SOURCE: Saugus Advertiser By: Kate Evans

SAUGUS – While many high school students probably spent their spring break binge-watching Netflix or going on a family vacation, two Saugus sisters chose to visit impoverished Haiti orphanages.

As part of the Pioneer Charter School of Science’s alternative spring break program, Hannah and Sabrina Khafif embarked on a four-day service mission delivering food and clothing to children in need at local schools and orphanages. They were joined by Pioneer students Sydney Georges and Maggie Matta, a parent and a staff member.

The trip comes five years after a 7.0-magnitute earthquake devastated Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and affecting millions.

The Pioneer school’s large population of Haitian students is what encouraged a Pioneer alumnus and the school’s CFO to travel to Haiti in January, during which time they laid the groundwork for a springtime student trip.

“We know that people in that country are really suffering still, five years after the earthquake,” said Liz Johnson, outreach coordinator at Pioneer Charter School of Science. “We wanted to do whatever we could for both the people in our community as people in our school still have family down there and we wanted to do whatever we could for the people in Haiti.”

Inspired by a presentation about Haiti at the school, Hannah signed up for the trip immediately.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” said Hannah, a junior at Pioneer.

Sabrina, a sophomore, got the idea to participate from her older sister.

“My sister was going and it sounded really interesting to me because I’ve always been really interested in helping people like that,” said Sabrina, who received many visitors when she was hospitalized in second grade after she had her appendix removed. “That kind of inspired me every since to do the same thing for other kids.”

The Haiti-bound group departed on April 18 for their trip, which was organized by the PCSS Alumni Association. The students’ first day in Haiti was filled with exploring, experiencing the culture and a little shopping.

Hannah found Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to be hot and crowded. To her surprise, much of the city had been built back up since the earthquake.

It wasn’t until the group drove to orphanages the following two days that they noticed the extent of the devastation that remains.

“We were driving and you could look out the window and see buildings that were still destroyed from the earthquake,” Sabrina said. “You could see young kids … going through buildings taking out food.”

Walls were completely destroyed or half standing and rubble and trash littered the ground, Hannah said, and unpaved streets made for a bumpy ride to visit the kids.

On their second day in Haiti the group visited a private school and two orphanages. At each orphanage, the group donated clothing and 10 days worth of rice and pasta. They also doled out goodie bags filled with chips, candy, Oreos, toothpaste, toothbrushes.

Prior to leaving for Haiti, students at Pioneer held several fundraisers to raise money to purchase supplies that were distributed to Haitian children.

After giving the orphanages some supplies, the Pioneer group spent some time to with the children — playing soccer, taking pictures and dancing around.

“All the kids were really smiling and happy. It was hard to picture that they go through hard struggles everyday because they were just genuinely happy,” Hannah said. “And when I left I was like, ‘wow they’re actually poor and they’re still optimistic.’ It was really crazy to see how much innocence and hope they had.”

For Hannah, it was difficult to see where children at the orphanages sleep. There were no beds in the bedrooms. Instead, she saw only a room with an empty bedpost in one of the buildings.

“It was just crazy to see how they live,” Hannah said.

On their third day the students visited another orphanage, where Sabrina became emotional upon learning of the poor conditions the children live in.

“At the last orphanage, [the] guy who helped run it came to us and was like, ‘thank God you came, God sent you, we didn’t have any food,’” said Sabrina. “That made me tear up. I almost starting crying right in front of him but I didn’t. It made us really feel good because we knew how much of an impact we were having on them.”

That night the group had dinner at the home of the principal of one of the schools they visited. The fourth day was spent relaxing by a pool and beach at a nearby resort.

“It was really beautiful,” Sabrina said. “That day was our day to just really enjoy and relax.”

In addition to the trip, the group also set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $3,500 to provide running water in the school they visited and gas heat to one of the orphanages. As of Tuesday, the page had collected $3,812 – over $300 more than needed.

Although PCSS is off to a good start in helping Haiti, Johnson acknowledged that there’s still plenty of work left to do. The school is planning a second trip to Haiti in August so that more students can visit and aid the country.

“They had a really positive experience and we are looking forward to going back,” Johnson said.

Hannah hopes to be among the students who return in August.

“When we were leaving [the orphanages] they were holding our hands and saying they didn’t want us to go and saying they hope we come again,” Hannah said. “So I’d really like to see them [again] to see if they remember us.”

Sabrina feels the same way as her sister and would also like to return to the impoverished nation.

“I want to go back because although we donated all the food and stuff it’s not going to be enough to tie them over for very long,” Sabrina said, “and I don’t want to go once and just forget about them. I want to go back to the same place, hopefully, next time.”

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