There is a village just outside of Jérémie, Haiti the locals call Premiere Source. It’s a small jungle town 1,400 miles and two flights from Montgomery, West Virginia, and it’s where WVU Tech civil engineering student Nathan McNeil called home for two months this summer.
Nathan traveled to the Caribbean nation as part of a missionary program run by the Gateway Christian Church in Saint Albans, West Virginia. The program sends volunteers to Haiti every few months where they maintain a church and a school that services 150 children sponsored by U.S. families. Some volunteers also provide medical services in clinics around Jérémie.
“I arrived with a group in May, and we started construction on a building to add classrooms to our school. The group left after a week, but I stayed there with a friend for the next two months to work on the building every day and help take care of the people in our village,” said Nathan.
According to World Bank, a United Nations lending institution, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Nearly 80 percent of the nation’s 10 million inhabitants live on less than $2 a day, and Haitians face threats of widespread famine and infectious disease.
“These people fight every day to survive. There is no work in the city, so people are trying to survive by learning agriculture,” he said. “How strong these people are to live like they do every day amazes me.”
During his visit, Nathan spent time connecting with the young residents of Premiere Source. A member of the WVU Tech men’s basketball team, he brought his love for the game with him to Haiti, where he built a basketball hoop and mounted it to a tree in the village. In a country where soccer is the sport of choice, Nathan said he was surprised to find so many people interested in the game.
“Three days a week, I invited anyone around to come learn about the game,” he said. “More and more people came to play every week, and I taught them the basics like dribbling, shooting and how to play a game against one another. By the end of my time there, I had so many people asking me to play that I left five basketballs at the school.”
Nathan said he learned more than a few valuable lessons during his time in Haiti. While walking through the village to say his goodbyes, he said he couldn’t help but see the stark contrast between the world he was leaving and the one he was returning to 1,400 miles away.
“I realized how much these people needed us and how much I needed them. There are people who would risk their lives just to have the little things that are given to us,” he said. “This was one of the toughest things I’ve done, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It’s important for us to help others fighting to survive.”
Since his return, Nathan has been in contact with village leaders through Facebook. He said the new building is progressing, and the school children are still practicing the basketball skills he left behind, with older students playing regular three-on-three games.