I journaled multiple times daily while I was in Haiti. It seemed that every free moment drove me to my pen and notebook. To re-read it in composing this post was excruciating. I have spent hours already and I don’t know if I can adequately convey the thoughts and feelings, and the reality I witnessed. This post is more of about my observations, stories will come later.
In my education and experience I know that children are disproportionate victims of injustice and poverty. As those reliant on the care and provision of adults, they suffer most when that structure is broken; that structure was broken long before January 12, 2010. Before the earthquake, Haiti was already the poorest country in its hemisphere. There are long-standing political and cultural reasons for that, none of which change the fact. The earthquake only served to exponentially deepen the problem. Of the estimated 1.3 million people still living in tent camps, it has been said that 800,000 of them are children. Untold numbers more are in orphanages, taken in by other relatives or community members, and a great many are vulnerable to being trafficked.
We ministered to a lot of children in Carrefour. There were more than 120 participants and on-lookers at each of the three vacation bible school programs we presented. There were about 70 in the orphanage we visited twice. There was no way to count the number of children we saw and prayed for on our prayer walks through the neighborhoods surrounding our base or in the tent camp. We met a tiny fraction of those within our reach.
The circumstances of each of these groups of children shared some things in common. Some of what struck me is cultural, some is poverty related, some is earthquake related, some is uncategorized. If I compared it to what I know of poverty in the US… well, I can’t because the gap between US poverty and Haitian poverty is disparate. Yes, they both exist, they both have consequences for those in them, and both create challenges for children with long-term impact on their respective societies. However, the realities are apples-to-pineapples — they sound similar but are entirely different.
So, what about those children in Haiti? First you need to know that there is not a solitary ugly child anywhere in Haiti. Huge, deep eyes have seen too much. But, they love people and nearly instantly accept that you belong to them and are quite affectionate.
There were differences, too. The children at the VBS were cleaner, healthier and were generally better dressed (and by that I mean, fully clothed). They were more verbal, energetic, and many attended school. These children will take your hand, climb on your back, answer your less-than-intelligible Creole questions repeatedly, test out their English (they are great at “hello,” “hey you” and “photo”), and sing, dance and play any game you can make known through translators or hand motions. Like children everywhere, they love attention and play. They also love candy. They wanted to know if we’d brought them toys (it was the week after Christmas, after all).
The children in the tent camp were also with their families, at least their mothers or someone in a mothering role. These children were not as healthy, not as fully clothed. Not a single infant or older baby was wearing a diaper, which is something we saw in the neighborhood as well. Many do not attend school as access to education is limited and expensive. They were curious about us, wanted to touch our pale skin and straight hair. We got to pray for and lay hands on many of them. I will describe the tent camp and our prayer walk in more detail in another post.
While all of the children were curious about us, engaged us quickly and were playful, this seemed to take on an extra measure with the children in the orphanage. Wait, engaged us is too sterile a word. They claimed and enveloped us. Perhaps it was they were glad for visitors, but I truly believe it was for hope of leaving that place. My specific experiences in the orphanage will also take another post. The children here were the least healthy of all we encountered, but that didn’t hinder their joy in playing with us or in singing and dancing. They were hungry for love, unsure about what to do with lollipops, and almost aggressive in making sure they got attention from the person they claimed. Some weren’t verbal at all, they also ranged from infant to the older teen caregivers. They are educated there within the orphanage, and it is clear that resources there are short in the best of times. That is not a criticism, it is a reality. When the pastor who administers the orphanage spoke to us, he told us how grateful he was for AIM’s involvement in helping them establish a partnership with a US church that enables them to now feed the children twice a day.
There are many needs in Haiti, but those of her children are urgent. We encountered very few who were unaware of Jesus, whose caregivers did not know Him and fervently claim His grace and provision for getting them to this point in their lives. Spending just a week with these children was both too long and not long enough. To help them without making them dependent, raising them to be healthy and educated contributors to their society is essential to improving the cycle of poverty. It’s not a problem at which we can only throw money – we must give ourselves. The children of Haiti — the least of these in the Kingdom of God — need our action now more than ever.
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’