Jennifer Lenz - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I've been living abroad for 12 years now and travel is my passion! I remember my first trip abroad as being so scary; the language, money, food (and everything) were so unfamiliar to me. Now those things are not scary, because every new trip is a new adventure. I love learning about different cultures, and the people I meet inspire me to be a better person. 

Volunteer with children in Curacao
Kids from the local area

Why did you choose Kiskeya Aqua Ferme?  

When I read about Kiskeya, I was drawn to them for several reasons. First, they had a variety of interesting projects going on, so there was a lot of opportunity. Second, it was clear that they are doing a lot to help the local community. Third, I felt that I would be able to contribute my own skills/knowledge towards their projects. Not only am I a biologist, but I spent a lot of time on a farm when I was growing up (my grandparents were farmers). Finally, the written and phone communication with them assured me that I was going to be working with some amazing people! 

What was your favorite part about Haiti?  

Definitely the people. They were so extremely kind and welcoming. In fact, at first I was worried that they were just going to pamper me and not actually put me to work! I think I finally convinced them I wanted to get dirty. We had so many great experiences and conversations (despite me not speaking their language), but I'll never forget when one of the clinic workers said, "I know one man can make a difference...why not me?" 

What made your experience abroad unique?  

This was actually my first time officially volunteering. It was a unique experience to me because I wasn't just on holiday, I felt (I hope!) that I was being useful. Furthermore, I was so happy to get to know Haiti a bit better. Honestly, this was one of the hardest places for me to leave; I ended up extending my stay as long as possible and I truly hope I can go back. 

Volunteers treating a goat
Injecting goats

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

They were amazing! They picked me up at the airport, looked after my needs in the guesthouse (including amazing food), took me out for local tours (a local beach, some sightseeing in Port-Au-Prince, etc), helped me get bus tickets for the Dominican Republic (where I was heading next to meet an old friend), and they even worked really hard to get the internet up and running so that I wouldn't feel out of touch with my family/friends. Arielle kept in touch by phone to make sure everything was okay and allowed me to stay my last night at her mother's place before I caught the bus early in the morning.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I would have planned to spend more time there. As a school teacher, my holiday time is limited so I didn't have very much flexibility. I thought a week (yes, only a week!) would be enough. Of course, nothing really gets done in a week. I did, however, get a chance to get to know the goings-on of the place and was able to come up with some project ideas. I would like a chance to follow up on those!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

I'd always wake up early (simply because that's what school teachers normally do!). Not long after, my breakfast would be set up for me, so I'd sit on the front porch and enjoy the meal while watching the farm animals. The turkey always stopped by, curious as to what I was eating. Ashley (who was managing the farm) would join me and we would discuss what needed to be done that day. Usually we set aside an hour or two for English lessons, depending on when the other staff were available. 

One day I got a tour of the clinic and other parts of the farm property, but the rest of the time we had plenty of chores: watering the plants, grafting citrus and mango trees, injecting goats with vitamins and antibiotics, clearing land for planting, you know, farm stuff! It was the kind of work that makes you feel pleasantly tired. Of course, we always had a break for lunch and dinner, which were not only amazing, but way too much food for me. Once it was dark we would relax and watch a movie or read, and soon we would be winding down for a well-earned rest.

Tourist with an Emus in Curacao
Emus

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?  

My free time on the farm was spent mostly reading, reading, and reading; that's just me though! The staff always asked if I wanted to get out and about. We went to a couple local beaches and a little tour of the downtown. I was also invited for a night out dancing. I never felt bored, for sure! 

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

The guesthouse was really nice. I liked that they gave me a spacious room and comfortable bed, with a private bathroom. Not that I mind sharing, but it seems they made a genuine effort to make me feel welcome there. I didn't use the A/C because I'm used to warm climates, but there was one available.

I think the place was rather new, as a few things were still in progress. For example, there were issues with running water that were getting sorted, but I don't mind having a bucket bath. Also, coming soon there will be a gorgeous swimming pool for spending your free time. The dining room was huge; it was a shame that I was eating alone (maybe the staff were not supposed to eat with me? Or maybe I should have just invited them!).

Furthermore, I always felt safe. Ashley would remind me to lock the door if we were going out for awhile, but honestly I didn't feel it was necessary most of the time.

Visitors in a Curacao museum
Ashley and me in a museum

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Don't expect to have a strict itinerary and 5-star hotel service, but do expect to enjoy every moment with 5-star people! 

Now that you're home, how has your program impacted your life?  

Being “home” for me means being in the country where I currently live; but yes, I have returned to my daily life, my routine, my lovely cat, and my adventure continues. The trip to Haiti and the time at Kiskeya has impacted me positively in that I want to continue finding ways to stop being just a tourist and start being a participant. 

My time there was way too short, but it touched my heart in ways I can't even describe. I hope to continue having these kinds of experiences. 

Would you recommend Kiskeya to others? Why?  

I would definitely recommend Kiskeya to people who have the right skills/knowledge to contribute, or who are just willing to dedicate some time to helping make a difference. It's an enriching experience and a chance to have a positive impact. My suggestion would be to try and spend a longer amount of time than I did so you can see through bigger projects.