One of the greatest things about this community that we have built in the DOC (diabetes online community) is the way that we support each other in our endeavors online and offline. When I picked up my balance sheet to see how much I owed before I left for my trip to Haiti, I was so encouraged to see contributions by several members of the community. I hope they don’t mind if I “out” them here – because I think Colleen, Lee Ann, and Bernarddeserve some special recognition.
The day before I left, fellow Diabetes Daily
blogger Bob Pedersen
asked if it was too late to donate. Since it was too late to get it to my account with the group I was traveling with before I left, he transferred his donation into my PayPal account instead. I brought the money with me as cash, intending to give it to the organization we were staying with.
Halfway through our trip, we spent in a community called Minoterie (pronounced like minnow-tree). In the morning, we painted one of the newly constructed homes. Painting in Haiti is quite different from painting here. There is no primer, and you are painting directly on (sometimes sanded but usually not) concrete. The homes we were working on were usually two or three rooms. There is a front room and then an empty doorway to divide off the other rooms. Cooking is typically done outside, and there is no “bathroom” either.
After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the community in small groups talking to people and praying for any needs that they shared with us. This was an opportunity that I did not have last year. Because it was so close to the earthquake recovery, they did not really want us wandering around in areas that could be structurally or physically safe.
In America, and especially for people my age, the things we worry about and ask for prayer for tend to be things like a big test coming up, a relationship issue (or lack there of), or an expensive purchase (home, car, college) we’re considering. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that – those are the biggest issues we deal with.
As we walked around the community, one woman asked for prayer because her son died a few days earlier and a man and his wife asked for prayer and guidance because they wanted to escape the local voodoo priest was using their home for sacrifices. It just seems like a different level of concern than what we ask for here.
I was walking down an alley with some girls from my team (and our male translator). Like typical girls, we stopped when we saw an adorable little child. He was wearing a little muscle shirt and nothing else. When we got to him, one of the girls leaned down and asked, “Como ye? (How are you?)“ He looked up at her and didn’t answer. She asked him, “Ki laj ou? (How old are you?)“ He still didn’t answer. A woman who was walking by says to us, “he doesn’t talk very well” He looked to be about 2 years old, and there were no adults nearby so it was a little odd that he was by himself. The lady pointed out that one of the other kids who was with us was his older brother. My teammate asked where their parents were. There was no mention of the dad but she told us their mom was dead. We asked who takes care of them.
“Their sister does.”
“How old is their sister?”
“How old are they?”
(she talks to the older boy) “7 and 5”
[I am telling you there is NO WAY the younger boy looked any older than 2 – he was so TINY]
“Does she have a job?”
“Does she go to school?”
“So how does she take care of them?”
“Well… I help out sometimes”
At this point, most of the girls in the group we crying. We asked the woman if we could pray for these little boys. She asked if we would like to pray for the whole family. When we said that of course we would, she called the sister over from her hiding spot around the corner and down a small hill. The sister did not want to come up to us, so the woman went to get her.
I have seen my share of people who are sad or depressed. I have worked with people who are homeless, or people who seem to be in “hopeless” situations. But I have never seen someone look as empty and hollow as this girl. She never looked at us. For the five or so minutes she was with us, she looked at the ground or at the wall beyond us. Her voice was barely a whisper.
What do you pray for in this situation? For food? For a job? For a chance to go to school? For lespwa (hope)?
When we finished praying and I opened my eyes, I noticed that our interpreter was crying. The stereotypical Haitian man does not show emotion, not to mention cry. We knew that the situation was desperate.
One of the first things they told us during training, that was actually repeated several more times, was that we should not pass out food, clothes, money, gifts, etc. When foreign teams come in and do that, they are often doing more harm than good. It is complicated, but being the “great white hope”
is actually more damaging than it is helpful. Side note: a great book on the topic is “When Helping Hurts”
All that to say, you don’t hand out money to someone you pass on the road just because you think they need it more than you do (everyone does)
. That is why I was so surprised to see our interpreter put a few gourdes into her hand. We weren’t souvenir shopping and there was nothing really to “buy”, so most of us didn’t carry any money on us while we were working. Everyone was looking around at each other wondering if we had any money so we could help. When the translator gave her money, it was a sign to us that this was a time to break the rules
. That day, I happened to have some of my money with me in my bag. Bob’s
money actually. I passed the cash to the translator, he handed it to the young girl, and all too quickly we had to leave for the day.
I wish this story had the magical happy ending that we all have come to expect. I don’t know what will become of this young family. It is extremely likely that even when I return to Haiti, I will not be able to find them again. However, there is one thing I do know for sure. Due to the generosity of the diabetes community and strangers that these children will never meet, for more than a week they did not have to worry about how they would afford their next meal.
The pictures in this post are not of the family described but other children from the community