Putting her heart into it

Mallory Gochanour of Fairmont hugs a Haitian child during one of her trips to the impoverished nation.

It’s said that you get more out of life by giving to others. Mallory Gochanour of Fairmont has experienced this firsthand in Haiti.

The 20-year-old has made several trips there and plans to go back in April.

She first went in the summer of 2018 with a youth group through her church, Bethel Evangelical Free Church, which worked with the organization GoServ Global. For that trip, Gochanour said there were about a dozen students her age.

“We fundraised for that trip,” she said. “We had a year of preparation time. We had about one meeting a month where we prepared financially and spiritually for it.”

Gochanour said traveling to the impoverished country is not easy. There are typically two flights, from Minneapolis to Florida, and then from Florida to Port au-Prince. It’s then about a five-hour drive to Les Cayes.

“We can usually make it in a day or a day and a half of travel,” she said.

They stay in a house near an orphanage owned by GoServ Global.

According to its website, GoServ Global was started by co-founder Ken DeYoung, a man from Laurens, Iowa, with a passion for flying.

In 2010, Haiti was hit by an earthquake and a call was sent out asking pilots to help transport supplies in and injured people out. DeYoung answered the call and spent weeks flying between Haiti and the southern United States. Since then, he has built relationships with the people and continues to fly to Haiti almost every month.

Hurricane Matthew subsequently hit Haiti in 2016.

On Gochanour’s first trip, her group planned to give a Bible lesson at each orphanage. They also delivered soccer balls to the children, played with them and made crafts with them.

It did not take long for Gochanour to realize she wanted to go back soon.

“It was actually my second day there,” she said. “I knew there was another trip going in October and I said to the leader, ‘I want to go in October if you have room.’ I was looking forward to going but then that trip was cancelled.”

Gochanour has planned to go to Haiti nine times this past year, but most of the trips were cancelled because of riots and unrest in the country.

She got to return in February with several members of her church through GoServ Global. Gochanour went again in April, with a family from her church.

She has funded all of her trips on her own.

She is not planning to go again until April, though she would go sooner if she could.

“Right now, it’s really bad down there. I was supposed to go this month but it was cancelled because of the riots.”

Every trip, she has gone to Les Cayes and been able to visit the same main orphanage, called “The Center,” and has formed relationships with the children. She estimates that about 200 children, ranging from infants to older teens, live in the orphanage.

“Some are at the orphanage because they don’t have family at all, and some have a family but they weren’t able to keep or support them financially,” Gochanour said.

The orphanages are run by Christians so Gochanuor said many of the children are already familiar with the message she is sharing. Some people in Haiti are Christian but there are also many voodooists.

The orphanage is not one big building, but a site with different grain bins in which the children live. There’s also a school on site. While not all of the children who attend the school belong to the orphanage, many still live in poverty.

On their trips to Haiti, Gochanour and the people she is traveling with typically bring whatever they can to give to the children.

“We pack light for ourselves,” she said. “But since it’s a humanitarian trip, we’re usually allowed two checked bags. We pack soccer balls, clothing and other toys and candy for the kids.”

Still, Gochanour knew she wanted to do something more to help the children that mean so much to her.

“The first trip I saw how much they gave me, and I wanted to give them something back as a thank-you,” she said. “I thought about packing a backpack of school supplies and an outfit and some little toys, and I planned on doing it but heard they didn’t need backpacks so it fell through.”

Fast forward a few months to the start of this school year, when Gochanour found out they actually do need backpacks. Not just for the children in the orphanage, but for about 600 youth in the area who attend school. After grade school, students can go on to what’s called professional school, where they learn a trade.

Gochanour ended up buying 300 backpacks in bulk and shipping them to Iowa, where DeYoung would fly them down to Les Cayes. She didn’t get to pack them with supplies like she originally intended because they needed the backpacks as soon as possible.

“I ordered 300 and then the family I went with in February also ordered 300,” she explained.

The total cost of the 300 backpacks came to $1,400. So far, Gochanour has raised about half of that amount.

“You know that they’re going to use them. Haitians take everything they own and use it until it’s not usable anymore,” Gochanour said.

Communicating with the children has not been difficult. Most of the older kids speak Creole, their native language, English, French and Spanish. A lot of the younger children understand English and are learning it as their second language.

“I’m the one going down there to teach them something, but they’re the ones teaching me,” Gochanour said. “The kids keep puling me back there. I always joke that I leave my heart down there so I have to go visit it.”

Anyone with questions or who may wish to help may contact Gochanour through email at mallorygochanour13 @gmail.com or message her through Facebook.