Helping Hands: MMC Students Set To Take Part in Irene Man’s Ongoing Haiti Mission
February 9, 2018
By luck of the draw, Molly Koisti and Ashton Mednansky met while sharing a Mount Marty College bathroom.
"We met our freshmen year because we were randomly paired as ‘john mates,’" Koisti said with a laugh, explained the bathroom shared by neighboring dorm rooms.
Now, the two MMC students are sharing a mission to Haiti.
Irene resident Dave Hansen is leading the Haitian trip. He and his wife, Jerilyn, have led dozens of mission trips since founding their ministry in 1989. The non-profit 501(c)3 organization follows the mission statement, "Blessed by God, motivated to serve."
"Helping Hands" focuses on sharing the gospel of Jesus, loving His children and tangibly building strong communities.
Dave Hansen is heading up the next trip March 2-9, which offers good timing in the school year for the two MMC students.
"Ashton and Molly will join eight other mission team members who will travel to Haiti in early March," Hansen said. "They’ll experience the Haitian culture and work with housing and education issues."
Hansen met Koisti and Mednansky last fall during a service project in Yankton.
"I met (the two students) at the Mount Marty service day where they were helping to pack Mercy Meals at the Calvary Baptist Church," he said.
Yankton residents Steve and Carmen Mach lead the Mercy Meals ministry, Hansen said. The meals packed in Yankton end up in Haiti for distribution by the Helping Hands For Haiti ministry. The Orphan Grain Train of Norfolk, Nebraska, provides the shipping logistics.
After their MMC service day project, Mednansky and Koisti were intrigued by Hansen and his ministry. The young women had been looking for such an experience, and they signed up for the mission.
It’s not your typical spring break trip to the Caribbean.
Haiti remains one of the poorest nations on Earth, Hansen said. It is located 750 miles from Miami, but the nation’s conditions are a far cry from its neighboring United States.
Haiti shares the island of Hispanola with the Dominican Republic, Hansen said. Haiti is incredibly crowded, particularly by South Dakota standards.
"Haiti covers 10,714 square miles and has 11 million residents," he said. "South Dakota covers 77,000 square miles and has 800,000 residents."
Koisti hasn’t traveled to Haiti, but she does know the island.
"I visited the Dominican Republic for a service learning trip through my high school Spanish class," she explained. "I haven’t really given any specific tips to Ashton, but more along the lines of reassurance that we’ll be safe and have a great time."
Mednansky showed tremendous anticipation when talking about the upcoming mission. After packing the Mercy Meals, she already feels a connection to Haiti, even though she has never visited the country.
"I’ve never been on a trip like this before, but I’m very excited!" she said.
Koisti looks forward to interacting with the Haitian people, regardless of the mission’s work or focus.
"One thing I learned from visiting the Dominican Republic is that the people are very hospitable and put their guest first," she said. "I would expect nothing less from the people of Haiti."
Koisti plays for the MMC women’s basketball team, and the Haitian trip will come on the heels of a very hectic classroom and athletic schedule.
"As for preparing for the trip, I haven’t had a ton of time because I’ve been on the road the last couple of weeks for basketball," she said. "I plan on going home a few weeks before (we leave for Haiti) and doing all of my packing."
Koisti feel confident knowing what to pack and what to expect on the upcoming trip.
"I’m not super worried because of my past travel experiences and all of (Dave Hansen’s) helpful advice," she said.
Hansen generally travels to Haiti four times a year. Besides its poverty, Haiti has seen government corruption, he said. The nation also lacks modern sanitation and infrastructure, made even worse by an earthquake eight years ago, he said.
"The devastation following the earthquake was unbelievable," he said. "In the area where we serve, they have no electricity. The people have the light of the morning when they get active. When it gets dark, their day is done. Haiti is near the equator, so the days remain about 12 hours long."
While the entire nation faces challenges, Hansen pointed to the differences between Haiti’s urban and rural areas.
"There is such a contrast between the capital of Port-au-Prince and the countryside where we’ll be staying and working," he said. "The conditions are much worse in the rural areas."
The mission workers will travel in an old school bus on difficult roads, Hansen said. However, the group will make the journey during the day in safe conditions.
"And our mission house is well secured within a compound and with guards," he said.
The American travelers will need to adjust to the food, Hansen said.
"In Haiti, their staples are beans and rice," he said. "They eat little meat, although they may have chicken. The Haitians have a dish like pumpkin soup, and they always have bread and peanut butter."
Communication will likely pose a challenge, Hansen said. Haitians speak a mix of French and Creole, with little or no English. Over the years, those on the mission trips have found creative ways of getting their messages across to the local residents.
"Sometimes, it’s better not to communicate (with words)," he said. "You have to improvise, like when you’re doing a carpentry project."
During the Hansens’ first mission trip, their group built a school to help improve education. Dave Hansen returned the next year in order to build desks for the school.
The Haitian missions have sought to build churches and schools, along with improving health care by assisting at clinics where possible. The nation has seen constant demand for medical care, often for common illnesses. Basic medicines also remain in short supply.
Unlike the United States, Haitian students must pay for tuition, uniforms and other expenses to attend public schools, Hansen said. "Many students are unable to afford school," he explained.
Many Haitians, especially in the rural areas, struggle for daily survival, Hansen said. The country suffers from inadequate housing, with people living in 8-foot by 10-foot or 8-foot by 12-foot structures.
In some cases, a "house" may be constructed of little more than sticks and rocks, he said. Cement may be used if it’s available.
Structures with tin roofs could leak during heavy rainfall, Hansen said. Many homes and other structures collapsed during earthquakes because of the weak building materials.