I must admit, I had no idea what to expect when I stepped off the plane in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. While the volunteer training program (VTP) in Washington, DC a few months prior had given me the tools and resources needed for going in-country, actually working in the field is a totally different experience.
Having previously worked in countries such as Ghana and Kenya, I thought that my week in Haiti would be a piece of cake. Boy, was I wrong. My week in Haiti was more challenging, educational, and inspiring than any other work I have done.Our week kicked-off with a two day leadership training at FHADIMAC, our wonderful partner who is the leading diabetes organization in Haiti. There, I was able to meet in-person the youth leaders I have heard so many wonderful things about. Working with them during the leadership training was such a rewarding experience, but seeing them in action at camp was where I really saw them shine.
Not only did they form a connection with campers that is only possible between two people living with the same condition in similar circumstances, but they took the “leadership” title to heart. During our education sessions, one of my incredible co-counselors led a discussion about how to properly give yourself insulin. I have never seen a group of five to ten year-olds so enthralled with diabetes education. My co-counselor was not only teaching our campers about diabetes, but he was teaching me how to be a leader.
It was moments like these that made me realize how fortunate I was to be working alongside such incredible people and how important organizations like AYUDA and FHADIMAC are in promoting empowerment and sustainability.
What am I going to do for the rest of my life? This is the question that haunts any junior in high school. There are so many factors that key into the making of this type of decision. I sit and I search and I search and I find the word “help” sitting right in front of me; this was exactly what I was searching for. AYUDA opened the door for me to a new feeling of knowing.How did I know this? I know I like to motivate, I like to meet new people, I like to volunteer, I like to help people, I like to learn, I like to travel, and I like to exercise. AYUDA is all of these things I like combined, so I was very interested. I applied, and I got accepted to be an AYUDA volunteer. My experience with AYUDA so far has been phenomenal. I got to experience traveling alone for the first time when I flew across the country to meet all the volunteers at the Volunteer Training Program Summit. This is where I learned all about diabetes and how to take care of it. I also learned how to efficiently fundraise and how to talk about AYUDA. I was introduced to a culture I was previously unfamiliar with; I learned about the traditions, food and dances of the Dominican Republic.My fundraising efforts have gotten me more involved in my community. I have met many people who love to donate to organizations like AYUDA, and I have made many long-lasting friendships with people who have been interested in supporting me. I cannot wait to go to the Dominican Republic in one week to volunteer in the Ganémosle program. I am looking forward to promoting exercise by encouraging people to participate in Ganémosle la Carerra a la Diabetes.
In a few weeks i'm going to celebrate my 20th Diaversary. That's right, 2 decades of living with my diabetes. I've taken it on countless presentations, infosessions and classrooms, dozens of cities and states and even a handful of countries and continents. I've gone through the life of a highschooler, the challenges of university and now the honor of my graduate program. I've had numerous lows and countless highs and have developed some minor super powers like seeing food as carbs and carbs as insulin. But what I've loved the absolute most about my 20 years with my diabetes is the people i've met living with theirs and the celebrations we've shared together.
Camp Ami was the first time I have been to the western side of the beautiful island of Hispanolia and the experience was one I will never forget. I have to admit, my Spanish is stronger that my French and my French is magnitudes greater than my Creole (Muen Relay Cristof is my name is Chris and that's about all I got), but even so, when myself alongside the other AYUDA volunteers met our local partners for the first time and shared our experiences with diabetes and what this program means to us, it was as if we all knew each other through our mutual friend, diabetes. We asked each other the international diabetes ice breaker of "what's your favorite low snack?". Mine has always been peanut butter crackers while my friend Amos' was fruit and honey. We shared how long we've been living with our diabetes and what it meant to us to share our condition with others.
This is where the value of these celebrations really presents itself.
Coming from 20 years of knowing my condition, I wear my pancreas (or lack there of, a functional one that is) on my sleeve. For a few others it took some time, but after hearing a few stories of some of our same ups and downs (literally) you could tell the mood in the room really began to pick up. What started off as an ice breaker developed into a full fledged celebration that carried through throughout the week. At Camp Ami the same energy and thrill to thrive showed itself in our dance parties, musical chairs, countless ball games and relay races and water games in the beautiful clear blue waters. We laughed, we cried, we danced and we shared.
We celebrated our diabetes not as diabetics, but as friends, who happened to see food as carbs and carbs as insulin.