In a few months, newlyweds Katelyn and Ryan Dodge plan to quit their jobs, pack their belongings into carry-on luggage and move to Haiti for a year as missionaries.
The couple will work for My Life Speaks, helping orphans.
Katelyn will teach the organization’s founders’ three children, ages 10 to 14. Two are Haitian orphans who were adopted after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.
Ryan will work as the community involvement coordinator, making sure the organization’s programs run smoothly.
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Both work at Stone Belt in Bloomington, a service provider for people with developmental disabilities.
“I love giving back to the community. I was really involved with life in Brown County, on different boards and doing different volunteer opportunities. I just love giving back,” Ryan said.
Ryan first went to Haiti two years ago and fell in love with the area and mission work. Last year, the couple went to the Caribbean nation for the first time together.
They’re looking to raise $17,000 by the end of June to live there for one year. That will cover their food, bills, airfare and communication expenses.
But why would they pack up, quit their jobs and say goodbye to their families to move to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?
Their answer is simple: The children there need help.
“Slavery is still legal (in Haiti), and that is just insane to me,” Ryan said.
The couple will live in the village of Neply — “almost like Haitian Nashville,” Katelyn said. “Everybody is just so nice and so full of love. I mean, they would do anything for you.”
The founders of My Life Speaks, Mike and Missy Wilson, moved to Haiti permanently last summer.
The Dodges will either live on the My Life Speaks campus, a former church that was damaged by the 2010 earthquake, or with the Wilsons.
The organization also runs a medical clinic in the village and help orphans find families to help raise them. But the children are not usually adopted by those families; they are just raised with them so the children have a home, Ryan said.
The campus is also where My Life Speaks hosts a feeding program that serves about 120 kids a day, five days a week.
“It’s a mixture of kids who are slaves and just kids who are from super-poor families in the village,” Katelyn said.
Child slaves in Haiti are called “restaveks,” Ryan said.
“Basically, what happens is parents have these kids and they can’t provide for them, so they basically sell their kids off to these families, and they do everything.
“They don’t get to go to school. They take care of everything in the house, including the other kids. They don’t get an education. Females get pregnant on purpose so they no longer have to be a restavek because they’re not getting abused and they’re not having to do hard, intense labor,” he said.
Pregnant women came up to the couple while they were there in October begging them to take their baby back to America.
“I would have little girls fight to sit on ‘Mama Blanc’s’, white mom’s, lap because they wanted to come back to America with me,” Katelyn said.
Adjusting to life abroad
Besides the social conditions, there are other details of living in a Third World country that will take time to adjust to.
On March 18, the temperature in Port-au-Prince was 85 degrees with a low of 73.
“I think the hardest thing for Katelyn will be the heat,” Ryan said.
“Tarantulas,” Katelyn countered.
“We won’t be living in air conditioning,” Ryan added.
“Everything is open air. There’s no windows,” Katelyn said.
Ryan is thinking about getting vaccinations before moving, which is recommended, but that decision is more difficult for his wife, who is terrified of needles.
Not only is health care scarce in Haiti, but the cost of living is high. A gallon of milk is $8, Katelyn said. If the couple need shampoo or other necessities, they will have to travel to the capital, Port-au-Prince, about 45 miles away.
However, about every 90 days, the couple will come home to visit family for a week or two due to Haitian residency laws.
What did their families say when they told them they were moving to Haiti?
“It was a mixed reaction. My dad got a little tearful and didn’t want to talk about it. My mom was like, ‘OK, great. Good luck raising the money,” Katelyn said.
“I think for me, my parents were really supportive,” Ryan said. “I’m from a religious background. But (they were) also hesitant. You raise your kids, you want them to be happy, you want them to be healthy and successful. Maybe they didn’t look at it like us. Maybe that’s not what they had envisioned. I believe that they’re supportive. It’s just different for them.”
The couple plan to leave at the end of June.
“I think with both of our families, they just want us to be happy, so that’s what we’re doing,” Ryan said.
The couple ordered 50 “Hoosiers to Haiti” T-shirts to sell to help meet their $17,000 goal. They already have sold out of those and recently received another batch to sell, for $20 each.
The couple also hope to secure donations from their church, New Life Community Church, and other local churches.
They have set up an account for donations at YouCaring.com. As of March 18, that site showed $3,750 raised.
“Fundraising is going well. We really just started, but we’ve had a lot of huge blessings. Just like today somebody donated $500, and it was just an anonymous (donor),” Ryan said Feb. 26.
No matter if they reach their goal or not, the couple plan to keep their departure date.
“Our goal is to raise that lump sum before we go, but if not, we’ll figure it out,” Ryan said.
Ryan and Katelyn Dodge are raising money for their one-year mission trip in Haiti beginning at the end of June.
- Visit youcaring.com/Hoosiers2Haiti.
- Mail to Ryan and Katelyn Dodge, P.O. Box 379, Nashville, IN 47448.
- Ask questions at Hoosiers2Haiti@gmail.com or call 812-340-7628.
The couple also have a blog. People can read about their experiences at Hoosiers2Haiti.wordpress.com.