Church Mission Trips
So, you and your church are seriously talking about a mission trip project to Haiti. Where do you go for help with all the planning that will be necessary? Well right here is a good place to start. There are a number of things to consider with respect to travel arrangements, personal supplies, health, and emergency preparedness.
Travel to Haiti is now simpler than ever before. Your team can book airline travel using Delta, American Airlines, or even Spirit Air. We recommend Delta if you are flying from an airport with easy connections to the Atlanta area. Those who might be flying from their local airport to an airport in Florida may want to consider American Airlines. We do not recommend Spirit, although it is usually the cheapest option. This is because of their rather cramped planes, ala carte pricing, and often taxing departure or arrival times. Typically, prices will range from $595 to $900, depending upon the time of year and fuel costs. We recommend that you begin checking ticket prices three months out from your departure and that you book no later than thirty days prior to your planned travel. We have also found that travel from a weekday to a weekday, rather than on the weekends is preferable in pricing. So your team might consider a Monday to Monday itinerary or a Tuesday to Tuesday, etc.
In order to serve with Reformation Hope’s Haitian partner ministry, Souls Winning Ministries, your team will need to fly into Port-au-Prince (PAP) Toussaint L’Overture International Airport. Be aware that there is a $10 entrance fee, payable as you enter the main terminal/immigration area. You will need to pay this fee prior to queuing up for the immigration official to stamp your passport. Please make sure that your passport is more than six months away from expiration in order to avoid problems with entering Haiti.
Once you have cleared customs and arrive downstairs for retrieving any checked bags, your team may want to rent some luggage carts (chariots) for handling large quantities or large-sized bags. These rent for $1 per cart payable just to the left of the first baggage carrousel. It will normally take some time for your bags to be unloaded and to be available to you on the conveyers. You will be approached by baggage handlers eager for a tip to help you retrieve your bags. Also be aware that when you leave the baggage area, they will want to see your luggage claim number(s) and then you will pass through the customs area before you can exit the airport terminal.
Please use caution when leaving the terminal. As soon as you exit the main doors (and sometimes beforehand) you will be approached by another group of baggage handlers who will insist on taking your luggage to your designated transportation. Your group should single out only one person per cart of bags and be firm about it or chaos is likely to ensue, as well as many more Haitians expecting a tip. Please do not leave the airport exit area and exterior awnings/walkways until you recognize or have confirmed your driver/ride. Do not leave the airport grounds with persons unknown or unverified to you.
We recommend that you take a few personal convenience items with you on your trip. These items will definitely make your time in Haiti more comfortable. We suggest that you obtain a Caribbean or international calling plan for your cell phone, if you choose to take one with you. Even if you choose not to, we do highly encourage your team leaders to take theirs in the event of emergencies or confusion at the airport.
While our main compound does have electrical power (solar and generator) much of the time, there will be times when the power if out. Also, if you are traveling within Haiti and away from our main buildings, power can become a challenge. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you have your phone charger and that you also bring a flashlight or a small battery-powered lantern. The lanterns are very useful for reading at night or finding your way around in the dark. They also make a wonderful blessing to leave with our Haitians to use once you are preparing to return to the U.S.
For some people, the food in Haiti can be a challenge. If you have certain daily calorie requirements, have allergies to certain foods, are eating gluten-free or low carb, you may want to bring snacks, protein bars, dried fruit, or other items you are accustomed to eating in the U.S. We suggest your snacks be of the harder variety, as snacks that are too soft often do not travel well or hold up well in Haiti’s heat and humidity.
You will want to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats or visors, especially if you are very fair-skinned or prone to sunburn. It is easy to forget how long you have been outside or to misjudge the amount of sun exposure until it is evident in the appearance of your skin. You will be surprised how quickly you can get a sunburn on this tropical island.
Bring some personal spending money in smaller bills, especially fives, tens, and twenties. Haitians are delighted to have U.S. currency and you can use these bills to provide tips, buy drinks or extra snacks, or perhaps pick up some of the wonderful souvenirs (paintings, sculptures, jewelry, or vanilla) for which the Haitians are famous. The Haitian currency is the Gourde, which as of this writing (May 2018) exchanges at 63.6 Gourdes to 1 U.S. Dollar.
In addition to sunburn, the most common health challenges with visiting to Haiti have to do with digestive problems or nausea caused by food or water. We suggest that you bring some over the counter meds designed for stomach upset and also for the control of diarrhea. These two problems can be avoided in most cases through very careful management of water intake and through wise selection of prepared foods.
When it comes to Haitian drinking water, none of it is entirely safe for Americans visiting Haiti. Yet staying hydrated is extremely important. We suggest that all teams bring steri-pens (available at REI, on-line, elsewhere) or other ultra-violet types of water treatment to insure harmful bacteria have been removed. Even bottled water in Haiti should be treated prior to its consumption. Drinks such as Coca-Cola or other carbonated sodas, beers, or rum, do not require additional treatment.
Food should be thoroughly cooked and any vegetables served simply washed (i.e. such as a salad) should be avoided. Fruits may be eaten if they are the kind that must be peeled before eating, or if you have a way to treat the fruit in a bleach or other solution. Obviously, we suggest that among your personal supplies you also include hand sanitizers and/or anti-bacterial wipes.
Haiti is sometimes avoided as a destination because of the tropical diseases which exist in-country. Many of these are mosquito-borne. Therefore we recommend that you make sure everyone on your team as their vaccinations up to date, especially with respect to tropical diseases and hepatitis. As there is no vaccine for Malaria, but certainly oral preventatives, we recommend that team members obtain one of the two or three primary doctor-approved prophylactics that are available and take them according to directions. Some mosquito-borne diseases cannot be prevented through pharmaceuticals. We therefore suggest that avoiding mosquito bites is paramount during your stay in Haiti. Wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, rather than shorts, is preferable. Also, 100% DEET (available in the hunting department in Wal-Mart) is highly effective and strongly encouraged. Treat your clothing for the trip a day or two in advance with Permethrin spray (also available at Wal-Mart), which is highly-effective at repelling and killing mosquitos and other biting insects.
Every mission team should have a designated leader from the team be the point of contact for the team with the U.S. for the duration of the trip. Every team should also have an emergency contact back in the United States who will be the primary person receiving information from the team should there be an emergency.
All travelers on your team should also purchase emergency travel insurance, which is normally offered by the airline during the ticket purchasing process. This is extremely important should someone become injured or seriously ill on the trip, making an evacuation or costly medical treatment necessary.
While Souls Winning Ministries does have a very effective medical clinic on the main compound in Haiti, we still suggest that teams bring an emergency first aid kit in the event something must be treated while on the road or otherwise away from easy access to the clinic. These kits can also be left with our Haitian partners as an added blessing.
Further details and information related to the most common questions are contained in our pre–trip travel guide for Haiti, which may be downloaded here.