"You will not find poetry anywhere unless you bring some of it with you."
– Joseph Joubert
Before I get to updating you on our trip to Haiti, I want to just take a moment and say goodbye to one of the dearest people I have ever known. Steve and I have been friends with a couple, Dave and Deane Luce, for about 8 years. We bought our farmhouse from them in 2004 and became instant friends. Deane has always struggled with health issues due to her diabetes and heart condition, but this fall she was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She had surgery to remove her cancerous kidney on November 1, but had a heart attack in recovery and her remaining kidney ceased all function. She went to be with the Lord on November 9 and we will miss her always smiling face. The above quote is the perfect quote for her. She was an artist and loved to sing and act and to write poetry, and brought such joy to all who knew her. We love you very much Deane and miss you terribly! But we know that you are in heaven, organizing some talent show, and preparing a nice feast for all of us to enjoy when we finally get there with you! Such a great lady and a great friend.
Okay, on to Haiti.
First, let me just say that this country is beautiful - - I mean beautiful like Hawaii. There are mountains that soar to 10,000 feet and beautiful beaches with the softest sand. Palm trees abound and the tropical breezes are absolutely delightful. We stayed at Club Indigo which is a former Club Med resort that was 2 hours north of Port-au-Prince. The resort was sparse by our American standards (the room didn't even have a phone) but the scenery and sunrises more than made up for that. We ate Haitian food and loved it. Steve even ate goat!..TWICE! This resort would be a nice place to vacation as long as you don't venture off the campus. Once you do - - WOW - - the poverty smacks you in the face like a blast of cold water.
We didn't take pictures of the situation because we wanted to honor these Haitian people. You can Google pictures of Haitian life if you want to see it for yourself, but suffice it to say, it was difficult to see. These people live in the most basic of conditions. Their homes are mud and cement, one-room structures with corrugated tin roofs. Most of the family's day is spent outside where they cook, eat and spend time with each other. They wash their dishes and their clothes in large tubs of water and this water is obtained from a nearby well and carried in 5-gallon buckets on their heads. They walk everywhere - - miles even - - to get to these wells and for the children to get to school (those who are lucky enough to go to school). Their homes rarely have electricity or indoor plumbing at all. Bathroom facilities are anywhere you choose to make them - - if you know what I mean. It was difficult for Steve and I to believe that, in 2012, there are still people living in conditions like this - - especially those so close (700 miles) to the United States, the richest country on the planet! There are only a handful of paved roads and one of the major bridges in the area in which we stayed had been washed out by Hurricane Sandy. This bridge collapse forced us to detour through very rough roads and over a make-shift bridge that reminded me of the African Safari ride at the Animal Kingdom in Disneyworld. No kidding!
But the people - - holy cow are the people just beautiful. They have nothing but are not overcome with despair. They are very family oriented and very grateful for every blessing they have. The children are so adorable and treated us like rock stars everywhere we went. For some of the kids in the schools that we visited, our visit was the first time they had ever seen white people. They would come up to us and touch us like they were touching something dangerous, and then run away. Some of the kids would be bold enough to touch my hair and rub it between their fingers. They thought it was so soft and an unusual color (well, it is an unusual color - - Clairol #43 or something like that). They fought with each other for the opportunity to hold our hands and walk alongside us. Man, I was Brittney Spears for a day!!!!!
Anyway, we traveled with an organization called Compassion International through which we have sponsored children around the world for years. This organization provides church-based assistance to people in various capacities: 1) Child Survival Program - young mother and infant care which includes not only medical and pre-natal assistance, but offers education in proper nutrition, parenting skills, and teaches them a trade so that they can support their families; 2) Child Sponsorship Program - where monthly donations are used to provide a child with the opportunity to go to school, medical care for not only the child but his entire family, assistance with food and other needs; 3) Leadership Development Program - sponsoring a college-aged child so that they can attend college, receive housing and food allowances, and additional leadership training and spiritual training; and 4) micro-loan programs - loans in very small denominations are made to individuals who present a business plan and intend to use the funds to develop a income-generating project in order to support his/her family. It's an awesome organization that provides a TON of support to marginalized people around the globe. When I say that it is church-based, I mean that all of these benefits are given to them through the church organization that they belong to. Compassion believes that it is important to not only address the poverty of the person, but also the poverty of the mind and the soul. Compassion has been a huge blessing to so many people in all parts of the world.
Our first official visit was to school HA-322 which is north of St. Marc, which is about 3 hours north of Port-au-Prince. When we arrived, we were greeted by children from as young as 4 to as old as 19, all dressed in their Sunday best, singing a song for us accompanied by their version of a marching band. It was so sweet I burst into tears. In honor of our visit, they learned to play our national anthem and that was very touching. We were marched into their church where we were asked to take our place on stage and from that perch, we were entertained with Compassion success stories, prayers, songs of praise, and a sort-of fashion show of the children's arts and crafts. When I say fashion show, imagine the quick-tempo music that runway models walk to when doing a fashion show and kids walking into the church holding art projects that they produced. Some of the children were really into it which was very fun. After the festivities, we toured the school, which consisted of several buildings, and then were blessed with some genuine Haitian delights for lunch. After lunch, we visited the homes of some people who Compassion is helping and got to speak to them directly. What a joy it was to have this experience. It was a long day and our long drive back to the hotel in the air-conditioned bus was much appreciated. Honestly, I have never sweat so much in my life as I did in Haiti. A minimum of 95 degrees and 98% humidity - - at 8:00 a.m. WOW!
The next day we visited a different school, HA-716 and saw the Child Survival Program. This school was housed in what was a former voodoo temple - - the voodoo priest was converted to Christianity and gave the building to the church. Hallelujah!!!! This school, however, suffered significant earthquake damage. It was literally leveled so Compassion came in and rebuilt it to better than it was before. There are four buildings, each with four classrooms, new bathrooms with flush toilets and lots of places for the kids to wash their hands!! We again were graced with Haitian delicacies for lunch and then were introduced to three people who were successful in starting their own business, thanks to micro-loans from Compassion. One woman sells fish that she buys and cleans herself. She is so successful that she not only provides for her entire family through this business, but she employs two other people who also support their families through this fish selling business. We also met a chicken farmer who not only paid back his loan early, but is expanding his business and employing people from his neighborhood. The last woman that we met is raising pigs and supporting her 12 children from the proceeds of her business. There is hope!!!
After a long ride back to the hotel, we got to meet three Leadership Development students. WOW. Talk about impressive. Two young men are both studying psychology with the intent of returning to their villages and regions of Haiti to provide assistance to disaster relief and to help people overcome the "poverty of the mind" issue that they face. One woman that we met has become a doctor and currently has two clinics that she manages in order to bring medical services to the poor of her region. Very impressive and there are many more students just like them, hoping to make a difference in their country. Long day, but the next day is the day that everyone was waiting for - - the day we meet our sponsored children.
Wilguens Dereme - - that's the name of our sponsored child. He is 18 years old and lives very near Port-de-Paix in the very northern part of Haiti. We have been sponsoring him since he was 5 years old so meeting him for the first time was going to be quite emotional. All the sponsors waited on this patio area while the children were being brought in. I could see him when he got off the bus, but it took about an hour before all the paperwork was done and we could actually meet him. What a moment though. I gotta tell you I think he was as excited as we were because he hugged me pretty tight and held my hand. He is smaller than I anticipated - - maybe 5' 5" and certainly a lot thinner than I expected. But what a beautiful face and smile. He is soft-spoken and shy so the translator had to really bring conversation out of him when we first met, but as the day went on, he was all smiles and laughter and we had an awesome time.
Steve and the boys (Wilguens, the translator, and the director of Wilguens' school) all went swimming but we had an almost terrible situation ensue - - Steve jumped into the pool thinking that it was chest deep and Wilguens followed right behind him. The pool, however, was deeper than Steve anticipated and Wilguens, who is not a swimmer, was frantic when he found that he couldn't touch the ground and keep his head above water. The near-death experience of Steve and Wilguens bonded the two of them and they laughed about almost meeting Jesus together for the rest of the day. We learned from Wilguens' director that his family is a good family and very much together. He has 13 brothers and sisters but most of them are older than Wilguens. The roof of Wilguens' home was ruined by Hurricane Sandy and his director is going to help us get that roof fixed for his family. We had such a lovely time getting to know each other and Steve and I will certainly be back to visit Wilguens again. We will also be sponsoring him for his college education so we are excited about that too. The boy wants to study computers and be a lawyer so he can help people. Yes, Lord!
So, after a tearful goodbye, Wilguens and about 20 other sponsored children drove away. We left Haiti the next day and will forever be changed by the experience. Many of us in this country just do not have any appreciation for the blessings that we have. We here in the U.S. have such an entitlement mentality - - we believe it is our God-given right to have all the stuff that living in this country affords, but that is just not true. We are blessed, regardless of how hard you think you work for it, it is all a blessing and we should be grateful to God for that which we have. In church today the pastor made the following point - - "What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?" Think about it. The people we met in Haiti have little but were extremely grateful for everything and they always refer to God as "Good". We here in the U.S. have everything, yet some are grateful for nothing. Make a change in your life by helping someone today. You won't regret it. I promise you.
Until next week peeps, be good. I am grateful for every one of you and love you all. I even miss you sometimes too!