A poor, hungry young Haitian opened his hand: In it was one crab leg. He had brought it to share with his classmates. There were 10 of them. That image is etched in Sara Ko’s mind forever.
“We began to share the meat in the leg. There was very little to go around, but everybody got a share,” said the 23-year-old Richmond High graduate. “Haitians say this is their principle — no matter how small the offering, everybody must share. It was a really touching moment.”
Ko has spent the last few years going back and forth to Haiti, working at the Cité Soleil Community School in Port-au-Prince.
According to the school’s website, Cité Soleil is said to be the biggest shantytown in the Caribbean. It is also one of the toughest neighbourhoods in all of Haiti.
“I went to Haiti on my own, right after the earthquake in 2010,” said the University of B.C. bachelor of international relations graduate. “I felt touched by the disaster, and I felt I could offer something.
“I went to my church, Broadmoor Baptist, to see if they could sponsor me.”
After searching on Google to see where the greatest need was, she found out about Haiti Partners, a non-governmental organization (NGO) aimed at helping the desperately poor in the Cité Soleil neighbourhood.
Ko will speak about her experiences this Friday during a fundraising event for Haiti, dubbed The 2nd Round Haiti Fundraiser.
When she first arrived in Haiti, Ko spent time following nurses, doctors and educators, who then invited her to visit Cité Soleil Community School.
There have been so many cherished moments for Ko during her time there.
“I celebrated my birthday in Haiti,” she said. “Never have I been so moved by people. All my friends came to gather at the school — adults, kids, teachers and people from the community. They even got me a cake. Among the gifts, I was given a little bag of juice worth 12 cents and a handful of candy worth about five cents. They were the best presents I have ever received in my life.”
When asked if she ever feared for her life while there, Ko said, “sometimes.”
“Apart from the obvious physical components — disease and accidents — there are also social aspects,” Ko said. “Jealousy and class division is a big thing there. Though I am generally liked, I know to be careful. I’ve faced racism, sexism, and general discrimination. It’s largely not anger or threats, more things like men shouting ‘baby baby! Sexy!’ as I walk along the streets, and some even coming up to me and physically holding me. It can be scary, but I’m firm and speak Creole well.”
Although Ko is teaching Haitians, they have taught her so much more.
“Haitians are extremely hardworking and persevering people, especially the people of Cité Soleil,” Ko added. “There is pure joy in those children. There is something real and powerful about the people who walk in the streets; something you know that comes from a soul who has known real suffering.”
As to her future plans, Ko hesitates, but says she’s considering research or investigative journalism in human rights, aid and development. “It’s become harder to plan life… Something about living in Haiti, or living in any place like this, it teaches you that we really don’t have as much control over our lives as we’d like to think. And there’s something about being in the moment, being open to what life has not yet shown you.
As the guest speaker this Friday, Ko will spend about an hour talking about a myriad of issues, such as women’s rights, child slavery, international aid and development, the earthquake, history and culture.
“I will also discuss voodoo and religion, NGOs, my own personal story, Cité Soleil Community School, the educational system, politics and insights on society there,” she said, adding she then flies back to Haiti.
The fundraiser begins at 7 p.m. at Broadmoor Baptist Church, 8140 Saunders Rd. For more information, call Jae Han at 778-628-1226 or visit http://www.facebook.com/events/340174306060124/.