Saturday, August 01, 2009
Haiti Update #12: Who Will Speak Up For The Little Ones?
Today, was quite possibly our hardest day in Haiti. I suspect it will be stamped in my memory for a long time to come. It was not difficult because of the heat or the language barrier or the testing of my patience as some might expect. Our task for today was meeting with the 16 orphans who are to live in The Bridge Christian Children’s Home when it is complete.
Admittedly, I’ve been really excited about this day for a long time. The children of Haiti are the reason I keep coming back to this broken country. I continue to remember their smiles, their piercing eyes. I am idealistic enough to believe that we have a small chance to give them a glimpse of hope. Meeting the orphans was a whole new level of heartbreak for me.
The children arrived starting at 6:30 a.m. when our team was still eating breakfast. They waited patiently in the yard until all 16 arrived and we started our time together. We fed them a little snack of organic animal crackers and lemonade – just a little something to fill their little tummies. Most of them were quiet, cautiously watching these strangers.
Stacie Gudgel, one of our team members and also Meilani’s preschool Bible teacher from our church, took the role of organizing a play time for the kids. She brought a variety of toys, games and crafts we could share. While the team members invited the kids to play Memory, Trouble and Candyland, Brandy Freeland and I started the job of interviewing the kids. Our goal was to ask some basic questions to get to know them so we can write profiles about each child and help find sponsors for them once they are in the orphanage.
I have done countless interviews in my career as a journalist but these were probably the hardest. We worked with our friends Gerby and Walquis who interpreted for us. We asked each child how old they were, whether they were in school and attended church, what chores they helped with at home. We also asked them to share a bit about their family situation.
As I typed the answers on the computer, the tears began to stream down my face. “I’m not cut out for this job,” I heard myself whisper to Brandy under my breath. Despite my years of experience as a journalist I did not know how to choke back the emotion. She looked at me sympathetically. We continued to listen to story after story about mothers and fathers who had died of “fever” (a generic word used in Haiti for all kinds of sickness). Some of the kids were living with an aunt or grandparent. The kids gave one-word answers; they did not know how to really elaborate on the stories of their broken homes and haunted pasts.
The youngest of these children were a few 6-year-olds and the oldest was 11. Of course, these would not be the typical kids that Americans or other foreigners would want to adopt. Most adoptive parents prefer infants with a good medical history. I certainly can understand why – the transition would be easier and crossing the cultural barriers would not seem quite so daunting. Peter Constantin, the director of Christian Friendship Ministries, had conceived of this orphanage to provide a loving home for older children like these. What a joy to think that our church, The Bridge, has such a hand in raising money, building the orphanage and perhaps sponsoring these children in the future.
After a few hours of click-clacking away on the computer, we had finished. We went back into the main room of the mission house to find a different mood. The kids there were giggling and laughing. They were make shapes out of pipe cleaners. Some of the girls had on pipe cleaner earrings and necklaces. I saw one boy with a pair of bright blue pipe cleaner glasses he had fashioned. Another little boy thrust some pipe cleaners into my hands and asked me to make him a butterfly.
Outside a group of young boys were playing soccer with a few of the guys from our team. We later heard from Bryan and Ernie how blessed they were to play with these little guys. The boys had quickly abandoned their too-tight shoes and got down to business with the “futbol.”
Our morning with the group ended around 11:30 a.m. We sent each child home with a bag of animal crackers, a kite and a new outfit. Brandy and I took on the job of trying to size the kids with the new clothes the team had brought. Unfortunately, we did not have enough pairs of flip flops/sandals to hand out and a lot of the clothes were way too big for these petite children who had been malnourished for so many years.
I fell in love with one little girl Serline. Although she was six years old she was smaller than our 3-year-old Meilani. She lived in Savanette, a good hour walk from the mission so we invited her to eat lunch with us and then we would drive her home. I have seen Serline several times at the Savanette church. She was always so shy, her mouth a thin line and her toes stuffed in shoes two sizes too small. But today I saw her break a smile. I handed her a jump rope and took her outside. She could barely jump the rope and did not know how to count to 10 in Kreyol but oh did she smile.
The tears really came as I fed her lunch. I tried to give her small portions at a time so she wouldn’t get sick. Her eyes grew wide as I served up pieces of goat meat, cracked wheat with beans and a tropical fruit salad we were having for our team that day. She gobbled these down and ate 3 more servings and a glass of cold water before she was satisfied. I started to wonder when was the last time little Serline had even eaten meat.
After lunch we climbed in the truck and drove Serline and another little girl home to Savanette. Our team had some bins of clothes and toys to give out in the community there so it worked out well. When we arrived, Serline’s grandma met me at the truck. They actually live right across the street from the Savanette church. The grandma explained to me that she was caring for seven children. The mother had died and the father had abandoned them to go to the Dominican Republic for a new life.
I walked Serline home with her grandma and met her siblings and cousins. They lived in a tiny hut-like house made of sticks and mud. Three small rooms housed the eight or more family members. The floors were dirt and the place smelled of excrement. I pressed a five dollar bill into the grandma’s hand and begged her to buy some food for the family. I could hardly bear to lift my heavy body back into the truck and leave little Serline in this situation. I vowed right there that I would do all I could to help get the orphanage open and sponsors for these children as soon as possible.