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Dr. Jane Aronson

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Haiti Journal #3 -- The Highs and Lows of Fieldwork

Posted: 04/25/2012 3:27 pm

A few weeks ago, the WWO Global Arts Coordinator, Christine Hall, and Jed, a volunteer, came to the Community Center in Kenscoff to teach dance to the youth in our WWO Youth2Children (Y2C) program for a week. During our visit we were lucky enough to see the results. With the help of the Y2C trainees, the kids put on a dance performance. The show was outstanding; the kids implemented complex choreography with energy and enthusiasm. The house was packed and the audience clapped appreciatively. The teachers looked on proudly.

At the end, the children and youth came out on stage wearing blue pipe cleaner glasses, the symbol of our foundation's ever-vigilant support of orphans and vulnerable children all over the world. I was very touched by this sweet tribute to WWO.

On Monday we spent some time sightseeing. Nick, Andrew, Samantha, Katie and Charles had not yet seen the palace or the cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Everyone was astonished by the condition of both buildings from the earthquake ... and the tent camps that still remain in the main square.

At the Cathedral we were surrounded by a small group of very poor young women with babies; one teen mother held a five-day old whose face was covered with a rash and who was desperately sucking the side of its mother's hand while she begged. The mother said that she had no breast milk and yet pointed to her very full breasts. Their relentless pleas were distressing. I knew that I could not fix their plight and felt hopeless for them and their babies.

Just across from the palace is a sculpture of a black slave stretching out high, his leg shackled by a chain. He blows a conch to call the other slaves to rebel and escape. It is a symbol for Haitians and it survived the earthquake.

Next we visited the 100-year-old open-air iron market, which was destroyed in the earthquake and subsequently rebuilt. A smiling Haitian man called out to me as we entered; I recognized him as the enterprising fellow who became my self-appointed tour guide on an earlier visit. We followed him through the aisles. Much of our tour was through the world of voodoo. We learned that the turtles were sold for their blood, which is mixed with coffee and given to pregnant women to improve their chances of a healthy baby.

In the afternoon we visited two local orphanages, where WWO has been establishing connections. Both places were dark and gloomy and I was unpleasantly reminded of how bad orphanages can be. The kids appeared happy and comfortable in spite of their surroundings, but our group was shocked by the degradation and filth of the rooms. Having seen it all, I was able to bypass old reactions because I know we are providing excellent psycho-social support for these kids, What matters in these horrific settings are human relationships, education and stimulation.

On the way home I stopped to visit the pig I had taken a shine to on the roadside near our bed and breakfast. This time, he was accompanied by his owner, who informed me that the pig would be eaten shortly. This vulnerable and sweet little black pig became a symbol of the impossible for me. Saddened, I walked away to report the obvious to the group. There is some humor here as there must be. I have attached myself to a helpless pig ... a helpless cause ... perhaps this is a symbol?

Later we interview Djimy, a youth trainee from Y2C. Djimy is twenty-years-old and lives with his three younger sisters and his newly widowed, unemployed father. His mother died in the last two months from mysterious circumstances and voodoo is mentioned as a possible cause. He is in visible pain. Djimy has taken a leadership role at the toy library at the community center. When I ask him what he wants for the children at the center, he expresses his desire to be more involved. I ask what he dreams of doing in his future and he says he wants to be an engineer; he wants to build big buildings and become an important man in his country. He wants to change Haiti. I became very excited for him -- it is clear that his ambition is genuine and that he believes in himself. It is a wonderful end to a challenging day filled with dark and conflicting experiences. I feel his hope in spite of his current circumstances. I want the orphans of Haiti to share this hope -- to believe in themselves and the future of their country.

 

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