After graduating from OU-C last summer with her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, Abby Hartley made the decision to pack her bags for Haiti to volunteer at an orphanage, where she put her skills as an educator to use in a way that makes an impact.
“The orphanage where I have always come to volunteer had just built a small school and was in need of a teacher,” said Hartley, a Huntington High School graduate.
Hartley lives in the orphanage called Ruuska Village, located in a small town called Bon Repos just outside of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Ruuska Village is run by a missionary from New York. The children waiting to be adopted live in about10 houses with nannies who take care of them.
Hartley first visited Haiti in July 2008 with five others from her local youth group. The youth group leader from her hometown had adopted three children from an orphanage in Haiti and wanted to bring their oldest daughter back to visit her biological family. Hartley returned to Haiti the following March and continued to visit twice a year.
“My first trip to Haiti completely changed my life. I had no clue what I wanted to do after I graduated high school, and coming to Haiti I knew I wanted to be a teacher, something I never previously pictured myself doing,” Hartley said.
Hartley told the director that she would come to Haiti and teach for a school year. Her class is always changing as children get adopted. Her current class consists of six boys ranging from ages 3-4.
“Just waking up every day and being surrounded by a village full of children who are happy to see you is an amazing feeling,” Hartley said.
All of the children at the Ruuska Village orphanage are being adopted by families in the United States or Argentina.
“I think the very best days are when I get to watch one of them go home to their forever families,” Hartley said. “Words can't even describe how amazing those days are.”
While living in Haiti, Hartley has learned that despite the few possessions she has, she can still live a happy life. She’s also discovered how much of a challenge the smallest things are for the locals.
“Just to drink a glass of water, we have to go to the well at the end of the village and fill up a bucket of water, carry it to our house, and purify it,” Hartley said.
Hartley said she has been wearing the same few outfits the entire time she’s lived in Haiti and eats a diet of mostly rice.
“But none of that matters,” Hartley said. “I'm just so happy being here every day.”
OU-C EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE PAYS DIVIDENDS
Hartley emphasized how grateful she is for her advisor and professors at OU-C. The knowledge that they have shared with her helps her every single time she sets foot in her classroom.
“My advisor, Jamie Harmount, has been so supportive of my trips to Haiti and has continued to support me even after graduation,” Hartley said. “She really goes above and beyond for her students.”
Hartley encourages anyone to move out of their comfort zone and try something they could never imagine doing.
“All my life I have heard of people going on mission trips and living in these terrible conditions, and I remember thinking that I would never do that,” Hartley said. “Now, I can't imagine my life any other way.”