Friday, March 16, 2012

Haiti is home to the largest slum in the Western hemisphere, Cite Soliel. This poverty stricken country can be reached by a short 90 minute flight from Miami; however, while Americans lay out on the sandy beaches in Miami, beaches located on the same body of water are avoided by Haitians due to the excessive pollution. These are two separate worlds entirely, and yet they are separated by a mere 90 minutes. I wonder how is there a country in such proximity to the United States with unimaginable unemployment rates, an extremely low life expectancy, an unstable government, and undreamed of living conditions. Large amounts of the population of Haiti are without running water, something almost unheard of in most parts of the United States.

My interest in service and in others brought me to Haiti for Spring Break where I worked with a team of volunteers to assist with the delivery of fresh water, to give love and attention to children and to spread God’s word. On my second evening in Haiti on a visit to a tent city, I met a boy who had a great deal to teach me. 

Passing through the gates of the tent city, I was hit by the stench of urine and crowdedness.  I wanted to look away and yet I could not turn my eyes from the display of uneven rows of crowded homes made of tarps and sheets strung together over sticks. Timidly, I began walking, leaving the comfort of the gate, edging closer in a trance-like state. Weaving my way between rows of makeshift homes, I struggled to avoid the stream of unknown fluid cutting a path inches from my feet. Walking past the open tents, I was greeted with an astounding amount of joyfulness, never less than a smile.  I continued to walk through the tents saying hello, and then I saw him. 

A few tents from where I stood a boy sat in his wheelchair. His twisted legs dangled from the well-worn chair while he ate a tiny portion of rice. He shyly glanced up and our eyes met as an enormous smile spread across his face, and in that moment I became so dispirited. I dropped my gaze and turned my back as my face flushed and tears began to stream down my cheeks.  What, I wondered, did this crippled, poverty-stricken boy have to smile about?  His family’s home was half the size of my bedroom back home.  Where I had lush carpet he had cracked earth, where I had air conditioning he had sweltering heat, and yet where he wore his smile I wore nothing. I could not remember the last time I smiled with such a full body smile as he had just given me.  Slowly, I dried my tears and walked towards him. Once I reached him, I bent down to look him in the eye, and with an unsteady voice, I asked, “Ki jan ou rele? “ In the gentlest voice, as if sensing my uneasiness, he responded, “Ronaldo.” Though we could not communicate with words, I felt completely at ease just sitting by his side in the dirt, enjoying his company.

After nearly 15 minutes of communicating through simple gestures, and a brief introduction to his family, it was time for me to leave. As I got up, I turned to the boy and with increased confidence said, “Ke Bondye Beni’ou “(May God bless you).  His smile, which had been so painful minutes before, now filled me up.  I returned the smile from a deep place in my soul and reluctantly returned to my night’s lodgings.  

Once more I passed through the gates of the tent city and ventured onto the uneven road. As I walked home my mind was a whirlpool of thoughts. Sleep did not come easily that night.  I despaired about how incredibly materialistic our society had become, how incredibly materialistic I had become. Ronaldo, with his bright smile amid squalor, reminded me, in an intense way, that living fully has little to do with having the biggest house or the latest gadget.  Initially, I was torn apart by the boy’s smile because of how guilty it had made me feel, but over our time together, I came to see that we could share a beautiful human connection.  I was more open in all of my interactions with others after meeting Ronaldo.  I realized that I had a gift for making others feel comfortable. Furthermore, upon returning people praise me for spending time in Haiti.  This praise, which is something I would have gladly taken before my encounter with Ronaldo, embarrasses me as it is undeserved.  I have learned that each of us should be expected to do what we can to enhance the lives of others and to learn about ourselves and one another. Haiti is a place that has had an incredible inspiration to me, it is a place I have come to love, and it is a place that has shaped who I am.

Sammie Maixner

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Haiti from the eyes and hearts of Finna and Sophie (two 13 year olds)

So today we went to the house of the sick and dying babies. We also went to Gertrude's; an orphanage of the handicapped. What we saw today was nothing like we've ever pictured an orphanage being like. At the home of the sick and dying, there were children crying their hearts out beacuse they needed a diaper change or wanted to be held. Some of the home of the sick and dying buildings were taken down in the earthquake and are now being rebuilt as you read this.The cribs were lined up in rows like you would see in a movie, only this was real. 
The thing is Haiti is real and not a movie!  Its only day three and we think we've seen it all. Our favorite part of today was meeting Junior he is a disabeled boy who lives with Down Syndrome. We are pumped up for tomorrow and what we will see.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

As we drove through the streets of Port au Prince to Cite Soliel to deliver water I was taking in my surroundings not quite sure what to expect.  Many questions filled my head.  Should I be concerned for our safety?  Would the scene be chaotic?  I said a prayer for God to protect our team and put my faith in Him so I would not worry but be able to concentrate on helping others. 
We turned the corner off the main road and as soon as the children saw the water truck they began shouting "Hey you!" and came running to the truck with huge smiles. Women and kids who looked to be as young as 6 years old quickly lined up behind the truck with their water buckets.  Everything was very orderly for people in such great need.  Some kids were so thirsty they began drinking before their buckets were even filled with water.  Others sat their bucket down within yards of the water truck and began bathing. A mother began washing her clothes.  It felt amazing to be providing what they needed so much. 
I helped many kids lift water buckets onto their heads and carried water to their homes.  In the middle of the second of our four stops I began to lose my strength and my hands began to ache from carrying the water buckets with wire handles.  I told myself that I would simply play with the kids on the next two stops because I didn't have the energy.  But when I got out of the truck on the next stop I couldn't help myself.  I just had to help these people who were in such great need.  I prayed that God would give me strength to continue carrying water at the last two stops. 
I finished the day with more strength than I had as the day began, feeling fulfilled that our team was provided with the opportunity to serve those less fortunate than ourselves.