October 21, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Mo - - It's not many people who embrace as a mission in life to serve underprivileged people in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Grant Roszkowiak said he knew he wanted to live and work in Haiti when he was just 16.
And, that's precisely what Roszkowiak, now 24, is doing, managing an orphanage with his wife, Natasha, in a rural area in the northwest part of Haiti known as La Baie.
"I moved there two weeks after I graduated from (Wheaton, Ill.) college," he said. "I just fell in love with it."
The Roszkowiaks visited one of professor Ben Meade's Fundamentals of Communication classes Oct. 19 and spoke to students about their experiences in Haiti. Natasha's sister, Nadia Amirshahpari, is a member of the class and arranged the visit.
Grant grew up playing football in Savannah, Ga. He said he became a Christian in his teen years and decided soon after he wanted to do missionary work in Haiti, which he described as the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The average Haitian earns less than a dollar per day.
"It's a fourth-world country, because even third-world countries are developing," he said. "Haiti is not developing."
He joined an organization called the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, which is where he met Natasha, who was educated and trained as a pediatrics intensive care nurse. The two married and now care for 14 children in their orphanage. Their only luxury, as they see it, is clean running water. All food comes from either fishing or their garden. There is no air conditioning – even no shade to speak of, Grant said – and daytime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.
"Trying to describe it is like describing a sunset to a blind man," said Grant, who added that he's in charge of community development and agriculture at the orphanage. "You can never understand it if you haven't been there."
One of Grant's more interesting ventures occurred before he arrived at the orphanage. It happened soon after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. A cholera epidemic broke out, and he was charged with hauling waste – which included deceased bodies – out into the countryside and burning it. One night, while trying to cross a river in a truck, a band of Haitian nationals stopped him, began brandishing machetes and yelling how they wanted to "kill the white guy."
"The Haitians thought I was going to dump the truck in the river," Grant said. "They were angry. I had two guys with me with shotguns who ran off. They started throwing rocks and dragging machetes on the ground making sparks."
Finally, after about 40 minutes, police showed up, breaking up the fracus.
Still, the Roszkowiaks said there was no place they'd rather be … at least for now. They could never leave their kids, they said.
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.