Trip to Haiti life-changing experience
by David Atchison
It was a week she will never forget.

“It changed my life,” Jacquelyn Graham, 19, of Riverside said shortly after arriving home from Haiti.

Graham traveled to Haiti with 16 other missionaries to help out at an orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti.

“I signed up in June to go on this trip,” she said. “I just knew that was what God wanted me to do.”

Graham, who is attending Highlands College at the Church of Highlands in Birmingham, believes her purpose in life is to go into the church ministry full time.

“I’m studying worship leadership for full-time ministry,” she said.

During her Christmas break, Graham left for Haiti from the airport in Birmingham shortly after 6 a.m. Friday, Dec. 16.

“Our flight left at 6:20 a.m. to Miami,” she said. “From there we flew to Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. That’s the only airport in Haiti.”

Graham said from there the group took a 3-hour bus ride down narrow, bumpy dirt roads to reach Jacmel, where Sister Bonite Orphanage is located.

“Right now, she feeds 300 or more children during the week,” Graham said.

She said Sister Bonite is trying to set up a more permanent place for children in the poverty stricken country.

Graham had never set foot in a Third World country, and the experience was eye-opening, especially seeing a country that suffered a major earthquake just two years ago.

“It’s real dirty,” she said. “There was no sense of organization, so there is trash everywhere.”

There was also the language barrier to deal with.

Graham said the group stayed in a hotel four blocks from the orphanage.

“It wasn’t a Holiday Inn,” she said, adding that it was quite a culture shock for her.

She was a little apprehensive at first because people wanted to carry your bags or anything else to make money.

“I came to realize they were just trying to survive,” Graham said. “They weren’t going to harm us.”

She said they arrived at the hotel late at night and were up early the next morning.

“The first day we fed the prisoners at Jacmel prison,” Graham said.

She said Sister Bonite only gets to feed the prisoners once a year because it costs so much. The missionary group assisted with feeding the inmates.

Graham said there were about 20 cells packed with prisoners. Again, it was something she had never seen before.

“We witnessed to the inmates,” she said.

The second day her group attended worship services with about 300 other people.

“They dressed really nice,” she said. “Our group was very underdressed for church.”

On Monday, the group met the children at the orphanage and assisted with what she described as a mini-Vacation Bible School before providing lunch to the 300 or more children who attended the week-long event.

“The children were the best part of the trip,” Graham said. “They are the most loving kids I’ve ever met.”

She said most of the children were elementary school age.

When the missionaries had time in the afternoons, they would go out into the streets and witness to people.

Graham said they were well received by the Haitians.

“They loved us,” she said. “They knew we were there to help.”

Graham said the missionary group returned the Friday before Christmas, and she came back with a new sense of her calling in life.

She also had a renewed appreciation for what she has and a new found appreciation for the people of Haiti.

“I feel more blessed,” Graham said. “I got to see more than their living conditions — I got to see their hearts.”

Graham is the daughter of Gary and Ann-Marie Hanner of Riverside.

Contact David Atchison at

© 2012