Thursday, October 22, 2015

Days 2 and 3 - Touch

My mom took leave from her job to spend the last weeks with her father before he died. She's told many stories of this time she spent with him, but the one the stands out the most is the story of rubbing his feet. At the time, I'm sure I thought this was a strange thing that my mother did - how she spent time washing and using lotion on his feet...cutting his toenails and while doing this, I'm sure having conversations while he was awake. Maybe they told stories of her childhood, maybe of his own, or maybe they just spent that time in silence together just knowing that this would be it in this lifetime together.

I cry as I type this because even six years ago I didn't understand the gift and honor my mother gave to her father before he died. The gift of touch.

For our team, this word - touch. This action - touch. This everything - what our days have been this week. It's the connection that we can all give to one another so freely - to put a hand on a shoulder to tell someone we are here, to give a hug, to kiss a forehead, to give a fist-bump - it's a universal and beautiful human experience. There is no language barrier to touch, and no special skills needed to make that easy connection.

Yesterday we traveled west to the Home for the Sick and Dying adults. I think we all wanted to believe that this home would be filled with the elderly - dying after fulfilling a long and beautiful life just like my own grandfather. But it wasn't. There were also teens, and young mothers and fathers who came to this place to be loved and cared for before they go to meet God or even for their own miracle of health to happen.  As a non-medical team, I think many wondered what our calling was to serve at here - but it became clear quickly - it was to spend time with them - rubbing their feet, their arms, their backs - holding their hands and just touching them with our love, our hearts, and our hands.

My mother taught me well with how she honored her father. How we can all learn to honor those who need us most in such simple yet profound ways.

This happened again today as we visited the elderly that Healing Haiti supports in the greater Titanyen community. They didn't ask for anything except our time, our love, our prayers, and our touch. We washed their feet, rubbed their hands, and lifted them in songs and love.

We visited an orphanage after leaving the elders. It was a place some of us visited last year - and it was a favorite because of the joy of the children. I told a story tonight about how I spoke to my mother last year after leaving these children that day - and she reminded me that someone else was right behind me giving them love and hugs. I held that close during this year apart - and she was right - they did have love all year, but yet - they remembered our group and the songs we sang! It was a wonder indeed and I know I will see and hug the beautiful children again someday.

I think we all need to remember that we don't need big gifts to make an impact - we just need to give a touch or a hug or some extra time with someone to let them know they are not alone ever in this big world. We need to let them know that for that moment, that minute, that hour - you are everything to them - and are in full service to them through our simple gift of just being human.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mission to Haiti - Day 1: Devastation and Hope

This year, God touched my heart to take this trip with Healing Haiti, through a friend of mine with who I have attended weekend retreats. We will be here until next Monday, but I'll just chronicle a little bit of what I saw today on day 1, our first trip into Cite Soleil - one of the poorest cities in the Western Hemisphere.

It was heartbreaking.

In the morning, we left our compound to help deliver water into the city. Once we arrived, and the back of the bus opened, we were met with dozens of little kids, mostly aged between 1 year old and 10 years old. Just about all of them were malnourished - read: underfed. They came with buckets to fill with water for the entire week. I'd say that around 30% of them were half naked from the waist down. And the babies and toddlers typically walked around entirely naked. They also walked though mud, dirty water and sometimes piles of trash to get to us.

(If we take a step back and think about this for a minute, the amount of water that we individually take a shower with each morning is enough to fill several buckets. These kids had on average about 2 buckets to fill. For their entire family. For the entire week.)

We stayed there for about 2 hours, holding kids, helping to bring water to some of the faraway huts, talking with some of the locals on the ground, and visiting a Church that is being built in the midst of this devastating part of Haiti. More on that later.

Thereafter, we took a short break to recollect ourselves at a rest stop. Next up, we visited another site that was more urban than the first location. While the initial site was somewhat rural and highly impoverished, site #2 held both extreme poverty and very tight quarters.

When we got off of the truck at this site, we found that the kids (out of necessity) were quite organized. In contrast to site #1, the buckets were lined up nearly in advance of our arrival. I soon found out why.

On the long city road upon which our small team delivered countless buckets, we found that just about every hut in which 5-7 people lived was just that - a dirt floor, rusty aluminum walls pieced together from garbage, heat over 90 degrees within...and flies. I don't mean to shock you, but it's the only way to give you the clearest picture of what is going on here. Remember that there were still these toddlers and young children running around with little to no clothing on, and living every day in these huts.

At this site we stayed for about another hour. Many individuals had much larger buckets this time, and there was much competition and jockeying for position, to collect the water for their families that they would need for the rest of the week - to drink, to bathe, to clean, to survive.

The closest thing that I can use to relate you to the experience thus far is parts of the movie Slumdog Millionaire. But even that movie can't do justice to it, because you have to be there to smell the garbage, to see and hold the people, and to serve as best as you can when the opportunity exists.

You probably have a better, and likely very depressing image of what the poorest of the poor in Haiti deal with on a daily basis. But despite all that they endure, there are some signs of hope; seeds that may take a very long time to bloom, but they are there.

The most beautiful part of this experience is that even though these kids were there to receive water from Healing Haiti, the first thing that many, many of these kids did was ask to be picked up, held and hugged. I can't tell you how many kids we picked up at each site and held in our arms. They were so starving for love and attention. It was so much more important to them than the water.

I remember one small child at site 2 that I held for a few minutes. I'd like to think that for the time we spent together, we were comforted by getting to take a moment and forget about the difficulties of life. And so many of these children greet us with a warm smile that can only be described as joy.

Something else to note is that although a large amount of the population lives in extreme poverty, there are some that stand out and look to excel themselves. One teenage kid, a little more well groomed, came up to me and started telling me that he is learning English in school. I was very impressed with his ability to communicate with me. Then he proceeded to ask me if he could take my shoes.

I say the above slightly in jest, but for a minute I considered it. And even though I didn't give this young man my shoes, perhaps some day his education will provide him the ability to convince others to conduct their actions in a manner that will benefit those around him.

In a more formal sense, there are pockets of education near Cite Soleil. On occasion we would see children walking to or from school, in very clean, pastel color uniforms. A member of our team visited another school in the area yesterday to configure many Google Chromebooks - which were donated to the facility by a benefactor.

We also visited a soccer field, where many children were playing in uniforms which were donated by a local power company. The field was made out of dirt and gravel, but these kids played their hearts out, dove for soccer balls coming their way, and were looking to improve their skills.

There will be other facilities we visit this week, such as orphanages, hospitals and even local people with startup businesses (think kiosks at your local mall, but with painted wooden structures - it works!), and there are many organizations that are pitching in to help. Recall that in 2010 there was a terrible earthquake which claimed the lives of several hundred thousand people. Thereafter, a greater focus on recovery was established by international organizations, and Charitable organizations such as Healing Haiti.

On the bus between sites 1 and 2, I noticed a car with the words "Never Give Up" on it. It reminded me of the same slogan in my colleague's office of a moving company that has been in business for 50 years. In my opinion, everything is relative, and if a company can struggle for many years to achieve ongoing success, why cannot the poorest of the poor, over the course of time, pull themselves out of poverty?

Aside from the emotional time we spent with the kids, I think the most amazing part of the experience is the Church that we saw. Despite the impoverished conditions, existence of gangs and violence, and the temptation to steal valuable equipment, it is reported at the moment that not one item has been taken from the construction site of the Church.

It would seem that the people are here, collectively waiting for something. Maybe in a way, we all are. But in these people we see a hope that - in my opinion - can only come from God. Just the mere fact that most have endured or negotiated through their day to day reality is testimonial to a Spiritual Shield that may be there to protect the population from further devastation. Or, in another sense, one can say "how much worse can it get?"

Either way, after being on the ground for just one day, I do now very clearly understand the responsibility that we in the more developed parts of the world have to help those in need. I hope you do as well. As I write this blog it weighs heavily on my heart that every one of those kids we picked up, held, hugged and helped today, are still living in a small hut, waiting for something.

If you have made it to the end of this article and find it in your heart to help out Healing Haiti in their efforts to help this area of the world, please click here.

Thank you and God Bless you.

Tom Ossa is the guest blogger for this article. He is a web developer, residing in Rockland County, NY.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Travel Day

We made it! Our first day in Haiti. Our team met in Miami from Minnesota, Georgia, and New York. We shared a meal and settled in to our new home for the next week. We are ready to do whatever God has in store for us.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Day 4 An education

Today we got an early start. We attended an early morning prayer service at the Tent Church.
Many locals attend this service before going off to work for the day. In many ways, the experience was uniquely Haitian. There was a great deal of movement in the congregation as the preachers inspired the congregation with prayer and music accompanied by a drummer, keyboard and an electric guitar. Afterwards we enjoyed a magnificent sunrise while perched on a ledge overlooking the city below.
Next stop was the Apparent Project. The artisans utilize discarded materials to create jewelry, metalwork, pottery and clothing.  Purchases empower the artisans to support their families while their children are cared for on site.
Next came a visit to the National Museum of Haiti in Port-au-Prince. Originally constructed as a memorial resting place for the four founders of modern Haiti, it was converted to a museum in 1983. Highlights include a permanent exhibit detailing some key points in Haitian history as well as artifacts and artwork.
Lastly, a visit to Notre Dame des Victoires Orphanage. We played, did arts and crafts,jumped rope and did yoga with the children. Outside, a game of soccer was a highlight. The children had a great time!
Home to the guesthouse, where a Haitian feast awaited us. Rice and beans, chicken, root vegetables and plantains. Delicious!
Tom and Melinda

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Water Truck Day

There are rides at amusement parks that post on certain water attractions, "You will get wet. You may get soaked!" In so many ways both are true for water truck day in Cite Soleil, but not simply for the reason you might think. We got off the tap tap geared up for holding a four inch hose that dispenses the water to the empty buckets, basins, and drums the residents of the poorest of the poor bring to get water. This is their only source of water for days and for the most part it is the children - some in the dirtiest of clothing, some in none at all - and the girls and women who come to fill their vessels with water to cook, drink, and clean with until the next water truck day. If you're holding the hose, you absolutely get wet. Water splashes everywhere, and all around you children are catching water from a leak in the hose to drink or simply washing off the dust that they are coated with all the time. Each 5 gallon bucket is 40 pounds and it is amazing to watch elementary school age girls carry them on their heads. Our job is simply to get it there. Others carry small 3 foot basins back to their metal shanty homes with our assistance as well. And still others just need a hand carrying their bucket if they can't balance it on their head. The truck pumps until there is no more buckets to fill or no more water in the truck, and there seems to always be more buckets to fill.
If that's all water truck day was it would be moving enough to have your heart break. But as you get off the tap tap the children are already lined up. Not with buckets raised for water but with hands outstretched with one request on their lips - "Hey you!" Translation: "Pick me up and hold me to let me know that I am loved." You learn how to hold a child in one arm and a water bucket in the other. And it isn't long until you are soaked in not just the water from the truck, but also the joy and comfort that comes exudes from their faces and eyes. And with each water stop I became soaked in the love of God that poured not only from our team to the people of Cite Soleil but God's love toward me from them. Sometimes it's not easy. Hard life creates hard faces. Yet, like the water that erodes even the mightiest of mountains maybe the water that comes in the name of Christ through Healing Haiti will soften the hardest of faces and allow for the light of Christ to shine through from their eyes and smiling faces.
We also were blessed with the opportunity to witness the soccer initiative supported by Healing Haiti among others. We watched the boys practice and were invited to play a scrimmage against them. What fun! And they were the best of sports when the game ended in a 2-2 tie. It was then off to dinner where we fed the boys a Feed My Starving Children meal and watch their faces light up again.
I am blessed to have been a part of this experience and don't think I'll water my lawn ever again knowing how precious it truly is in this world and just because I can doesn't mean I need to water my lawn or continue living according to the status quo of the U.S. society. I got wet and soaked today in Cite Soleil while delivering water. I pray I never dry off.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Day 2

Day 2 - Tuesday, October 6
Our first stop this morning was Grace Village, a school and orphanage about a 45 minute drive north into the mountains. We were surprised with the beauty of not only the view of Titanyen, but the school and supporting structures as well. Titanyen translates to “less than nothing”, which we found to be far from accurate. The village is void of businesses at the moment, but progress is being made thanks to the expansion of Grace Village. They have a community church and a bakery that will be open soon and employ 50 families. The school has over 400 students and 39 resident children. We were impressed with the organization, leadership and care put into every aspect of the children’s schooling and socialization. They also focus on sustainability, and have a hydroponic garden. With 15 acres of land, it will be exciting to see what the future holds for the community.
From there, we headed to the Haitian Mass Grave, a memorial that marks where hundreds of thousands were buried following the earthquake. We listened to our Haitian guides’ personal stories about the earthquake and prayed over the victims. While there, we distributed FMSC Manna Packs to the local children and adults. One of the little boys looked up at us and asked, “Do you believe in Jesus?”. And one of us replied back, “yes, we do”. He lit up when we asked him the same question in return and he replied “yes!”. For us, his smile and response represent the resilience of the Haitian people - despite extreme poverty, they are joyful and take pride in their country.
Our final stop was Shalom Orphanage. Compared to Grace Village, Shalom was small and simple with only 10 live-in children, but the children were just as happy. We had the opportunity to play with the children - we blew up balloons, colored, and played soccer. The children really seemed to enjoy the interaction, the hugs, and taking the hats off of the guys’ heads!

-  Darcy and Elyse

Day 1

Day 1 - Monday, October 5
Although the sun wasn’t up (and it wouldn’t be up for another few hours), 15 members of the Haddonfield Healing Haiti Team met at 3 a.m. to begin a day-long journey.  Our travels would take us to Philadelphia’s airport, through Miami where we would meet our Minnesota team leader, Nick Wellen, and on to Port-au-Prince and a fascinating drive from the airport to the guest house that will be the team’s home base.
Referring to our words of the day, discussed following this evening’s dinner, each one of us are “delighted” to be undertaking this journey, although not without significant “trepidation.”  We are “nervous”  about what we will experience but, at the same time, “open” to personal and collective growth and “grateful” for the opportunity.  Today and the days ahead will bring us face to face with the “disparity” we quickly found ourselves in as we drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince.  All of us look forward to tomorrow and our first real day - meeting the children we’ve come to serve, distributing FMSC food and our donations, and giving all of us the opportunity to learn how to Iive a more mission-centric life.

  • Gerry, Linda, and Paul