By Karen Wires, Board Member
I probably have the best “job” at HMP coordinating the sponsorship program. I get to see the faces of hundreds of children, and connect their names and photos, learn their ages and school names, when the information is available through official records. I get to see them as they are accepted into the program—many with hopeless, empty eyes, no smiles, no animated faces. And then I see them growing up. The longer they are in the program, the more smiles, the more eye twinkles. I get to see some of them when I visit. They don’t know me, but I know them.
Being retired from 30 years in a school system, I had plenty of expectations for my new responsibility, ideas of how to manage data, experience with how educational institutions are supposed to work, and lots of ideas for plans to develop. After all, I had been to Haiti-once! I had learned something at a Haitian conference. Before the earthquake, I had driven through the markets of Port-au-Prince Port-au-Prince on my way to Leogane, seen the rotten food on the ground, they were selling, “the Kennedys”, clothes for sale, sent from other countries. I knew some Haitians and had supported a young man through his years in high school, and frequently corresponded with him, when he had money to use the internet in a café! Surely these obvious problems had obvious solutions that needed my life’s experience.
But just as a new teacher, I have learned so much during these first few years, with the most important lesson being, that I know very little and my assumptions are rarely correct. At an organizational level, children and adults may not necessarily know how to spell their names; they may or may not know their birthdates; first names may sound like last names and vice versa; alphabetical order is not used when making lists. As the years continue and the numbers of children increase, children come and go from the HMP roster. Children who suddenly come from social service agencies, just as suddenly leave.
Change is constant and so is the need. Hundreds of names on paper that represent a child’s life and a family’s life. Each and every name there represents a suffering, I will never know or understand no matter how many times I visit. Nor will my ideas necessarily be what is critically needed in the grand scheme of life in Haiti.
Our children and their families have the same universal needs, hopes, and dreams of getting out of poverty and all its ramifications as people throughout the world. Families recognize the critical value of education and come to HMP to help with their costs. The importance of school cannot be overstated as families ensure that their children arrive at school extraordinarily clean and pressed in their school uniforms, girls decorated with an array of hair ribbons to brighten the day. Children are required to demonstrate school achievement, which frequently results in adolescents working their way up through the Haitian educational system, regardless of their age and level of achievement. Classrooms of children sit, in heat and humidity, hard to describe, well behaved, desk-to-desk, amazingly focused on their teacher.
Ability to communicate back and forth with Haiti is frustratingly inconsistent. There is the language barrier, a lack of a functional mail system, difficulty picking up shipped packages that arrive an hour and a half away in the capital city. The cost of shipment is frequently prohibitive. Given the life threatening needs and day–to-day priorities of keeping 500 children educated, and healthy, there is no staff member with the time to oversee our attempts to connect with the children.
Among our sponsors, some respond with making a monetary contribution and prayers. Some send photos to their child in an effort to make a connection. Some send small monetary gifts or personal gifts to let their child know he/she is not forgotten on their birthday. It is all an effort of faith, hope, and love when sponsors extend themselves to reach their child.
One solid lesson learned so far--you can make a difference in one child’s life. The more you try to connect, the more you, too, will get out of it. Chances are you may never know the extent that your contribution has made, but it can make your heart grow three sizes when you get involved at a personal level. After 11 years of knowing my high school student from Leogane, I had the good fortune of my high school student never giving up on me. Through his persistence with me and with his goals in life, he will graduate in a couple years with a degree in pharmacy in the Dominican Republic and then return to Haiti. He knows four languages! He is 30 years old. He calls me “Mom.”