When I saw the Haitian countryside for the first time, I was taken. But it was the first time I was hugged by a Haitian child that my soul fell in love. That’s the thing with Haitian children; it always feels like they give more love to you than you could ever give back to them. This was troubling to me at first. It left me feeling full and empty all at the same time. I felt undeserving of their precious, unhesitating love. Then I realized that an amazing outpouring of love is the kind of story, the kind of impact, that keeps us fixed on God and stays in our memory forever. Those skinny little arms that wrapped around my neck so tightly that first time, were a symbol of God’s encompassing love and I felt so amazingly blessed.
It was our first time visiting the Chances for Children Crèche and I’ll be honest to admit that I had butterflies. The vans that transported us every day over the bumpy roads and through the mountains, passed through the Crèche gates and children came running out with their hands raised. They reached out to anyone who would hold them. They didn’t wait to become comfortable with us, they dove right in, trusting to be held in our arms. I was overwhelmed. They were so ready to love and be loved.
One story that stuck with me was about a little boy who was in one of the playrooms, sifting through some craft supplies and toys. He was particularly captivated by the colorful pom-poms in one of the containers. He proceeded to bring the pom-poms out of the container, counting them one by one and saying, “thank you God” for each one before placing them back. Some might pass this off as a simple story of a child repeating a phrase that they had heard. But I think it is so much more than that. He was truly thankful for each pom-pom, for each blessing in his life, and for each tangible thing he could hold in his tiny hands. He was simply thankful.
Nicole Newman works with Chances for Children and she has a contagious passion for Haiti. The children at the Crèche are matched with families in the U.S. Once they are able to get through the paperwork and red tape, they will be able to leave Haiti and become part of their new families. This is an amazing opportunity for these children to be able to leave their poverty behind. But Nicole, and so many others who care about Haiti, hope that these children will eventually come back to change their country for future generations.
“Haitian children and youth are the ones that are going to change this country – so we need to start with them. We need to give them love and teach them to love their country. That way, they will want to come back and be that change that Haiti needs,” said Newman.
The children we saw at the Crèche are blessed because they have hope. But there are too many children in Haiti whose reality looks very different. We had an opportunity to also see this all too common side of Haiti when we visited a place called the Duette. This place left a lump in my throat and a burden on my heart.
Some of us were singing songs and skipping as we walked on yet another winding dirt road. But for those on the team who had been to this area before, they seemed more quiet and reserved. They knew that what we were about to see would change our lives forever.
We entered into a weather-worn building and were ushered into a room filled with desks and chairs; what looked to be a sort of classroom. But it wasn’t the size or smell or look of the room that caught my attention. It was the absolutely heavenly sound that welcomed us. Beautifully loud children were singing at the top of their lungs to greet us. A few older kids were playing percussion on the desks and cabinets. They were all clapping, and yelling, and singing joyfully. It is an amazing conflict of the heart to be so unbelievably sad for a set of circumstances, and at the same time completely blown away by a display of uninhibited worship. I was so overwhelmed in love for this group of children I just met. I was torn between smiling into each of those precious faces and just falling into a heap of tears.
One young girl from the Duette had visited the dentist on our team earlier in the week. We were told that she had always covered her face with her hands, hiding her teeth. Now, seeing her on this day, she kept her hands at her side and was proud of her smile. If our team were only able to help that one girl during the entire week, it would have been a week well spent.
We spent some time at the Duette that day; talking with the children, singing songs, and just being with them. Despite the fact that they were smiling and singing with us, so many of these children had a deep sadness in their eyes that lingered with every smile. They, like so many children in Haiti do not, and will not have the same opportunities as others. When poverty was staring me in the face in those moments, I felt vanquished. I felt like there was so much to do, there were not enough resources, and that the problem was just too big. But then, among the poverty and sadness that was looming over us like a cloud, there was still hope, and love, and silliness, and laughter, and freedom because we are who we are in Christ. It is the hope that those enchanting children hold onto, and it is the same that I hold on to today.