by John Cripe | Former Mercy & Sharing Board Member
I was in Haiti not too long ago—late August—and our Director of Development asked me to write a short blog about my trip. This is a chance, I think, to be able to tell others a little about the kids I was able to meet and some of the sites I came across. It’s an opportunity to try to describe some children in part of what’s known as the Third World—not as an objects of curiosity, but as individuals with feelings and values similar to our own, who strive to tell the people of the first-world about their lives and their hopes for a better future.
I was in Haiti for a variety of coordinating meetings with representatives from private businesses, aid organizations and some USAID project administrators. At one point I was able to venture out to visit Mercy & Sharing Village at Williamson—only 30 or 40 miles—but a long couple of hours away from the capital city.
Along the way, I noticed conditions had improved since my earlier trip in the spring. For example, rubble from last year’s punishing earthquake isn’t gone, but it’s now in piles. This is a notable improvement, but there is still much to be done.
There is plenty of trash. I think that while the average American very likely creates much more waste than the average Haitian could ever dream of, we are SO much more proficient at hiding our garbage in landfills. This is obviously not a skill mastered in Haiti quite yet—and neither is providing adequate housing or building basic infrastructure.
Expansive tent cities still cover the landscape – the magnitude of the homelessness crisis is close to overwhelming. In the year and a half after the earthquake millions of dollars have been spent/diverted to a variety of “shelter solutions”. From plywood huts to ubiquitous blue tents to vinyl sided igloos, housing ideas of all stripes have been spit forward as part of some grand plan to “re-imagine Haiti”. Well, so far, many lots are still vacant or buried under mountains of rubble and piles of plastic soda bottles—and most of the people still live in torn tents or improvised dwellings put together from corrugated tin and plastic sheeting. There are no walking paths, green spaces, tennis courts or sleek apartment buildings as envisioned by so many well-meaning but unrealistic urban planners. Imagine what the proposed solution of crowded plywood huts will look like in five years, or even less.
The facilities at Mercy & Sharing Village at Williamson, in contrast to what I’d seen on the drive there, felt like an oasis. Once behind the tall security walls that border the property I immediately felt a striking difference between the squalor I’d seen and the order I now experienced. No mounds of garbage here—instead there were gardens. No gray piles of rubble or signs of destruction, but rather brightly colored buildings and the sounds of construction.
I saw incredible progress being made on the new Rehabilitation and Therapy Center. Jeff* and his team were hard at work hammering and sawing. Exterior walls were up and framing for the roof was almost complete. This new project will allow children with special needs infinitely improved facilities, specifically designed for occupational therapy, specialized treatment and critical medical care. Once finished, a final step will be a ramp between buildings for wheelchair access, making the short trip so much easier for everyone.
Walking further, I entered the next closest building—where it was lunchtime for many of the kids. I saw children very (very) busy eating from full plates—heads down and pausing only briefly between bites to barely acknowledge my presence with a quick sideways glance before concentrating on their next forkful of food. It felt just like I was sharing a meal with my own kids.
In the next building I saw scores of boys—of all ages, heights and of varying physical abilities. All were immediately intrigued by my presence, and the next thing I knew they’d surrounded me, asking questions in French, Creole and English and pulling at my arm to show me an important toy or otherwise vying for attention. Lisa’s House (the girls building) was next, and while quite a bit more shy than the boys at first, the girls quickly overcame their reluctance and began competing for a few minutes of my time.
Some of the young children I hugged had special needs—some were unable to sit up, let alone walk. Over the course of my visit I heard kids talking about books they were reading, art projects they’d just completed, how much several of them disliked going to school (again, just like being home again) and from some of the older ones I heard them talk anxiously about the new vocational school and their career goals. To hear children planning for their futures is a real victory! Because they have food and shelter they can plan for tomorrow instead of worrying about today.
It was wonderful to see so many happy boys and girls, clean, well-dressed, fed and provided love and guidance from caring adults. It was reassuring to see again the good work and positive accomplishments of Nicole DeFay, Manager of Mercy & Sharing Village and all the dedicated staff who work there.
While I want to say my time at the orphanage was beautiful, and it was, as I think back I confess to feeling a little unfulfilled. I know the tactile experience some of the children felt from my brief visit was beneficial—and for others it was simply a chance to meet a new person who provided a little break in their day. I only wish there was more I could do for them…and orphans everywhere. It was a completely humbling experience, to say the least.
Through this quick blog I hope I’ve been able to share a bit of their voice—their excitement, energy, happiness and hope. Please know that all of this is made possible through your financial support—they have a positive future because of you.
* NOTE: A quick expression of thanks to a wonderful person, Jeff Swope. For those who don’t know him, he is on the Advisory Board of Mercy & Sharing and is the volunteer contractor who takes a vision and makes it a reality. It is thanks to Jeff that we were able to build our entire campus at Williamson—the school rooms, furniture, the church, the dorms and the brand new Rehabilitation and Therapy Center plus, well, pretty much everything. Jeff is the guy who obtains the correct prices for work so we don’t get our leg pulled. It’s Jeff who understands everything structural and technical and is the first to roll up his sleeves and get to work. Jeff and his able team of volunteers travel regularly to Haiti and continue to make possible the impossible. (Jeff is also a magnet for a lot of the boys—but privately I think it’s less about him being a great guy and more about his really excellent collection of tools.) Jeff, you are amazing—thanks for all you do!