Although today has been, as always, informative and inspiring, I wanted to revisit our day on Saturday.
We had decided to head up the mountains above Port-au-Prince to try and find the NPFS orphanage that we had all heard so much about. It was also our first opportunity to get out of the city and we were all ready to see a different side of Haiti.
As we started the climb into the hills, it quickly became obvious that the capital has really born the brunt of the hardships that have hit Haiti over the years. Within a few minutes, the air started to clear, trees started appearing on the side of the roads, and, magically, we started to see animals that weren’t scavenging to stay alive and crops being grown for food.
The van sounded like a group of city kids seeing the country for the first time, with claims of “What’s that? Look, is that a cow?” Echoing as we wound our way higher and higher.
The city fell away below us as we drove past the President’s house, through pretty little villages, and up ever further into the clouds. Brock kept track with a handy elevation counter on his watch, and as we climbed up to over 5000 feet, the clouds turned to mist and finally to a steady downpour.
The roads became less and less navigable, but everyone we asked had heard of St. Helene’s orphanage and Pere Richard, so up we went.
At the final hurdle it seemed as though all was lost we were too heavy, the road was too steep and rough and the rain was hurtling down. JJ gave it his best effort, but the van simply couldn’t make it. Foiled. We took refuge in a beautiful, but ridiculously overpriced restaurant while we thought about the next steps. After the 7 of us shared 4 dishes (the goat was delicious!) we decided to give it one last try and even walk if we had to! We had gifts for those orphans and they were going to get them!
With some strategic weight transference in the car and a lot of clapping and chanting, JJ got us up the mountain. Finally, the huge compound emerged out of the steam and clouds.
Although we didn’t have an appointment, the Haitian staff kindly let us in and agreed to show us around. Unfortunately Father Rick (known as Pere Richard here) was back in the USA as his father is sick. Some highlights:
Within 5 minutes of the kids seeing Tuyen, he was christened Jackie Chan and the excited shouts followed us all afternoon! He obliged by showing them some Kung Fu moves.
As we were looking at the dorms, I felt a hand slip into mine and met a little boy who stole my heart. Gabby Petit homme (little man) looked a little different from the rest of the kids, he was wearing a red helmet to protect his head from the damage caused by the frequent fits he has. He adopted me for the rest of the afternoon and showed me all over his home.
Unsteady on his feet himself, he was a perfect gentleman, leading me around puddles and telling me to be careful when it was slippery. He looked 10 and turned out to be 14.
Gabby and a friend showed me the children’s cemetary, where they pointed out the noticeboard with yellowing pictures of the kids who had passed away. “I knew him, his name was Jean.” “Her name was Marie, she was only here 2 months.” When I asked them how long they had been here, they didn’t know. It was as long as they could remember.
We met some of the older kids who had grown up in the orphanage and were now giving back by volunteering there. One boy was about to head to university in the city and was really nervous about leaving.
Of course, Parfait had his guitar and we sang with the kids. The music really seems to connect with them, and an interesting fact that we’ve discovered here is that their African heritage is really important to them. They love the fact that Parfait is from Benin and Senegal, as that is where a lot of the slaves brought to Haiti were taken from.
It is important for these kids to have role models they can identify with.
We ended the trip by looking at some beautiful jewelry that one of the older boys had made out of polished coconut. Of course, Kathrine and I snapped up some earrings! They make a point of teaching kids trades here if they aren’t going to head on to higher education.
It was a great experience, and one of the main things that struck me is that there is yet another level of forgotten kids in Haiti: the kids with special needs like Gabby and his friends. It was great to see that they had a safe haven at St. Helene’s and I have to wonder about all the other children like them who have no place to go.
If there are so many kids without special needs vying for such a tiny amount of places in the schools, where can the kids like Gabby go?