Falling in love with Haiti, child who 'stole my heart'
It was during her first mission trip to Haiti nearly two years ago when Haley Wyatt met 3-year-old "Bebe" - Jamesley Joseph - and his family at a celebration in their village, Lambi. "He was the first person I fell in love with in Haiti - this sweet little boy," remembers Wyatt, 31. ".He was so cute and so charismatic. He loved being around us." No matter her work assignment during the mission trip, Bebe always followed - sometimes sitting on her lap or just playing with her hair. "So he really stole my heart," says Wyatt. In the years after the horrific earthquake of 2010, Bebe and his mom, dad and four siblings were among many Haitian families living in makeshift homes. Wyatt came to Lambi Village in June 2014 with a group from Midway Baptist Church. "We work with an organization in Haiti (called Grace International) that truly works at giving people a hand-up and not a handout," says Wyatt. She likens the organization to Habitat for Humanity, which requires "sweat equity" from families who help build their own homes. Before leaving on her first mission trip to Haiti, Wyatt and her mission group participated in a book study. When Helping Hurts taught them how short-term mission work can be detrimental to everyone involved if a mission group does not stay focused on building relationships. "So we spend a lot of time with the people (helping build homes) and they become your friends and your family," explains Wyatt. In Haiti, Wyatt has made many really good friends. One of them, Victor, has reached his early-20s and is only in high school because his family cannot afford to send all of their children to school every year. "So it takes a very long time for them to be able to get an education," says Wyatt. Knowing Bebe's family could not pay the $200 to send him to school every year, Wyatt says she decided to pay for his schooling. Her friends and family members back home agreed to sponsor Bebe's four siblings so they could go to school too. In June 2015, Wyatt returned to Haiti with a Midway Baptist group that volunteered at a boys' orphanage. Seeing the living conditions of those children "broke my heart," she says. With so many children living in the boys' home, most don't get a lot of attention from their house parents, Wyatt says. So she organized a mission group of three for a return trip last October. Wyatt and her mom, Vicki Crowe, were joined by Mallory Akers on that mission trip. They did not stay in a hotel so there wasn't air conditioning and electricity was unreliable. "We actually slept on the roof several nights because the power would go out and the fans would go off - and it would be so miserably hot," remembers Wyatt. Her mother was able to go on the Haiti mission trip because of a benefit concert held by Midway Baptist Church for Wyatt and her husband, Nate, who were seriously injured in a 2014 motorcycle accident. "We were so appreciative of that money when it came, but I knew that I wanted to pay that forward when we could," says Wyatt. ".So I paid for my mom to go" on the mission trip. Crowe had never been on a mission trip before and her daughter had no experience in mission work until her mid-20s, but Wyatt has always been intrigued by other cultures. That interest spiked while working with families of different cultures at a refugee center in Bowling Green during her four years as preschool teacher in Warren County. Having not been exposed to much cultural diversity while growing up in Barren County, Wyatt struggled to learn about the culture, customs and traditions of those families. She eventually learned to love and appreciate her workday. "It was always fun for me to engage with (those families) and learn from them," says Wyatt, an ESL teacher at Northside Elementary and Woodford County High School. The hope and resilience of Haitian families now feed her soul. "I feel fulfilled when I'm able to go there and make friends," she explains. "And each time I go back I feel like our bonds are a little stronger - so that's just really special." Midway Baptist Church will send its third mission group to Haiti next month. Wyatt will not be among them. She's getting ready to open her own yoga studio - Wildflower Yoga & Wellness - in Versailles. She currently teaches yoga on Tuesday evenings at six at Woodford Family Chiropractic on North Main Street in Versailles. Anyone may participate in their first class at no cost. "I've always had a really busy mind, which causes me to have anxiety which leads to depression," explains Wyatt. "So I was really attracted to that sense of yoga - calming of the mind, being able to connect with your breath." Interestingly, she got started teaching yoga - and discovered that life's passion - while raising money for her first mission trip to Haiti. "The people of Haiti are resilient," says Wyatt. "They continue to have hope in a situation that most of us would walk in and say, 'There's no hope here.'"