This year my kids have donated their Christmas presents to an orphanage in Haiti. And that’s not meant to sound smugly worthy. But with 5 kids and a platoon of generous Aunts, Uncles and Godparents, Christmas was becoming something other than a day filled with mince pies and Christmas crackers.
On Boxing Day last year I was having a drink with a new friend, Michelle, and she asked how Christmas was. “Next year we’re giving it all away to Orphans in Haiti” I said, half joking. “How odd” she replied “I’ve started an Orphanage in Haiti”
Last week, my eldest son, Felix, and I, arrived into Port-au-Prince, with Michelle, her sister, two aid workers and a translator. We were the only people in the newly built international airport. We were the only 7 visitors arriving, one week before Christmas, and three years after the deadliest earthquake in the history of the western hemisphere had struck a nation least prepared to handle one.
From Port-au-Prince we crossed over terrifying bleak areas of deforestation, before landing in the more lush region of Aux Cayes, the third largest city in the country, and where Michelle’s Haitian father had been born and raised. Climbing into the back of some rather tired, dusty jeeps we drove into the city. Honking horns, dodging donkeys, clipping corners, swerving motorbikes, all at break neck speed. An experience my 16 year old likened to a Grand Theft Auto video game.
The city was, as many third world cities are, a swarming mass of bodies, criss-crossing the dusty, dry, dilapidated streets, rank with rotting garbage and broken dreams. At night the city did not sleep, thousands of the homeless lay on those humid streets, as cholera swept past in the open running sewers and failing supplies of electricity reduced the city to near darkness. As dawn broke bleating goats, starving dogs and small children rummaged through piles of debris as another day under a sweltering sun began.
The out of date produce in the supermarket is so valuable that a security guard with a pump action shot gun welcomes you in. A withered old lady, carrying a small table on her head, displaying bags of nuts for sale, might earn a dollar a day, and the young girl lying on the street corner, with her engorged bleeding, bare breasts hanging out, begging for small change, will not stand a chance in the hospital that is without supplies or medicine.
So overwhelming is the situation it is hard to ever imagine a solution.
And then you meet someone like Michelle, who in a very small way is making a very large difference in the lives of 28 orphaned kids, by giving them a home. In the beginning it was a handful of under nourished frightened little kids who arrived, some of whom had been so neglected that at the age of 4 they still could only crawl. As word spread more children began to arrive until they could not fit another soul into the home. Now Michelle hopes to teach the kids ways to sustain themselves and prepare them for what they will one day meet beyond the walls of the orphanage. An orphanage named, New Hope.
I won’t forget this trip. We have always been intrigued by our Caribbean neighbor so it was good to meet her at last but to see my son wordlessly hugging those kids was the only Christmas present I could have asked for.
We returned home inspired by a woman and her vision, and by a country and nation that struggle on, hope against hope.