Feeling nauseous from the stench of trash and dead rats, Mazelle Etessami ’14 checked that no one could see her before quickly slipping her camera out of its bag to take some photographs.
Soon after, she visited one of the Internally Displaced Persons camps in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she interacted with Haitians who had been displaced from their homes by the 2010 earthquake.
Two people in the camp had killed each other earlier that morning, so someone from the U.N. Force had to escort her.
As Etessami walked through the camp, she heard people yelling at her to get out of their country, calling her a white person.
“It was the hardest trip I’ve been on because the frustration was unbearable,” Etessami said. “This experience taught me resilience and courage because it is so easy there to give up wanting to help.”
As a recipient of the Junior Summer Fellowship, Etessami spent 17 days working with the organization “Remember the Children”, helping street kids by teaching them, giving them food and clothing and applying fluoride to their teeth.
Her project also involved keeping a blog (helpinginhaiti.blogspot.com) and taking photographs, which she hopes to display in the senior art gallery at school in the spring to raise both money and awareness.
“I took lots of pictures, but it was very hard because Haitians are very against foreigners taking their photos because they’re afraid of being exploited,” Etessami said.
Etessami said she chose to travel to and volunteer in Haiti for her Junior Summer Fellowship because she remembered feeling helpless when the earthquake occurred in 2010.
She had previously tried to help victims of the earthquake by raising money at a dance at Mirman School.
The trip was also her first visit to the country.
Although Etessami had done community service projects before in various countries, including India, Zambia and Ghana, she said she found this experience to be especially difficult.
“I think it was a big wake-up call for me because I’ve done various volunteering projects before; I do them all the time, but this time the suffering and poverty were literally everywhere,” Etessami said. “I realized that I can’t expect myself to save everyone and try to help everyone because there is so much of it.”