It’s difficult to manage long-distance relationships.
When I had the chance to visit Haiti, I took it. Haiti is at the root of A Child’s Hope Foundation. Back in 2002, ACHF was created to serve the underprivileged children there. After building an adoption center in Haiti that helped dozens of children to be adopted, safety issues arose that kept ACHF from returning with volunteer groups to Haiti, and we switched our focus to Mexico. We continued offering financial support to the children from a distance, but we couldn’t connect with the kids in a personal and significant way.
This last February, the safety concerns in Haiti had calmed, and I was able to join a small group for a five-day exploratory trip. I’ve had the chance to get to know so many of our awesome volunteers through hosting trips to Mexico, and it was my hope that I would return feeling confident to invite those friends and volunteers to come to Haiti.
Reconnecting with Dovick
I traveled to Haiti with ACHF’s president, Perry Bratt. Perry was highly involved in the projects in Haiti in the early 2000s. He introduced me to Dovick Joseph, a young Haitian man who had worked with ACHF in the past. Dovick and his wife have since taken on the duty of operating and caring for the kids at Centre de Secours des Enfants En Difficulté – “Rescue Center for the Needy Children” (CSEDI for short). As a special treat for the 35 kids at CSEDI, we took them to the beach where some of them were able to play in the ocean waves for the first time. We had sand fights until the lifeguard shut that down. They loved it, and it was so fun to see their excitement! The staff at CSEDI are so kind and took such great care of us. They had been preparing very lovely, time-consuming meals for us, and then they would eat a much simpler customary meal with the kids at a different time. One thing I really wanted to do while we were there was to share a meal together with all the kids and caretakers at the same table. The simple menu consisted of spaghetti noodles with a very small amount of sauce, a small sausage (hotdog), a piece of white bread, and a couple slices of cucumbers. It was memorable to sit at their table, talk, and enjoy a meal together. The kids and caretakers at CSEDI are religious Christians and have a strong belief in God. We invited them to join us for a church service at the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel. We piled as many in the van as we possibly could (grateful they gave me shotgun)! The rest piled into the back of a pickup truck. If you’ve ever wondered how many people fit in a 10-passenger van, I can guarantee it’s more than 10! It was sweet to see some local church youth help the kids find their classes, and they all seemed to enjoy it. It felt like we nearly doubled the number of attendees in the chapel that day. (A feeling I’m sure any of our volunteers who’ve attended church in Mexico can relate to.)
During our visit, a sweet boy about 9 years old made bracelets for each of us. He would come find us, grab our hand, and slip this bracelet on and then smile at us. I knew to look forward to his hugs each time he saw us. On the last day there, he stood in front of everyone and eloquently expressed himself and thanked us for coming and for allowing him the chance to get an education with the new school we’ll be helping to build. He told us that he would be praying for us. He would be praying for us! What a special boy! At the end—in a joking manner—he said, “I look forward to seeing you all again soon. And next time, please bring toys.” We all laughed. Next time, along with medical supplies and clothes, we’ll have toys.
Our visit to the second orphanage, Foyer de Sion, was both somber and joyful.
The kids there are in need of some very basic necessities. They are also lacking physical touch and emotional connection. They were desperate to be near us—some closer than others. In one room, I counted more than a dozen kids who all appeared to be under the age of three. They were playing with pieces of plastic garbage, like trays or containers, as toys for entertainment. We held as many as we could. Shannon and Dave (ACHF staff who came with me) sat down on the floor next to the kids or put them on their legs to create as much connection as possible since our arms or laps were already full. At one point, I had a kid on either side of my lap, one sitting on my legs, and one on either side of me while we sat on the floor. I couldn’t speak their language, so I sang lullabies in English and tried to get them to smile. Two toddler girls laid in a small bed next to me with blank stares, but they listened and made eye contact as I sang. Another sat in front of me in a small plastic chair unable to move her body (because of either a handicap or paralysis—I’m unsure). She couldn’t lift her head, but she followed me with her eyes. She was the only one I could get to smile by touching her feet and making funny faces at her. She made my day.
The whole trip was filled with special experiences like these. The needs of the kids in Haiti stand out strongly to me, and it’s easy to see where they need our help.
New projects are needed to help lift these orphans to thriving.
For a few years, we have wanted to help CSEDI purchase the property adjacent to theirs. On our first day in Haiti, we were able to secure that purchase. (Cue the music!) We will be helping them build a school and some volunteer housing on the property. Currently, there is a single-level school on site at the orphanage. It’s about the size of my living room. This area has no protection from inclinant weather and has a dirt floor. Running water and plumbing aren’t even a consideration in this make-shift school.
A new school will allow the kids to safely stay on site for their education. It will also provide a safe space for the education of many other children in the area. Covid-19 has delayed the purchase of the property by about two months. I have held off on planning our fall trip to Haiti because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and other safety concerns. I consider myself lucky that we were able to visit at all before travel restrictions were placed.
Even if we can’t make it back to Haiti soon, the goal is to have the school finished by the end of the year with the help of hired local workers. I hope that one day, when the political climate has settled, we will be able to host trips to the orphanages in Haiti.
Jaime first got involved with ACHF when she volunteered on a service trip in Mexico. She loved the experience and decided to do more. Shortly after, she was trained to be a Trip Host. By the end of that year, she was training other volunteers on being Trip Hosts, too! Over the years her responisbilities have expanded past supporting service trips to becoming the Program Director.
Today, she focuses on training new Deployment Partners on how to implement our Thrive Certification program to more and more partner orphanages in new countries. She also goes on exploratory trips to visit partners in new potential countries to see if our services would be a good fit.