By Heather O.
As anybody who has been reading this blog more than a minute knows, I went to Haiti this summer, sans husband and children, with a group called Sustain Haiti. Most of my days were filled with dirt and compost and gardens, as I elected to spend my time teaching sq foot gardening and working with people in the ward and the community. But not everybody who went to Haiti with our group got as excited as I did about compost. A lot of them elected to work with the 4 orphanages that Sustain Haiti connected with in Leogane.
I had mixed feelings about working with the orphanages. On the one hand, it’s a no brainer. I mean, who is more needy than a hungry orphan? In so many ways, the 1 million orphans in Haiti are the face of the devastation that occurred in January. They are the most vulnerable, the most affected, and the ones most incapable of taking care of themselves. Their images are the ones that haunt us, the ones that make us reach into our pockets, the ones that make us cry out. They are the ones you want to wrap your arms around and rock all day long.
But the problem is, beyond holding them and playing with them, there wasn’t really much we could DO for the orphans. I know I might have seemed callous to some of the people in my group, but I wanted to spend my time on helping to solve the food problem, more than loving on the kids. That’s not to say that kids didn’t need loving on–they did. Oh, how they did, and the few times I did manage to go the orphanages, without fail these kids would come running, arms oustretched, ready and waiting to be held by strangers. And it was as natural as breathing to reach down and scoop these kids up, to laugh with them and let them pull at my hair, comb it, play with it, whatever. But I always left wishing we could do more.
We called one of the orphanages the Field Tent orphanage, because that’s what it was–a few tents set up in a muddy field. In some ways, these kids were healthier and brighter and happier than the kids in other orphanages, because they spent all of their time outdoors. Still, the field was just that, and in the rainy season, things got awfully muddy. Here’s a picture of the road we had to walk on the get to the orphanage. One of my flip flops got stuck in this mud:
This is one of the tents they were living in:
Here are some pictures of the kids who were living there:
The lightness of this child’s hair suggests malnutrition. No wonder, as when I met them, they were only getting one meal a day.
But the week I left, I met an American named Matt, who was in Haiti working for another American, who had a lot of money and wanted to help out. They decided that if anybody needed help, it was these kids. And what they needed most was somewhere to live. So they decided to build them an orphanage. And a school.
I thought it was a pretty ambitious goal, and although my time in Haiti was short, I was there long enough to learn that things can take a long time. I mean, one morning we wanted to buy 10 buckets to make handwashing stations. 10 buckets shouldn’t be that hard, right? It took the entire morning to locate them, and the Haitians who went with us laughed out-right at our ambition. To them, buying 10 buckets was laughable. In the end, we bought them from a lady at the market selling flour (I think–she was selling something) who said that she had 10 buckets at her home (wherever that was), and that if we waited there, she would be willing to bring them back for us.
Anyway, when I left, they were hiring Haitians to work on the buildings. It was a testament to me to how desperate Haitians want to work when I saw the meeting about the construction, which was held at the chapel. It was packed FULL of men wanting work, even just 5 months of work that this project offered. If anybody thinks that Haiti is poor because Haitians are all lazy, he hasn’t met enough Haitians.
A few weeks ago, I logged on to Facebook (which we all know I have a certain addiction to), and came across the following pictures, posted by the aforementioned Matt:
These are the orphans, dressed in new clothes donated to Sustain Haiti, lined up to wash their hands at the handwashing station Sustain Haiti built for them. (Yay for that morning spent looking for buckets!)
Food! Food for the orphans, provided by somebody Matt referred to as the Spaniards. I don’t know who the Spaniards are, but I bless them that they now can give these kids 3 meals a day.
But this is the best part:
This, my friends, is a shelter for the orphans, off the ground and stable. I’m not sure if it is a permanent sleeping building, or just a temporary shelter, but y’all, this is the first time in 9 months those children will be sleeping on something dry.
So, to recap, through Sustain Haiti’s efforts, these children were put in touch with folks that could build them a place to sleep and give them food to eat. In more direct terms, Sustain Haiti’s efforts gave them new clothing and a way to wash their hands before they eat that food, so they don’t succumb to the diseases caused by poor sanitary conditions, something that supposedly affects 1 in 8 children under the age of 5. (That’s a statistic I heard kicked around while I was there, and while I don’t have empirical evidence of this, from what I saw, it’s not hard to believe it’s true.)
Sometimes, just sometimes, you catch a glimpse of the goodness that exists in this world, and sometimes, just sometimes, it doesn’t seem like such a nasty place after all.
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