Today was our third day in Haiti. Over the past few days I've been feeling emotionally neutral . . . and even a little upbeat. It has surprised me, because I expected this trip to stir up a lot of negative feelings. We've seen some hard things, including people living in extreme poverty, but each individual story we've heard has been infused with hope for the future. I've even had some self-doubt because I have felt so stoic on this trip. I drove by the house where I was staying during the earthquake, and felt fine. I visited the house where I first met Kembe, and I felt nostalgic but there wasn't a rush of emotion.
That all changed today when we visited the orphanage that Help One Haiti is funding via sponsorships. The orphanage houses 32 kids, and as soon as we exited the truck we were surrounded by searching limbs, grabbing our hands and wrapping their arms around our waists. Before I understood attachment issues, I would have been delighted to be in a situation where I could lavish affection on orphans I had just met. Now that I understand it better (and have kids of my own), I realize that this kind of affection-seeking-from-strangers behavior is a sign of a lack of attachment to parental figures. Today, it broke my heart as these children burrowed their heads into my tummy and encircled me in their arms, embracing me like they were hungry for love.
I was struggling to keep it together when I overheard one of the girls who was holding me tight say to a friend in Creole, “This is my mommy.” Then a little boy indicated to me and to another man on the trip, and in Creole said, “This is my mommy and this is my daddy.” Oh my heart. These kids are just craving a mom and a dad . . . so much so that they are assigning strangers this role. Their behavior was so different than the community schoolchildren we played with the day prior – who just wanted to have their picture taken and play soccer. The kids today wanted to be touched. Some of them looked like the were practically teenagers and they wanted to be held.
I was fighting back tears as we interacted with the kids, feeling so angry that there are so many children in this world who navigate life without family, and who will deal with the emotional and social fallout of that situation for the rest of their lives. There is no poverty so great as a child without a family.
There was a point at which I felt like I just went a little numb – like I needed to detach from the situation and go to some happy place in my mind where all kids have families and life’s greatest struggle is packing school lunches or choosing their outfits. But instead, I decided to throw myself into a task. Being productive is my coping mechanism. There were letters from sponsors that need to be delivered to the kids. The kids needed to write their sponsors back. I jumped into action to help facilitate this. It alleviated some of my anxiety and gave me something to do and kept me from going into full-blown despair mode.
It was precious seeing the kids receive letters from their sponsors, and it alleviated my anxiety for a brief moment. I think this is how many of us cope with extreme poverty or injustice: we spring into action. We find actionable steps that make us feel like we are doing something, and we hopefully help in a way that actually helps to solve the problem. Help One Now is doing that in Haiti right now, too. Maybe as you are reading this, you want to close the post and bury your head in the sand in regards to the painful existence that orphans in Haiti are facing every day. Or maybe, like me this afternoon, it’s time for you to dig in and do something.
If you are interested in partnering with Help One Now with microfinance loans, you can make a one-time donation here. You can sponsor a child in tent city here. If you’re strapped for cash but still want to help, consider hosting a garage sale for orphans alongside some friends or your church.