eat together. I noticed one boy who would sometimes go days without eating food. For lunch that day, I was going to have a tuna packet and a tortilla wrap. I saw him that afternoon and felt led to give him my lunch.

“The appreciation and excitement he showed was so touching,” Hannah said, “ It was an eye opener for me to  realize this child was so grateful and so appreciative of a pack of tuna while Americans were eating so well on Thanksgiving.”

Another incident Hannah recalled was when a young girl came into the office needing a pair of shoes. School children wear uniforms at the school, which the school helps provide.

One of the girl’s shoes was broken in half and the child had tried to hold it together with a strip of plastic. Hannah said the girl was so emotional and embarrassed about her broken shoe.

Unfortunately, there were no more shoes available to give the child, and Hannah said that was even more heartbreaking. Because of this incident, Hannah has vowed to bring back as many pairs of shoes as she can on her return trip to Haiti at the end of January.

Even before returning to Jackson, Hannah had already agreed to go back to Haiti, and she said she is open to staying longer than three months this time. She will continue to do homeschooling and working with the alternative class. She is also hoping to get more involved with the mental health team there.

“This experience has changed me as much as the people I am working for,” Hannah said. “It puts a lot of things in perspective. As Americans, we are very fortunate, but we take a lot of things for granted. What meant the most to me was  the relationships I was able to build with the Haitians and becoming a part of their family. Their lives are just hard, but they are so joyful and appreciative and happy. Sometimes we Americans are so busy and have so much going on, but down there, a lot of things are put into perspective, like what is really important and what is not.”

You can learn more about Respire Haiti at http://respirehaiti.org. The book, Miracle on Voodoo Mountain, by Megan Boudreax is available at Amazon.com.

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