07/13/2011 03:50 pm ET | Updated Sep 12, 2011

Helping Haitian Orphans Through Sports and Community Building

Journal from the field #3 -- July 4, 2011
This is the second in a series of two blogs from Dr. Jane Aronson's mission trip to Haiti to investigate the plight of orphaned and vulnerable children from June 28-July 2, 2011.

What do kids do all day in a "tent camp"? Well, when school is out, a lot of nothing in a place like this. Monley goes to a local private school which is the dominant form of education in Haiti. There is really no public school system, but instead a rather rigid education policy that must be adhered to by all schools in Haiti. I have a very nice photo of his report card for the school year. He passed all subjects and was promoted to the second grade. Uncle Gary also showed me Monley's class photograph, along with a bill for next year, which includes a list of fees for books, supplies, uniforms, and registration. School fees for the year total about $285 USD.

Since there is no camp or summer program in the community, the kids do a lot of nothing. At Monley's home, an electronic game was hooked up to a big fat TV on that life-saving metal stand. Two older boys in their late teens or early twenties hogged what looked like an animated basketball game. The younger boys looked on eagerly, yearning to play, but there was an obvious pecking order. It is possible, though unconfirmed, that the older boys had paid to use the game.

One of WWO's board members, Lori Finkel, joined me on this mission trip and generously purchased markers, notebooks and play dough to provide the kids with some fun activities.

We saw a very nice soccer ball on the floor, but it was not blown up. Our raison d'etre became about finding an air pump in Port-au-Prince. I already had ball pins in my wallet as a good Mama might have in the US. My boys are always needing a ball pin so I keep a few in my wallet!

Travel was very hard on the roads in Haiti, literally hours of traffic and physically punishing driving. The ruts and ditches on the unpaved roads are a challenge. I am exhausted from the driving frankly. If someone asks me what I would change urgently to help Haiti, it would be to have the international community come in to build roads. I have personally seen what this has done in Ethiopia where WWO has programs as well.

So on our way to various appointments, we tried to find air pumps and more soccer balls. This is not a new endeavor for me. On my first trip to Haiti two weeks after the earthquake, I tried to find soccer balls and was unsuccessful. I trustingly gave a Haitian acquaintance $100 to buy soccer balls and a pump to give to the orphanages I had visited -- and that was never the destiny of that money. On other trips to Haiti, I brought the balls and pumps from the US and we were very successful in bringing soccer to the kids WWO served at that time.

This time we went to MSC, a "Home Depot" like store near the US Embassy, and found some dusty plastic packaged pumps made in China; we also found nice white soccer balls made in India. The air pumps seem to have had a pin in the dirty bag, but we paid for everything quickly and didn't check or inspect anything. Once in the car, we discovered that most of the pumps were broken (not much air coming out due to cracks in the plastic) and missing pins. We went back into the store and found other pumps and tested them and checked for the pins. The soccer balls had pins too, but they were not matched for the pumps we had purchased... very silly that this is not universal standardized.

As we drove to our next appointment, we pumped up the balls and discovered that some of the pumps were really broken even though we thought they were okay. What a fiasco! It was clearly evidence for the unsatisfactory product availability and quality in Haiti. How demoralizing must this be for Haitians?! I expect this to be the case.

We eventually get a pump to Monley's family. We gave them a new ball and then pumped up the ball they had. In doing so, that pump broke, and we sort of fixed it, but the prognosis was poor for the duration of future use. Melissa, WWO's Program Manager, will monitor this matter and next time we'll bring pumps, pins, and balls.

The boys excitedly grabbed both balls and ran out of the house into an area of concrete and dirt adjacent to the property. They were playing soccer instantly and laughing. Little Monley was alone with one ball, not quite part of the pack. I never saw him smile during any of our visits. From what I've seen since the earthquake struck, the faces of Haitians are frequently "zombie-like" with moments of joy and vitality. They look better and better each time I visit, but life is hard and frustrating. The rubble gets less and less and the camps are thinning out in the city. Lots of people left Port-au-Prince early on to seek refuge in the countryside. The city was chaotic...

My overall assessment of Haiti is optimistic. I see a lot of progress every time I visit. I marvel about Haitian fortitude.

I am eager to help the children of Haiti in spite of the lack of governmental infrastructure and cultural impediments that have a 200-year history. The kids need our energy, commitment, and eagerness to help them grow through training and education. Monley and his family need us right now and his family is a reflection of all the needs of Haiti.

Monley and his brothers are orphans by the Unicef definition because they lost both parents, but after the quake, they became part of a new family with their father's brother, Uncle Gary. This family grew over time because there were efforts made to find family members in the community. Gary has stepped up to the responsibility of being Monley's father. Sometimes it takes time for a family to be tracked, traced, and reconstituted. Governments and aid organizations must invest in the rebuilding of families. Our sympathy is for poor Gary... depressed and impoverished, but at the same time, he has risen to the task that could change his own life and his country, Haiti.

WWO will try to study Delmas 34 to find work opportunities for this family... this is the work of community building and just one story of how we can all help to prevent children from ending up alone in the streets or in orphanages. The trauma of loss is still there for orphaned kids, but there are so many ways to change their lives and help them find happiness and independence. That is the mission of WWO.