In November, a group of students from Zachary High School and one from Silliman Institute in Clinton, senior Callie Venable, went on a 10-day mission trip to help the nonprofit Respire Haiti, which was started by Lafayette native Megan Boudreaux in 2011 with a simple mission: Help the children of Haiti.

Located in Gressier, near Port-au-Prince in the Caribbean, the nonprofit offers several programs to help the children of Haiti.

Respire (pronounced Res-per-AY) is a Haitian Creole word that means “breathe.”

Boudreaux has said God called her to help the Gressier community and the children there, whom she first found running around in search of food, wearing rags or clothes made of tarpaulins and bed sheets.

Today, Respire operates a school, medical clinic, community outreach and several other programs to help the children and locals of Gressier.

In 2012, Respire’s Christian School opened. It now educates and feeds about 500 prekindergartners through ninth-graders, including a special-needs classroom started by Zachary special education teacher Jamie Byrd, who led Venable and the ZHS students on the recent trip. Byrd was assisted on the trip by First Baptist Church of Zachary Minister of Students Justin LeBlanc, formerly of Feliciana Baptist Church in Clinton.

Byrd said the mission of the school is to have every student sponsored, which costs $25 a month or $300 a year per student. Donations cover books, uniforms, daily meals, basic medical needs and dental care.

When Byrd, LeBlanc and the students visited the nonprofit in November, they brought nearly $4,000 in funding, which was raised by the ZHS students, teachers and school administrators, along with about 800 pounds of supplies.

Venable and the other students packed books, pencils and pens donated by Rollins Place Elementary in Zachary, along with medical supplies, protein drinks and baby formula they carried in their backpacks onto the plane.

Byrd, who previously visited Respire about five times before moving there during the summers to teach, says she continues to return to Haiti because she feels it’s a calling, like Boudreaux.

Venable said the trip was life-changing.

“Being in Gressier brings me nothing but happiness. It is one of the most eye-opening experiences a person could imagine. It’s amazing to see these kids, who have almost nothing, run around with these huge smiles on their faces,” Venable said. “Respire has left a lasting impact on my heart. Leaving there is the hardest part of the trip.”

“The thing about Respire is that we work to empower the children, as well as the other U.S. and Haitian volunteers and teachers there,” Byrd said. “We educate them on ways to do better for themselves.”

Like Venable, the students learned of the mission trips through their churches in Zachary and Clinton.

Last year, the students held a field day for the Haitian children, who had never experienced games like leap frog or tag. Venable’s experience with Respire Haiti is not unlike 2007 Silliman graduate Kameryn Kline’s, a nurse who first learned about Respire through Feliciana Baptist.

On Kline’s third trip to Respire in 2013, a 6,500-square-foot medical clinic was just starting construction, and Boudreaux persuaded Kline to stay and help run the clinic.

Kline lived with Byrd and a nurse from Nashville, volunteering as Respire’s main nurse and medical coordinator.

During her time there, Kline said she mostly saw and treated malnutrition cases, basic wound injuries and hygiene-related issues, as well as helped educate children about preventative health care.

To learn more, visit respirehaiti.org.