Royuk finds reward in improving lives of Haitian students

Royuk finds reward in improving lives of Haitian students

By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director

In the eastern Haitian city of Thomassique, a place ravaged by the 2004 tsunami, resident students at one Christian school represent the resilience and power of faith in this Caribbean nation of more than 10 million people. The first graduation ceremony in a brand new Lutheran school building took place in Thomassique just a few weeks ago as women’s basketball team member Rachel Royuk and four additional Concordia students looked on.

“That was definitely a moment where I thought it’s worth it to be here,” Royuk said. “It was just really cool because it was the first graduation since the earthquake, and it was the first graduation in their new building. The new school building is actually really important because it can hold a lot more kids. The school is a Christian school and a lot of those kids maybe don’t have family that are Christians, so this is where they go to hear about Jesus.”

Royuk and her mission team of fellow students cleaned and prepared the school for the commencement of kindergarten and sixth grade students as part of their many acts of service in Haiti. Royuk, who will be a junior this fall, also taught at a Bible school, worked a local basketball camp, helped the host family with its English and aided in various chores such as work in the fields.

It marked Royuk’s second venture to Haiti since the summer of 2011. Both trips came about through a connection to Seward’s own St. John Lutheran Church. Local Thomassique Lutheran pastor Metla Marin took the mission group into his home for the length of the stay. Royuk left Seward on June 25 and returned on July 4.

The unexpected opportunity to teach a sport she loves to junior high-aged students proved particularly noteworthy for Royuk. Led by Marin, several boys honed their basketball skills on a paved surface surrounded by an abundance of trees.

“That was actually something that I didn’t expect to do,” Royuk said. “I wanted to help out of course because I really like basketball. It was interesting. The court was cement and it was kind of in a field in the middle of nowhere. There were like 15 boys who showed up, probably fifth through eighth grade or so. It was fun.”

As a secondary education major, Royuk also picked up invaluable experience while conducting Bible school for youths. The lack of English-speaking children made for a unique learning environment.

“It was a little more of a challenge because of the language barrier,” Royuk said. “They speak Creole, we speak English. It didn’t make it too much more difficult because we had translators from the Haitian Bible school so we would just have to space out our thoughts. You had to wait for it to be translated and then understood by the kids.”

Royuk noted several other differences between the life she knows in Nebraska compared to the conditions in Haiti. Having been in Haiti two years ago, she knew what to expect – thick masses of bugs darting around, hot and sultry weather and dirt walkways that cloud your feet in earthy soil.

And putting food on the table, in most cases, involves more than simply heading to the store to grab a few groceries to be prepped and cooked. Sustaining a family often requires a joint effort that includes plenty of manual labor.

“Every day is a challenge,” Royuk said. “They just live day-by-day in their lives. To get their food they have to kill the chicken or whatever they eat the day of. It’s a full process for just one meal. Here everything is so convenient, but for them to get water you might have to walk a couple miles. That stood out to me.”

Such annoyances fail to shower gloom and doom over the spirit of the Haitian people Royuk encountered. She stayed with a large group at the pastor’s home and was warmly welcomed. Even in a land more than 2,000 miles from Royuk’s hometown of Seward, she felt unity with a people as they practiced a common religion.

“On Sunday when we went to church that’s when I felt a lot of the unity,” Royuk said. “We’re all Lutherans coming together. It was really cool to be praising the same God in a different country. Just the way they would sing their hymns – they didn’t have an organ or a piano or any instruments. They just sang from their hearts and that was real cool.”

Royuk hopes to return again to Haiti in the near future and maintain the ties and connections she’s made with the family she stayed with. For now she’s happy to talk about what she learned from the mission trip and to catch her breath after a month of June that also featured a trip to Norway to visit a friend.

“It was a little hectic,” Royuk said. “I was only in the US for about a week in June. It wasn’t too bad since Haiti is in the Eastern Time zone so I wasn’t jet lagged or anything. The worst part was missing (Concordia) basketball camp.”

While she may have missed out on some Bulldog summer camps and open gyms, the chance to positively impact the lives of children in a foreign nation could not be passed up.

Says Royuk, “I definitely want to go back again.”

17 July 2013

Rachel Royuk helped teach these children how to shoot at a Haitian basketball camp.

Rachel holds one of the children of the family she stayed with in Haiti during her mission trip.