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Day 5

October 28, 2010

My final full day in Haiti.
I was pretty used to the drill now. I got breakfast, found a comfortable chair to sit with a book and waited for my ride.
They scooped me up and we went straight to the New Life Children’s Home.
Fran was thrilled to have me back and I went straight to work unpacking more barrels of clothing. She told Waner that to thank them for bringing me, she would see if they had any food to spare for Pastor Moise’s orphanage.
I had a new plan this day as I already had huge piles of plus-sized women’s clothing, but very little for anyone else. In particular, very little for the kids who actually lived at this orphanage.
So I would open a barrel with a piece of plastic that I had Macgyvered into a screwdriver and sort the women’s clothing into an empty barrel, pulling out the few items that might have another use. I would practically cheer whenever I found a onesie or a women’s size Small.
It was still bakingly hot, but with the ipod turned up and the new system, I was making good progress.
I had one morning visitor, a little black goat that came into to try to nibble at the bags of beans. No beans to spare for goats though, so I sent the cute little guy on his way.
When I finally had opened all the barrels, the piles of clothing were massive. I expressed my concerns to Fran about the large amount of women’s clothing, but she said that some of the women who worked at the orphanage would be thrilled and that they could certainly give stuff away in the neighborhood or have a rummage sale. She mentioned one grandmother in the neighborhood that they often provided clothing to for her to sell. Her three grandchildren depended on her for care as their father had been long gone and their mother died in the earthquake. The grandmother had actually brought the three kids to the orphanage to give them up, but the folks at the New Life Children’s Home offered to give her a small amount of assistance if she wanted to keep them. It really touched my heart to hear how she cried with gratitude.
Since I was done with the barrels of clothes and my ride was coming soon, Fran took me on a tour of the property. They have several guest rooms that are available to rent. Since they are so close to the airport, a few pilots keep apartments there. But most of the rooms were dorm style and would be housing a new crew of volunteers in just a few days. Fran and her husband were staying in an apartment that had been donated to them for the time being as they helped to run the orphanage. The director also had an office there, but she had just left to spend a few days in Florida.
Past the guest houses was the building they used for a classroom, the open pavilion dining area and the dorms for the kids.
Most interesting to me were the vegetables and animals. The boys were all being taught to care for them in a sustainable manner. A man came every Friday to teach them and he set up his own little camp next to the vegetable garden.
They had a aviary for parrots and other exotic birds. They had one of those moveable chicken coops with laying hens that produced 25 eggs a day. Across the property, I thought they had more birds, but it was actually rabbits. Lots of rabbits. Fran explained that in the large concrete tanks, they raised tilapia. Since tilapia are bottom feeders, they were able to put the rabbit cages above the fish and that meant no rabbit droppings to clean up and well-fed fish. Genius.
We even got to spend some time pushing one of the girls on the swing set. I loved her smile as she got to sail higher and higher.
We got some reports of a traffic jam nearby so I knew it would be awhile before I got picked up. This ended up being nice because I got to talk to some other people who helped out at New Life. One gentleman was there from Florida. He spent the day adding netting to all the buildings to keep out mosquitoes and was busy planning to host his college-aged daughter and group from her school who were coming to help at their Christmas break.
It was interesting to chat with them about the challenges of running the orphanage and getting the kids educated – the boys who didn’t have the right type of shoes, the little girl who couldn’t attend school until they found her white barrettes for her hair. While we sat there, a nurse came over to Fran and they tried to work out vacation times for nurses and teachers and coverage in general. It was a bizarrely typical work struggle where “management” had a grand idea of keeping the focus on the kids and the workers were making sure they had time to visit with family in the United States and, in general, just make sure they got all the time owed to them.
I’ve seen people write about how if every Haitian just picked up one rock each day, things would be dramatically improved there. This is clearly the writing of someone who hasn’t been there. Pick up one rock and take it where? Donate time to the country, when? Each day, they are doing the basic things that any person would do to keep their family together. Find water, find food, get to work, get the kids to school. When, in the midst of all that, are you supposed to find time to do volunteer work?
Volunteer work is the luxury of people with time. When you are struggling to make ends meet and working multiple jobs, there’s no time for volunteer work. There are people who do it, definitely, but those people are saints.
Later, we were joined by another pastor. He ran a church in the mountains that was not accessible by roads. You drove to the area, crossed a river in a boat and then followed paths into the woods. People had asked him to start a parish there because there were no churches nearby. You had to hand carry in supplies for the church and the attached school. I had heard about him earlier in the day. I was told that his three children were currently in the United States attending school and his youngest missed him so much that when he first arrived, he cried every time he saw a black man.
The day of the earthquake, his niece hadn’t seen that little one for awhile, so she went upstairs to look for him. Finding him, she decided to take the outside stairs to bring him down where she had been hanging out. As they walked down the stairs, the house collapsed behind him. The pastor tells people that although he misses his children, God saved his child, so he will remain in Haiti to save God’s children. Beautiful.
As we drove home from the orphanage, Waner asked Pastor Moise to show me Haiti’s largest Catholic Church. It was clearly once a beautiful building, but now it is in ruins.
My last night in Haiti, I spent in the hotel dining room with Guillaume. He was heading to DC in a few days, and I was returning to New York in the morning. He teased me for my still appalling French and tried to teach me what rum I should buy before I left. It took me several tries to get the name of the Haitian rum down – much to the amusement of the listening waitstaff.

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