As the months have passed my heart has been more and more captured by the children in our church, school and neighborhood. I love to hear young voices calling “blan, blan” (“white, white”) when they want to talk to me but don’t know my name.
From the shy waves and smiles of children passing on the streets to the hugs and kisses on the cheek (a culturally normal greeting) from the students in our school, my heart is full of love yet aches with sadness.
The sadness comes from knowing how difficult life is for the people, how hard they work for very little reward. There are places in Haiti that are full of wealthy people, but Mariani isn’t one of them. I often stand by the wall of our compound and watch as people walk to and fro. Most mornings children from across the street take a bucket and head down the road to get water. It is always amazing to see tiny girls that look to be about 7 or 8 years old carrying a full 5 gallon bucket of water on their head. So much work to have water for bathing and drinking. Such a difference from being in the U.S.A., where all we have to do is walk to the faucet, and even then we complain if the water pressure is low.
Men and women often walk up and down the streets selling bags of water, fried plantains, candy and much more. They walk between the cars trying to catch the attention of the people inside the vehicles. When someone wants to make a purchase the sellers often run down the road beside the vehicle in order to finish the exchange. The men who often sell in front of our mission have really touched my heart. They work so hard for every dollar and yet when they see a child trying to cross the road without a companion, they stop and help them traverse safely.
As I have watched school progress, I can also see what a disadvantage these students have academically. The most common language among the people of Haiti is Creole, but when they attend school they immediately have to learn in French. This can be very difficult for the children because although French and Creole have many similarities, they are also vastly different. A simple example is the word for face. In Creole it is figi and in French it is visage. What a source of confusion this must be for these babies.
Another disadvantage is the fact that many of them do not go to school consistently. To my knowledge there are no schools in Haiti that are completely free. According to the 2010 demographics, more than two-thirds of the Haitian population do not have formal jobs. These people work hard for every dollar they earn and sometimes they are able to pay for their child’s education and sometimes they are not. Many students still have not begun school this year. The reasoning we are given is because the parents aren’t ready financially to purchase their books, their uniforms and pay their tuition. Our heart is to help these people get good jobs so they can provide for their families. This is one of the reasons we are currently working on opening the professional school so we can teach them to be electricians, nurses, secretaries, mechanics and so much more.
Those who do attend school often have trouble learning their lessons and doing their homework. After speaking to a student in our second grade class about why they hadn’t completed their homework assignment, we discovered that they didn’t have a father or mother. They lived with their illiterate grandparents and their ten year old brother didn’t understand the lesson enough to help. This is actually a common problem. It is estimated that well over 50 percent of the population age 15 and older are unable to read. How difficult it must be for the children to try to do their lessons without the advantage of a parent to help them. To address this problem in our own school, we have decided to offer lessons to these children in the afternoons. We are also going to be offering adult reading classes in our professional school.
I am excited to say that we have already been able to address one problem the children face, hunger. So many of the children were coming to school hungry, which kept them from being able to concentrate during class. The kindergarteners were crying and at times the older ones would complain that they were dizzy. Thanks to many wonderful people back home, we have been able to start a feeding program at the school. Now every child receives something to eat during recreation time (their lunch/play break). The beautiful smiles on the children’s faces fill my heart with such joy! Some of the little ones will crawl onto my lap and fall asleep after they fill their belly. The program is a huge blessing to the families, but it is completely reliant on personal donations, so we are praying that God will continue to place it on people’s hearts to give so that we can keep it running.
The Haitian people as a whole are some of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, constantly fighting against the odds in order to provide for their families. My prayer is that God will continue to use us to help these people as much as possible. To make that happen, we need the support of the people back in the United States. Yes, we need financial support in order to do the things we do, but most importantly we need lots of prayers. Haiti is full of wonderful people, many of whom need Jesus. My prayer is that our mission will be a place where they find Him, a place of peace, hope and love.