Sandstrom finds calling in Haiti

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Monona resident Kylie Sandstrom completed a mission trip to Haiti earlier this month, where she and other members of the organization HELP Mission International, Inc., helped at an orphanage. Kylie and her husband, Nate, first formed a connection with the orphanage in 2012, and one or both of them have returned every year since. (Photos courtesy of Kylie Sandstrom)

Rebuilding a roof at the orphanage was one of the projects HELP Mission team members worked on when Kylie visited in early February.

These are some of the school desks Kylie helped build.

Kylie Sandstrom, pictured with Pastor John from HELP Mission, as well as Pastor Kelly, who founded the orphanage in Haiti.

Girls at the orphanage receive the baby dolls Kylie brought.

One of the school classes meets.

Kylie Sandstrom poses with other HELP Mission Work Team members during a recent trip to Haiti.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

It was 2012. Haiti was still reeling from 2010’s devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that extensively damaged the Caribbean nation’s infrastructure and killed as many as 300,000 people. Living in Fort Dodge then, Nate and Kylie Sandstrom wanted to help. 

“We felt like we were called to go after the earthquake,” Kylie said. “It felt like God’s calling.” 

After connecting with the organization HELP Mission International, Inc., through their pastor’s brother-in-law, the couple was stationed with a church in Cap-Haitien, in northern Haiti, where they helped build furniture. They also spent a couple days touring the area. During that time, recalled Kylie, the pastor of the Haitian church mentioned that he had formed an orphanage outside town. He wondered if they would like to see it. 

“At the time, there were 13 orphans,” said Kylie. Located on four to five acres, it was self-sustaining, with a garden. The pastor had also opened a school nearby, which 500 kids attended. 

The Sandstroms, who now live in Monona, forged a lasting connection with the orphanage that year. Along with other HELP Mission volunteers, they’ve returned to work there every year since, either together or individually. Kylie made the most recent trip earlier this month. 

Every trip to the orphanage has been a little different.

“One trip, my husband helped build a chicken coop,” she explained. Another time, it was a laying hen house, which would give kids access to hard-boiled eggs. 

This year, Kylie planned to help replace a cement roof on one of the orphanage buildings.

“There was another earthquake in November,” she said. “Where the boys sleep, the roof had a large crack in it.”

The group also hoped to build new bathrooms and construct benches for the school.

Some of the work—plus some other tasks—was accomplished: roof trusses were built, along with 20 small desks and five school benches. Shelving was also created for the area’s free clinic, which is located on the orphanage grounds. The group paid individuals to work on the bathroom system.

“You have to be flexible,” Kylie noted. “It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.”

One project the Sandstroms have continued to work on is the orphanage’s water supply. During the dry season, most rivers have little to no water, leaving residents with few options.

“Our first trip at the orphanage, we were on a balcony overlooking the restroom area,” Kylie recalled. Unbeknownst to the other, both she and Nate were having the same thought: “We felt like God was telling us to build a well.”

Three years later, the $7,000 to $8,000 needed to make the well a reality had been raised. That’s a significant investment in Haiti, where most citizens make an average $2 per day.

A company was hired to dig the well, and Kylie said workers anticipated having to go down 500 feet to hit water, since it was so dry. But luck was on their side.

“It was only 250 feet and they hit a major gush of water,” she remarked with excitement. 

Now, the Sandstroms are helping to raise money for a solar panel that will run the well. 

Presently, said Kylie, “it runs on a generator, but right now there’s no gas in Haiti.”

$6,000 has already been collected for the $16,000 project.

“After that, we want to install a Culligan water filtration system,” she shared. This would not only provide the orphanage with clean drinking water, but the facility could also earn income by charging area residents for water.

The orphanage currently houses 32 children. Another 12 stay at the pastor’s home. Kylie said most have no parent or guardian. For others, “mom and dad don’t feel like they can take care of them,” she added.

An orphanage mom helps give them a familial connection, and the pastor visits weekly. When the orphanage gates open to reveal that he’s come for a visit, there’s unbridled excitement.

“The kids come screaming because they know pastor is there. They know they are safe with him,” Kylie said. “It’s a fun connection to see.”

She’s worried, though, that new government stipulations for orphanages could upset this harmony. Although the girls and boys dorms are separate, they are located in the same building. The government, explained Kylie, wants separate roofs for each gender, or the orphanage could be shut down. There’s no timeline for when this must be accomplished, and money is scarce.

But the Haitians remain positive.

“Every Haitian has a smile on their face. They’re always laughing,” said Kylie of the people she’s come to love. “They’re happy they are here. And that’s an incredible thing to witness.”

Kylie said she and Nathan will continue to visit Haiti as long as they are able. Political unrest can make traveling to the country dangerous. The two also have busy schedules and four children. Plus, trips are a significant financial commitment. 

The most recent cost $2,000. In addition, Kylie brought 100 pounds of goods, including clothing, school supplies, baby dolls and soccer balls.

She admits a mission trip isn’t for everyone. 

“It has to be a prayerfully considered experience,” she noted. “And not every experience is the same. If you want to, it has to be a calling.”

Arriving in another country is a culture shock. For Kylie, the experience is indescribable.

“It hits all the senses,” she said. “It’s hard to get that full effect until you’re truly there.”

“Then,” she continued, “when you’re home, you get reverse culture shock in your own country.”

Kylie savors being part of something larger than herself.

“I might be helping only 30 people, but it’s better than none,” she said. “My favorite part is interacting with the kids, showing them they’re loved. I’m able to give a little of myself for a little bit of time.”

But the benefits are far-reaching.

If you’d like to make a contribution to any of the projects at the orphanage, you can contact Kylie at kylie.sandstrom@mflmm.k12.ia.us.

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