Every six to eight weeks, Wendy Duncan White ’95 leaves her comfortable bed in Denver to go sleep for a week on an air mattress. Without air conditioning. Under a mosquito net.
It’s a pretty typical sleeping arrangement in Haiti, where the “poverty is alarming and devastating,” says White, who earned a bachelor’s in sociology at Trinity. During her trips, she travels to the rural city of Gressier, about 20 miles outside the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. There, atop Bellevue Mountain, is Respire Haiti, a nonprofit that feeds and educates more than 500 orphans, child slaves, and other vulnerable Haitian children. The organization also provides them with medical care, dental care, and physical therapy.
But she’s not just a visitor at Respire Haiti. White works as an unpaid staff member, preparing volunteers to serve at the haven of hope. She says her service is a direct calling from God.
“I think of any work we do here as our ‘thank you’ to God,” says White, who was her church’s children’s minister when her pastor had asked for volunteers to help out at Respire Haiti. “I believe through Jesus we’ve already received the best gift we could ever receive. Because of that, we are all called to give back. Respire Haiti’s needs are aligned with the blessings that God has given me in my life.”
Graduating from Teach for America and traveling through developing countries in her twenties prepared White to visit Haiti. What she saw there keeps bringing her back.
“Children become orphans, but not necessarily because they lost both of their parents,” White says. “They’re poverty orphans. The mom and dad have to give up their children because they can’t feed them.”
These children become “restaveks” (in French: rester is “to stay” and avec is “with”) and live with other families as domestic servants. They are rarely educated and often neglected or abused. At the Respire Haiti Christian School, restaveks get books, uniforms, breakfast, and lunch. The school lets out in the early afternoon so the kids can get back to work. They often go hungry over the weekend.
It’s a similar situation to what White saw while backpacking through Ukraine, India, Egypt, Morocco, and other poor countries as a twenty-something. She also visited countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka during her Semester at Sea study abroad program at Trinity.
Now, she considers Haiti the perfect place to serve because it’s so close to the U.S.—just a few hours on a plane rather than half a day or more—and she has a husband and children of her own to care for in Colorado. Most of the time she brings at least one of her four sons with her to Haiti. White says it’s a blessing for her kids to experience another culture and develop true friendships with Haitian children.
While it’s an expensive and frequent trip, she says it’s not a hardship for her.
“I’m not a shopper,” she says. “I don’t spend money on anything except the basics. My service is what my family saves up to do. Is it a financial burden? No, we truly feel blessed for me to be able to go down and serve.”
Part of her work is to help groups organize fundraising events for their trip, and White says she’s ready to assist any Trinity alumni who want to get involved at the organization. The micro-lending program at Respire Haiti can help local entrepreneurs establish small businesses to support their families. Anyone who can teach a trade in a week is welcome to pass down their skills to help Haitians begin a business that will benefit the family for a lifetime.
White says the unofficial training she’s received through the events in her life—teaching, backpacking through developing countries, ministry—is what led her to Respire Haiti.
“God puts all these experiences in your life, and then it all culminates in this amazing skill set that you can apply and serve,” she says. “For me, it’s about giving back to God for everything he’s done for us. I’m filled with gratitude every day.”
If you’d like to visit with White or are interested in volunteering with Respire Haiti, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.