Our colleagues Steven Gross and Maggie Julianno are currently in Haiti conducting a needs assessment and I received this email from Steve just a few moments ago. I have tears streaming down my face from reading it. Please take a moment to read Steve’s beautiful and heartbreaking account of his time in Haiti. Love to you all.. Sue
I feel compelled to write. Although I can barely keep my eyes open, I’m afraid that if I don’t about today’s experiences they will get lost. I know that I won’t ever forget the “big picture” stuff, but I’m afraid I”ll lose the details. It’s the little details that make life beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking.
I arrived at Amurt Haiti (the base camp for our operation) at 7:30am today and was asked to accompany the medical team to a small tent city in Port-au-Prince. The main medic, a great guy named Don from North Carolina and my buddy (and colleague) Dr. Jose Hidalgo – along with an amazing team of Haitian nurses, translators and assistants – set up a make shift clinic to attend to the overwhelming medical needs of the hundreds of people who call this barren pile of broken glass, mud and rubble home (I’m not sure where the 800 million dollars in US donations is going, but I can assure you that it ain’t going here). The reason that I was asked to accompany this team was that the day before had brought out lines of sick children who had to wait quietly for hours to be seen by the doctors. The team felt that a little “joy” might make the time go by easier for them. I brought along a parachute, two Life is good discs, a LIG paddle ball set, and a little red ball. I actually thought about leaving these toys behind as we obviously did not have enough to accommodate the masses of children.
I was not prepared to see how horribly these beautiful people were living. I’m not a good enough writer to adequately describe the squaller, so I’ll send you a photo or two when I get home. While we set up shop, the children of the camp curiously peeked our of their “homes” to see what we were up to. We set up an examination table out of two old chairs and created a pharmacy and an intake room with some rope, a huge suitcase of medicines, and an old table. Slowly the line started to form. I noticed eight children sitting / waiting silently and decided to take out the parachute. Without words they walked over. I laid on my belly and invited them to join. They did. We looked at each other, smiled, waved and kept quietly singing “bonjour” to a universally familiar nursery rhyme tune. We drummed on the ground together, laughed and continued singing. Within minutes, twenty new children joined us. WIthin a few more minutes, twenty more. Before I knew it, well over seventy children, ages two to thirteen, had come to play. At first I was overjoyed, then I got scared. A mob or children, hungry for love and attention, was forming. There was not enough room on the parachute for all o them and some older children began shoving to get on. The last thing that anyone needed was for another child to get crushed.
Together we rolled-up the parachute and put it away. Then we joined hands. We moved together as a group up a small hill of rubble (some of the children had no shoes so we had to walk really slowly) and began singing together, moving our arms together and making up little games that did not involve them having to run. One big hit was having the children sit in a circle and pass around the hat from my head until everyone touched it and it made it’s way back to me. Then, through our interpreter (a young Haitian boy from the village), I asked if they thought that my hat could beat me in a race? As they passed it around quickly, I ran around the circle trying to get back to my spot before the hat did. You should have heard the place erupt with laughter when I “accidentally fell” and the hat beat me home! By this time, parents, grandparents and others had gathered round to see what was happening. We played together for what seemed like hours (maybe I’m just getting old) taking make believe safaris in Africa, imagining stomping through the snow in Canada, building castles with little pieces of rubble, and just hanging out. David Elkind once said that the best toy a child could ever have is a loving, caring, attentive adult. Never have truer words been spoken.
After a while, some teens approached me. They wanted to know who I was, shake my hand, and thank me for “loving the childrens”. I told them that I would be leaving tomorrow and asked them if they would “love the children” while I was gone. I explained to them that all they had to do was look at them, smile at them, ask them how they were doing, and hug them when they needed a hug. I also left them with the few toys we brought (The rest of the toys we brought were being used in a different center in Port-au-Prince) and asked them to play with the children a little bit too when they had the energy. They promised that they would.
As I was getting ready to leave for the day, I needed to get something out of our truck. It was parked about half a mile from the site. The road was muddy so our driver (and my new BFF) Ismael wisely decided to park it at the top of a steep hill for fear that the truck would not make it down. As I walked up the hill, a 10 year old boy quietly grabbed my hand. We walked together in silence for five minutes and then another boy, probably around 7, grabbed my other hand. We walked up the hill silently – occasionally looking at each other and smiling. Once we made it to the truck, we shared a small bag of water (yes bag) and sat together silently just holding hands. I noticed that one of the boys had no shoe laces. I found a rope in the back of the truck, cut it with Ismael’s knife and the three of us unwound the strands until we had a thin enough piece of string to use as a shoe lace. Together, silently, we laced up the little boys shoes. After we finished, he looked at his “new shoes”, smiled and kept repeating “merci, merci, merci”. He was so happy – like I had given him the world. I’ve never seen such appreciation in all my life – never. This one detail that I never want to forget.
My heart aches for these children. They have been forgotten. But my spirit is lifted by them too. I did not know that it was possible to feel such intense joy and sorrow at the same time until today. It’s one thing to see the glass as “half full” when it’s indeed half full. It’s another to see it as half full when it only has one drop inside. This is what the children of Haiti are all about. They are surviving, with unimaginable grace, love and joy, with only one drop in their cup. I can’t imagine what they could grow to be if we filled their glass just a little bit more.
Anyway – to make a long story longer – we then went to a much larger tent city where I was asked to run a training for Haitian youth workers there. Again – once the parachute came out and we started playing, the whole camp gathered. Hungry, tired, sick and thirsty – nobody could resist the desire to play. I had to see it to believe it. I wish you were all here to see it with me.
We’ll be back!
Love to you all…