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Melissa Kreek serves in the Peace Corps in Haiti
Melissa Kreek serves in the Peace Corps in Haiti
Local Peace Corps volunteer educates Americans on Haiti
By Connie Duvall/Monitor-Index Staff
Moberly, Missouri - Do you possess a desire to help someone mixed with a sense of adventure, linked with the ability to battle a massive dark cloud of homesickness?
Melissa Kreek, the daughter of Steve and Becky Kreek of Moberly, and sister to Matt, has left her comfort zone. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Melissa is serving two years in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere - Haiti.
Because Melissa received her education from the small rural town of Cairo, I wanted to know what shaped her personality and led her to sign on the dotted line to put herself through 16 shots, learn another culture, leave her family along with every human being she knows... knowing she would have absolutely no comforts of home?
Melissa, a 1995 graduate of Northeast RIV, says her family and community were always very close. She felt very safe and nurtured there, although her mother added she was always a bit independent!
After high school graduation, Melissa traveled to Springfield to attend Southwest Missouri State University where she received her degree in Business/Marketing. She sees this as a growing experience as it was her first major separation from family and hometown friends.
Melissa's education was put to use at her job with Edward Jones Investments home office in St. Louis. But it wasn't long before she felt... something was missing.
After nine months of paperwork, preparing her family and herself, Melissa traveled to her first assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer - next stop Haiti. Three months of training in language, culture, and health and safety issues were required before the two years of her work began.
"It takes a while to take our American blinders off," states Melissa. "It takes a while to not see the poverty. That's all I could see for a long time."
Again, Melissa knew she was traveling to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere; yet, actually being there surrounded by the poverty was all-consuming at first. Peace Corps volunteers are not given "special" treatment and housed in superior lodging but lodged in local homes or huts.
Melissa recalls one her first experiences after reaching the Village of Chambellan, the small town she would be calling home for two years, was finding there was no privacy. Windows are open (no glass) and anyone walking by can watch you sleep. The showers are made of large leaves and have no doors to close. Melissa laughs and shares that, after traveling the unpaved road and finally arriving at her "home away from home," she was ready to enjoy a shower. She began telling the native children in their language, Creole, who were curious of the "white" woman and tying to peek into the shower to "go, go!" but in their language; she was actually telling them to "come, come!"
Melissa doesn't want to focus on the negative aspects of Haiti but wishes to convey the beauty of the people living there. "They are a very spiritual people," expresses Melissa. "Relationships - family and friends - that's what's important." Women are the center spot of life - women maintain the house, take care of the children, cook, and hold the household money.
In her town of 8,000, thirteen churches - from Protestant to Catholic - are in the immediate area. And when the doors open for worship, they fill with worshipers! Voodoo is also practiced in some areas of Haiti, although not much in her area. Voodoo, as Melissa explains, is also spiritual but encourages worshipers to pray and not seek medical advice from "foreign" doctors when actually it may be necessary.
Haiti's lack of natural resources directly affects their lack of infrastructure and ability to progress as a country. They must import basically everything people need to live. There are no paved roads, no power system, no job opportunities (85% of the people are unemployed), and very little education. Haiti also lacks the network of concerned citizens we are fortunte enough to have here in the United States to help and provide for those in need.
Haitians work constantly to provide food for their families every day. Since money is scarce, their wealth is their family.
Melissa has put her education to use in teaching Haitian people how to market their embroidery, sewing, basket weaving, gourds and other handmade products. Their largest export at this time is rum.
Her current and future projects include raising awareness about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases with a local youth group, English tutoring, and working with Rotary International, the Neosho Missouri Rotary Chapter, and the Haitian Health Foundation on a latrine project. Three hundred latrines would immensley imporve the quality of life in the Chambellan area. Melissa is also working toward the building of a community center.
Haiti lacks a country-wide educational system, and Melissa stresses the fact she could witness the opening of a school for the cost of a fancy dress purchased here in the United States.
The three main goals for Peace Corps volunteers are:
€ To go to an assigned country and contribute what you have... your two hands and what you have in your head.
€ Share what it is to be an American - ideals and culture.
€ Return to the United States and share the host country's culture, values and priorities.
While returning to the United States for a wedding, Melissa has spoken to several local groups in an effort to spread the word and follow through on her pledge to the Peace Corps. She has enlightened a number of local residents on the Haitian customs and culture and given insight on what the experience has meant in her life.