I first met Amanda Brechbill a year ago. She was part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s contingent to World Youth Day in Madrid. During my ten days covering the group, I noticed Amanda was a sweet, caring teenager who made friends with everyone on the trip.
Recently, as I scanned my Facebook home page feed, I saw that Amanda had been on a summer mission trip to Haiti with some fellow parishioners from St. Ann in Hagerstown. St. Ann has a sister parish, St. Clare, in the impoverished nation.
I contacted Amanda to catch up with her and learn more about her trip. She said it proved to be a life-changing one for her. It’s also a trip she wanted to make for years.
“Three years ago my dad and older sister were two of the ten who went to Haiti over the summer,” she wrote me. “Since hearing all of their stories, I have wanted to go, too, but they want you to be 16-years-old before you go,”
The St. Ann group met several times since January to prepare for the trip, Amanda said. Six of the nine going on the trip this year had been to Haiti before, she said.
“We arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday afternoon and it took a few hours to get to the rectory where we stayed,” Amanda said. “This rectory provided us with running water for showers, as well as purified water to keep us healthy. During the week we were there, we spent the days at the school St. Claire to host a vacation bible school for first to sixth graders.”
Amanda continued: “This was the first time to have a service project like this where I was in such a different environment and becoming so close with all those who participated. Within my community I have done smaller projects such as helping in Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, volunteering at hometown festivals and even Vacation Bible Schools at my hometown church but, like I said, nothing to this extent.”
Amanda is a member of Williamsport High School’s Interact Club and in several service efforts in her hometown. The Haiti trip would be an bigger display of selflessness.
“My goal going there was to change someone’s life and leaving I realized that this whole time had not only possibly changed a child’s life but they defiantly changed my life too,” Amanda said. “After a week of being with the kids everyday, I became very attached. I feel bad but I defiantly had some favorites but I loved them all so much.”
Amanda was one of the two teen leaders that led a song dance and discovery group at the Vacation Bible School. The teens spent the week teaching them the “Rise and Shine” song.
“I loved to hear them singing, especially when they got comfortable with the words because they would be so loud and vibrant,” she said.
The St. Ann parishioners would also play soccer, basketball and race with the Haitian children.
“We did a sack race and a three-legged race throughout the week, which they loved,” Amanda said. “This was the time of day that I became really close to the kids because they could teach me something instead of the other way around. They would speak to me in Haitian Creole and I couldn’t understand any of it but their smiles told me everything I needed to know.”
Amanda said that she grew to care about these children deeply.
“There were a lot of amazing moments that week,” Amanda wrote me. “One was one afternoon and a little boy named Judensky came and sat on my lap. He was holding my hand and talking to me and then he gave me his bracelet that was given out as a prize earlier that week. It meant so much to me and I wore it all that week but gave it back to him since he had lost his other one. It was incredible to see that even though they never had much they still live to share and help others.”
During a Mass that concluded St. Ann’s time at St. Clare, some of the children sang the song Amanda taught them. The parents and friends of the children were in attendance.
“I learned what Haitians found important-family,” she said. “I learned this while walking around town and I saw a cemetery. It was astonishing to see these tombs because they were in better shape than the houses where they lived. The tombs were all brilliantly bright colors-pinks, blues and yellows. Haitians show their love for their family in this way of giving them such a wonderful place to lay. For all that they don’t have they have family and that can never be taken away from them.”
A year after she was surrounded by millions of young Catholics celebrating in Spain, this trip couldn’t have been more different. She saw poverty and illness. Above all else, she saw hope.
“I am a very lucky 17 year old to Be able to go to Madrid and then Haiti in two different summers,” Amanda said. “I always knew I wanted to travel and I knew that I would find a way to go where I want to go but I never knew I could do that at such a going age. I am so happy and grateful for my patents to support me in all these travels and I know that I will continue my way around the world. From this trip I now see the works as much smaller knowing that what I do here in Williamsport, Maryland actually makes a big difference on the world as a whole.”