Not Your Typical Spring Break
Ask your average college student about a spring break trip to the Caribbean. Chances are, most will tell you this vacation is synonymous with sunny beaches during the day and boisterous revelry at night. Very few vacationers will ever see the incomparable reality of these places, the one that exists outside of the lavish resorts and breathtaking scenery.
Very few can tell you about the some 80 percent of Haitians that live in abject poverty, for whom each day brings the endless struggle to meet the most basic of needs. Molly Arenberg can tell you. Then again, maybe Molly isn't your average college student.
For Arenberg, a sophomore midfielder on the Marquette women's soccer team, spring break meant spending nine days performing service in the Haitian village of Ganthier, one of Haiti's most impoverished areas.
"I'm not the type who wants a wild spring break with partying all the time, and I wanted to do something more meaningful," Arenberg said. "I originally wanted to stay in the United States for a mission trip because why should I go somewhere else when my own country needs help?"
Marquette's spring break dates, however, did not match any domestic trips, and she was forced to look internationally. She found `God's Chosen One's Ministry,' an organization offering mission trips to Haiti, and seized the opportunity to apply.
Her parents, however, were not as enthused.
"It was difficult to convince my parents to let me go, but I ended up persuading my dad who warned me that Haiti can be a dangerous place to travel," she said. "I was extremely nervous, though, because I had read articles about the 17 Americans who had been kidnapped in 2006. I knew I wouldn't be able to change the villagers lives, but I just wanted to meet as many people as possible and make a difference, even if it was in a small way." Her experience afforded her the opportunity to interact with hundreds of villagers on a daily basis and help alleviate the acute suffering that plagues the village of Ganthier. Each day at 7 a.m., her group left its hotel and made the one-hour trek to the village where they distributed various medical supplies.
Said Arenberg, "We lacked antibiotics to help people with worms or strep throat, but we did have vitamins, cough syrup, aspirin, and glucose tablets; just really basic supplies. My job was to put all of the medicine in baggies and distribute them to the villagers. The patients would call me `doctor,' which was a pretty scary thought."
The accommodations of the medical center were hardly ideal, however.
"The medical clinic was a tin shack, about 15 feet by 20 feet, that also served as the school and church," noted Arenberg. "The shack was constantly packed with about 100 villagers who filed through a line to see the medical student who was on the trip with our group."
Lacking modern medical technology made it difficult to provide effective care.
"I can't say if we ever really cured any of the sickness, but it was just the fact that we were there and giving what we could that was important," she said.
At about 3 p.m. the group would return to the hotel, as Arenberg noted the area was dangerous after dark, particularly for Americans thought to be in possession of valuables.
"The most difficult part of the trip was leaving the village each day," said Arenberg. "What right do I have to go back to a nice hotel when these people are sleeping in the dirt and drinking the same water they use for bathing and as a bathroom? Why do I deserve this and they don't? It just doesn't make sense."
Arenberg found the lack of sanitation further exacerbated the destitution in rural Haitian villages.
"In Haiti, if you walk down the street, trash is everywhere," she explained. "Our car would hit bumps in the road that were three-foot high piles of garbage. I completely took for granted having a system that picks up and recycles our trash."
Amidst all the desolation, however, an overwhelming assurance of hope permeated Arenberg's experience. For the women's soccer team, the concept of `family' underscores the squad's philosophy and commitment to each other. Never before had Arenberg seen this play out so fundamentally.
"In Haiti, all they have is each other. That is a concept our coaches try to convey to us on the field, but literally all [the villagers] have is the person standing next to them and the clothes on their back," she said. "But in many ways, they are happier than we are."
While the language barrier prevented verbal communication between Arenberg and the villagers, the universal language of soccer provided common ground and a shared experience that transcended their differences.
"The kids didn't care that I didn't speak their language. All they cared about was playing soccer with me and watching me do tricks with the ball," she said. "They had such a passion for soccer."
She described interaction with an inner-city Haitian soccer team to be a highlight of her trip. Arenberg brought soccer balls and a bag of old cleats from past Marquette teams.
"They looked at me like it was Christmas. I just started handing out the old cleats and balls to the kids, but it was very sad not having enough to go around," she said. "Usually the kids play in bare feet and don't have a regular ball. At Marquette, we complain at practice when the balls are a little bit flat, so I can't even imagine their daily situation."
Arenberg harbors little doubt that she is a changed individual. More than ever, she cherishes her blessings that include the opportunity to play for the Golden Eagles.
"One thing I want to focus on more is playing not for myself but for Christ, my teammates, and my family," she says.
Further, she recognizes her responsibility to continue working for social justice. "I know now that I will have a lifelong commitment to mission work. Going to Haiti, there is no way I cannot go back there after seeing what I saw. There is just no way that would be okay."