The sun barely peeks behind grey clouds in the morning twilight. The ocean wind bites at her fingertips while she laces her shoes, letting out a sigh of anticipation for the distance ahead. One can sense that she is listening intently; taking in the surroundings and offering her complete attention with an open heart. “I try my best to listen, and to lead by example,” Vivien tells me. Looking out across the terrain, she witnesses not a place to overcome, but a place to be a part of; she understands that she will never have all the answers, but she can always keep herself within a place of empathy. She nods slowly and shakes her legs out one more time before taking her spot at the line. She keeps her eyes focused on the horizon, balances on her toes; feeling her heartbeat in her chest, she takes one more breath, and then breaks away.
“Running is a huge part of my life.”
Vivien Luk is the Executive Director for Team Tassy, an organization that helps the people of Haiti by providing meaningful work and community support. The nonprofit started its operations in 2010 after a deadly earthquake affected both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti witnessed the most damage, leaving over 300,000 people killed and hundreds of thousands without a home. After spending time in the country rebuilding communities, Vivien has transferred some of her personal hobbies over to the island to promote its humble fortitude.
She firmly believes that running allows someone to have time for clarity; time to breathe and be away from the static that interferes with the connection we have with our surroundings. “Running is a huge part of my life, and it has provided that kind of base for me,” she reflects. “So I always try to come back to that space, and that’s why I began hosting ultra-marathons here.” Vivien’s passion for running has opened up a new world of appreciation for the country in a way that exposes its beauty and allows more visitors to engage with the environment. “Right now, we have a lot of individual runners from the U.S. and Canada,” she says. “But we plan to have more Haitian runners in 2017. We see running as an opportunity for others to go and explore the country in a way that others never have. It’s exciting to see the different kinds of people who have been drawn to running across Haiti, and to understand why they run. More than anything, we are giving them an outlet to run for a purpose, to run for the families that we serve and to end poverty.”
“I’m fat and I’m lazy and I’ve never ran a day in my life, but I want to do this.”
Creating the right culture for people to bring their own pieces and plug into is one of the best things that Vivien feels they have created through Team Tassy. Everyday, she sees running as a great addition to her work, and she feels that the qualities of stamina and endurance speaks to Haiti’s steadfast resilience. “We’ve got a guy who is in his 50’s and has never run in his life,” says Vivien. “He called and said, ‘Hey, I’m fat and I’m lazy and I’ve never ran a day in my life, but I want to do this, so what can you do to help me get there?’ He started walking upwards of 10 miles a day, and he lost 30 pounds because he was inspired to run across Haiti, and I don’t care what year he ends up finishing the run entirely, it’s just inspiring to me in general that somebody would think to do this; to lace up and get out there and start to make progress towards it. He is certainly on the team now, and we have a coach who is helping him get to that point, but it goes back to the idea of a canvas. We offer people a board and give them them some ideas to plug into, and then encourage them to plug into those ideas in their own way. It’s so exciting.”
As of now, Vivien is traveling back and forth to Haiti where her team is assessing damages from Hurricane Matthew this past October. The northern border of Menelas, which is formed by the Port-au-Prince landfill, has been substantially submerged by toxic waste water, immediately affecting 400 families who are in need of support. Overall, the country has reached a death toll of over a thousand people, and an outbreak of Cholera has put the area in a severely fragile state. “Haiti will likely face one of the largest public health crisis in the weeks ahead due to water build and infrastructure loss,” Vivien says. Despite the major setback, Vivien is hopeful that the country will bounce back like it always has. She firmly believes in the resilience of the people there, and her personal philosophy is to keep moving forward; running as hard as you can through the finish line.
To make a donation to Team Tassy, please visit www.teamtassy.org/donate.