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.