Below is a letter written by Gena Heraty, who has been working for the Special Need Program at NPFS Haiti for the past two decades!
Can you remember where you were this time 20 yrs ago? I can hardly remember where I was 20 days ago not to mind 20 yrs ago! But in this case I can remember more or less because you see I was preparing to come to Haiti.
I remember arriving in Haiti, the airport, the people that came to pick me up. I remember the trip up the mountain to the orphanage (and getting soaked wet in the back of the pick up). I remember the smell of the humidity, the smell of a mango (first time I had ever seen a mango) and I remember being hugged by Yvonne!
Funny to think back – I close my eyes and I see so many pictures of that first year. The most dramatic was meeting Eliane. This beautiful fragile girl was to change my life forever.
And so as I look back on twenty years I have to say that my greatest joy has been loving these kids. And my greatest pain has being in watching them suffer, being so powerless so many times and then the worst of all pain has been when they have died. In twenty years, we in Kay Christine have buried 9 of our children: Eliane, Magdala, Kervens, Marjorie, Darline, Audelina, Jonnie, Tifle and Olivier. If I talk about them it is because they have all marked my life in a very special way.
Living in Haiti is for sure challenging but I have to tell you that despite everything,; Hurricanes, Deaths, Kidnappings, Street violence, Earthquake, Cholera – despite all the disasters, I can honestly tell you that in twenty years I have never wished once to be somewhere else. I have been so so lucky. I am surrounded by people that love me and that I love. When I get fed up there is always someone to wrap me up in love and give me strength to keep going. My life is one of so many blessings.
Has Haiti improved? In some ways yes. There are more roads, we have more electricity, there are more banks, hotels, and big supermarkets! This current government seems to be trying hard to get infrastructure in place so we can invest more in the place. In terms of the poverty levels I would say it is probably worse – definitely not better. You just have to visit our hospital and you will see for yourself. Or come to a 7am Mass each morning and count the dead bodies lying on the floor – Father Rick blesses the dead each morning at mass and these are kids that die in our hospital and adults that die in the adult hospital. I would say that at least five bodies are there every day. And you know what, most of these have died from illnesses that could be treated if they had received help on time.
For me it would be easy to just get fed up with it all because the problems are so so many. But my goodness we have done so much! I mean imagine when I came in 1993 we had 9 children with disabilities/handicaps. Now our program in Kenscoff has 34 and we have two rehab centres that care for over 300 children with severe disabilities. Not only that but we have a beautiful Special Needs school for over 80 children that live with their families, we have a horse riding program, we have the kids in the swimming pool weekly, we have an art therapy program and and we have a school for children that have learning disabilities! So you see we have been busy the last twenty years! Learn all about what we are doing here.
These kids are so amazing! A few days ago I told them we would be accepting two new children into our family. Fernanda and Jeff are both abandoned in our hospital and in desperate need of a beautiful loving family. When I told the kids this they literally yelled with joy and went on to tell me how they would look after them, play with them and kiss them. So spontaneous and so beautiful! Now every day they hound me asking when I am going to get the kids. I have to wait til all the legal work is done, and then we will bring them to their new home.
Death is as part of our life as living and here in Haiti we are confronted with it all the time. If not in our home then in neighbourhood. People just die young here all the time. But it is never easy! Never! Most of you reading this will know what I mean – unless you have never lost a loved one. Our job here in Kay Christine is to give the kids a good home, a safe and loving place to live with good medical care and access to all that they need. We have to accept that the kids are fragile, that many will not live to be old. The theory makes sense. The reality is not so easy and the reality is that we have to keep going and keep opening our home and our hearts to new children. We have to keep saying yes to love.
To sum up my 20 yrs in Haiti? It has been a journey of learning and loving. I have been surrounded by wonderful people who have believed in me and in our work – and who have worked just as hard as I. We have worked as a team and ended up creating a family. A beautiful beautiful family.
I have been supported by people that have never ever met me and have decided to trust me because they also believe things could and should be better. I have been overwhelmed with requests for help, crushed by tales of despair and hardship and inspired by the courage of the Haitian people. I have watched in awe at mothers carrying their severely handicapped children to our centres – under the hot sun, on the dusty road – day in and day out. I have spent nights and days in the hospital with sick children and watched the amazing devotion of the mothers there with their beautiful children. I have watched them spend day and night there and at night time watched them rest their weary often hungry bodies on the hard floor under the beds of their children. True warriors of love!
In Twenty years We have done so much together – built and developed programs, built houses, sent kids to school, sent kids to doctors, paid for universities, bought clothes and food for those in need. Sent school buses to bring children to school. We have saved lives together. We have given hope together. We have shone a light on the darkness together. We have stood side by side with people in need and we have helped them get through each day. Together we have worked hard to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti and we have showed what can be done if people work together!You have been with me every step of the way. And I need you to keep with me. I am asking anyone and everyone to do me a favour. I would like if everyone reading this could donate a “dollar a year for each year I have been in Haiti” so that's twenty dollars. I know, times are hard, I know you have a ton of expenses. Believe me I know. But I also know that I really need your help. We have had to cut back our support to the families we are helping. Your twenty dollars will help us keep our programs going.. Your 20 dollars will help keep the Special needs Kids in school. Your 20 dollars will help us provide physical therapy to the kids, your 20 dollars will help us provide teacher training and therapy training – your money will help us continue and expand and reach more and more kids in need.
I want to leave you with something beautiful written by an author that for years has inspired and guided me – Jean Vanier. If you have never read anything written by him please do yourself a favour and discover him! As I spend these days reflecting on my twenty years of Love , twenty years of living with and working for children with severe disabilities I think this piece by Vanier sums it up very nicely. Loving someone does not simply mean doing things for them;it is much more profound. To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance; it is to understand them, understand their cries and their body language;it is to rejoice in their presence, spend time in their company and communicate with them. To love is to live a heart-to heart relationship with another,giving to and receiving from each other.
Love and thanks,