DENVER–My family is large—I have eight brothers and sisters—and I’m amazed every day by how much I learn from my siblings. When I was in kindergarten, my parents approached my older brother and me for the first time to ask us what our thoughts were about adopting a younger sister. We were thrilled with the idea and eager to start the process. In following years, my parents adopted six additional children, each one providing me with a new perspective and new inspiration. Of my eight siblings, five are adopted from China and two from Haiti.
When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010 my family was in the process of adopting my sister, Guimara, and my brother, Davinson. While Guimara and Davinson both got home safely, the tragedy had a large effect on us.
My parents were in the process of developing a non-profit organization called The Road to Hope at the time. The organization pairs with communities in Haiti to make an impact through education, food and agriculture, music and the arts, water and sanitation and healthcare. Understandably, the successful evacuation and adoption of Guimara and Davinson increased my parents’ sense of urgency to create The Road to Hope.
Today, the organization is thriving. There are approximately 450 students between the two schools that The Road to Hope built. It has been an incredible opportunity for me to learn more about this country I have grown to love and, more importantly, an opportunity for me and many others to make a difference.
As a result, when I was thirteen and deciding what to do for my Bat Mitzvah project, I knew that I wanted my service project to involve helping Haiti. I decided to pair with the well-known Colorado photographer, John Fielder, to write a children’s book that would highlight the beauty of the country, as well as give other children the perspective of a completely different lifestyle.
At first, it was difficult to get Mr. Fielder on board, especially considering the magnitude of the project. However, after a great deal of persistence, he agreed to partner with me. The book, Nadia’s Good Deed, takes place in The Road to Hope’s partner village Nordette, Haiti, and tells a fictional story that is illustrated by John Fielder’s breathtaking photos as well as drawings by the children of Nordette. Through “Nadia’s Good Deed,” I discovered a passion for making a difference and inspiring others to do the same just as my siblings have inspired me.
Another way I’m working to make a difference and to inspire others to do the same is a Haiti program The Road to Hope started at my school. It has created more opportunities for me to travel to Haiti and it has enabled me to share my love of Haiti with my peers. The program organizes an annual, school-led trip to Haiti with some of the faculty members involved with The Road to Hope. Visiting Haiti and having that firsthand experience has made many of my peers passionate about making a difference too. One of the many results is more help from fellow students with fundraisers.
Whenever I return from my travels to Haiti, I find it incredibly hard to transition back to my hectic life. I find myself complaining about trivial things like the bus being late. However, when I decide to change the way I view problems, I struggle less. I recently gave a speech at my school titled “Solving Problems Without Solutions” in which I addressed this struggle. It’s easy for me to become overwhelmed with the problems I see in Haiti because they seem so large. Sometimes, it feels like it would be easier to turn a blind eye and ignore the problems altogether.
After my most recent trip to Haiti, in March 2016, I found myself especially overwhelmed by the transition. I was fixated on the problems I had seen such as the short supply of food and water, things we take for granted at home in the U.S. Even things as seemingly simple as having clean clothes to wear and toys to play with are very uncommon in Haiti.
I realized that the only way for me to make a lasting difference was to change how I saw the problems in Haiti. The more I try to solve problems, or in other words search for an answer that makes it possible to simply check a box off a to-do list and move on, the further I move away from a lasting solution. The more time I spend in Haiti, the more I understand that there is not one solution. Instead, it’s important to plan to improve conditions a little with every visit.
I believe that every one of us is faced with such problems daily. For example, I feel as though there’s nothing I, as an individual, can do as I’m driving past the homeless person on the street corner that I pass every day to get to school. However, it’s important for me not to let the magnitude of the problem overwhelm me to a point of guilty inaction. I need to pause and take time to come up with a way of having even the smallest impact.
There are so many problems in the world that are bigger than an individual, an organization or even a country. If we, as people, continue to try to make a small difference, collectively we will make problems like these better. My hope is that my words and my work empower others to change the way they view problems. We need to believe they we can have an impact, especially on problems that are overwhelmingly large.
Rachel Harris, 16, is a junior in high school at Colorado Academy in Denver, Colorado. She grew up in Littleton, Colorado, and loves the culture and weather of her home state. She has a passion for performing, politics, philosophy and travel.
Featured Photo: The Harris family on a recent trip to Alaska.
Photo 1: Author Rachel Harris and photographer John Fielder in Haiti.
Photo 2: Photographer John Fielder in the Haitian village of Nordette.
Photo 3: Rachel Harris pausing to take in the scenery on the drive to Nordette, Haiti from Port-au-Prince.