By Michael Turnbell
In Haiti, little things make a huge impact.
The joy of a child seeing his or herself in a picture for the first time. A new soccer ball. A piece of candy. New shoes or a beautiful handmade dress with a matching doll. Most of the time, just the gift of presence.
Three weeks ago, I traveled to Haiti for the first time on a Journey of Hope mission with donors from Orlando and Palm Beach County. Before I left, co-workers told me I would bring happiness to the people I met and they would do the same for me, even in the few moments we had together. They were right.
During the journey, I used all of my senses – sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing – and my heart. I cried. I sang. I fed the hungry. I lulled a baby to sleep with a song. I hugged the children and walked hand-in-hand with them. Everywhere we went, the people were warm and welcoming. They smiled and waved.
On the first day, we stopped at the remote village of La Fosse, with people lining the streets in celebration waiting for us. They were jubilant and grateful because they were now living in safe, secure Food For The Poor homes. There was hope for the future. They gave thanks to God and sang How Great Thou Art in creole. With our eyes a little misty, we returned the favor in English.
The next day we met the children of Alpha Village, where families live in huts made from scraps in a garbage dump next to the sea. The overwhelming stench of garbage hangs in the air. Chrissie Ferguson of Lake Worth returned with photos of the children she had taken on her last trip to Alpha Village in November. They instantly recognized themselves, squealing with laughter and delight like a child on Christmas morning. A young boy wearing nothing but an oversized tattered polo grabbed and stroked my arm while we walked through the dirt. His eyes never wavered from me.
In Ca Ira, near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, we met a mother and her four children living in a tiny hut barely big enough for one person to stand in with arms outstretched. There were no windows or light, no door, and a dirt floor, in stifling 100 degree heat. Some days there is no food, the mother told us. But she still has faith in God that He will look after her children.
It’s easy to get discouraged by the sheer scope of such massive problems. Then I remind myself of the beautiful people we met on the second day of our mission who haven’t given up and believe that one day they will be lifted up out of the rubble, like the people of La Fosse.
In the days since I’ve returned to South Florida, sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of my home, my car or my office, not wanting for anything, I close my eyes and I see the faces of the children we met on this trip. I look forward to the day I can return to see all of them truly have a safe place to call home.