I can't tell you how much it meant to me, only that I'm grateful for the opportunity to return to Haiti again.
Since my cancer diagnosis in February, the hugs from friends and family have been longer and a bit tighter... Haiti is no exception. Our friends did not expect to see me again until March 2009 so it was a surprise to them when Jeff asked them to come to the airport and greet a "new friend" that he had coming in. It was pure delight for me to see the look on their faces when they saw me. The hugs were longer and a bit tighter... and they came with squeals of happiness too!
Only by the Grace of God has this trip been made possible. I was humbled to learn that 600 school children we sponsor and 2 churches had been praying for me. It was like they saw their prayers answered... a bit chubby and with very curly hair!
As we drove to the hotel and turned up the bumpy, washed out road, with a blazing pile of garbage and a big pig scrounging around it, I told Jean and Fanfan "See what I have missed?" and they laughed. It felt and smelled so good to be back!
Street Kids, Sledge Hammers and Pizza.
The first day, Jeff and I hopped on a tap tap and went to find the street kids we have been supporting and sending to school.
Jeff thought they might be at a busy intersection washing car windows as people waited for the light to turn. After walking a couple blocks, we finally spotted one of them. He immediately called some of the others over... boy were they happy to see Jeff! This was the first time I had met them. Jeff told them in broken Creole that he had a job for them to do. No questions asked, they followed us, all eight of them and got onto another tap tap and headed to Bobby's soccer field.
When we arrived at the soccer field, Jeff opened the container and got sledge hammers, axes, picks and shovels out and told the boys we were going to "bust up" the wall. These tools were like magnets to these kids as they each vied for the biggest one.
You see, when our container tipped over, it knocked over a concrete wall next to it and we now had the job before us to break it up and haul it away. They were quickly hammering away with concrete flying every direction.
As I watched, I thought to myself "This is an accident waiting to happen." But the only accident this day was Jeff falling over trying to avoid a large falling section of the wall, ripping a big hole in the seat of his pants... another good laugh.
These kids worked so hard! They had no idea how much they were making. They had not negotiated any price. They didn't know how long the job would take and there was never any bickering... they actually made fun in it. I suppose letting a young man loose with a sledge hammer does have some entertainment in it.
One of the pure joys I had today was flying a kite made of sticks and plastic with homemade string that a little boy made from garbage. He came to see what was going on while flying his kite. After a few minutes he motioned for me to fly it. He was so sweet and this was such a touching moment.
After about 4-5 hours, the wall was down and neatly piled in front of the container.
As we took a break and drank some badly needed water, one of the street kids pulled a pink folded piece of paper out of his pocket... it was his report card from school... his very first one he'd ever received.
Others quickly unfolded theirs, some carefully taking them from a plastic bag used for protection. Soon 6 or 7 of the kids were all waving their report cards showing them to us. They were all so proud. We had told each of them last August, that we would pay them $1 US for each report card as an incentive to keep them going to school. They now wanted to be paid. When we took this picture, Thomas, the little one on the right in the front kept turning his around because he wasn't sure which way was up. These boys are between 13-18 years old and are just learning to read. Jean (our director in Haiti) says they really don't know how old they are or what their real names are because they have no paperwork or family. Imagine, being 13, living on the streets alone... in one of the poorest countries in the world. We are so blessed.
It was starting to become dark as our dump truck pulled up from a long days work. Piece by piece, bucket by bucket we lifted the broken concrete up into the truck. It was grueling. Everyone was dirty, covered with dust, tired and exhausted... but never a complaint. They were all happy to have a job. By the time we finished, it was completely black out... with no lights around... it was dark.
We asked the boys if they'd like to come back to the hotel for Pizza. They were so excited as they climbed up onto the top of the dump truck for a ride to the hotel... and they were so very tired. Some actually fell asleep at the table while waiting for the pizza to come. I gave them all hand massages with wet ones and lotion, wondering when the last time they had been lovingly touched was.
One last observation. I commented to Jeff what good manners they all had. He told me he had had them for pizza in August and Jean and him had to teach the kids how to use a fork and a knife... can you imagine? Please pray for these precious children of God.
Food for Schools and Cité Soleil
The next day, we headed back down to the container to prepare and distribute more food. Mialta Miracle, the director of Reiser Heights, our school in the mountains of Lespinasse, arrived in a hired tap tap to pickup buckets of food for the school children.
He also received a check for teachers salaries and the nurse at the school clinic. He told us of the devastation that the September hurricanes had brought wiping out crops, banana and plantin trees, making it very difficult for parents to feed and pay for their children's education. He was so happy for the help and support and thanks the Lord for our generous donors.
Afterwards, we started to prepare for our Cité Soleil distribution. Cité Soleil is one of the worst slums in the world with a population of over 300,000 people in a 4 square mile area. Because of the desperation and lack of food in Haiti, and because of our lack of a concrete walled facility and previous experience with food distribution in Cité Soleil, we determined it was too dangerous to distribute the food openly without causing a food riot. So we handed out ticket vouchers in Cité Soleil neighborhoods to elders, pregnant women and mothers to be redeemed for food at the soccer field the next day. We hoped this would allow us to control the crowds of people as they waited for food.
Earlier this fall, I had packed food at Feed My Starving Children to celebrate a group of friends fall birthdays.
Now I'm repacking the food for final distribution... it was coming full circle.
Jeff, Kevin and I spent the rest of the day counting and packing 600 bags of food for tomorrow's distribution, 14 bags of Feed My Starving Children food (84 meals) for each ticket holder.
We knew tomorrow was going to be a long day and headed home for the night.
Desperation, Anguish and Frustration.
One might think that handing out food to those in need might be joyful or even fun. But the anguish on people's faces is sobering. It breaks my heart to see so many people, so desperate and frustrated. Desperate for food to feed their children, frustrated they have to walk a mile or more to redeem their voucher, anguished about whether there will be food left by the time they get in the gate. It breaks our hearts to see the pain of daily life in Haiti.
This morning, Jeff, Fanfan and I took a tap tap down to the soccer field to prepare for the food distribution. We arrived at 9:30 and people were already lined up for the distribution scheduled for 11am.
We met with Kevin and began to instruct our helpers how it would work. We knew that more people were coming every minute.
The word was out that we were distributing food and some people outside the gate did not have a ticket.
For us to have enough food for all the ticket vouchers we handed out, we would have to make sure no one without a ticket was allowed in. We learned from other missions that it is best to establish a system within the gates that would include multiple checkpoints and a "maze" for them to follow allowing only a limited number of people in at a time. This would help to create a single file line that would hopefully be orderly.
We decided to test our system so at 10:55, we opened the gate to let the first 5 people in. As soon as we unlocked the door, the people stormed the gate, pushing, shoving and yelling to get in. It took quite a few of workers to safely pull the first five people through the gate and get the people pushed back so we could lock it again. We now knew what we were up against. Good people desperately fighting for the basics of food for life. We wonder, what would we be like if we we could not provide for our children... would we also push and shove and yell? Would you?
I think this is what it means to see life through a different lense. We might look at this and become frustrated ourselves, that our own needs of feeling fulfilled are not being met by these circumstances... but it is not about us. We need to constantly take ourselves out of the picture. It is not about us, it's about being the "hands and feet" of Christ and getting into the middle of the brawl to try to do something good. It is not about these people appreciating what we are doing but about us appreciating the situation they are in... dire poverty with complete and utter desperation. Hearing all the yelling and commotion, I sat back at the end of the table and thought this is what starvation sounds like.
After sending some workers outside the gate to try to quiet the crowd, we reopened the doors... letting only 5 people with vouchers in at a time.
Little by little as people got in and out, the process started to function.... but as always, there is never enough.
After 3 hours, all tickets had been redeemed and their were still over 100 people outside the gate begging for food. We decided to assemble some more packets with what bags we had left and handed out another 50-60 packages. Even though it was good to see so many people receive this food, we all ached knowing many went without.
Fanfan, Jeff and I walked for a while afterwards, then took a tap tap back to the hotel. We were silent and tired... and emotionally drained. Please Dear Lord, heal Haiti.
Alyn and Jeff