Our arrival in Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince was a happy moment for me. Showing off Haiti to my sons begins. I love explaining the steps through "Immigraysion;" Creole signs will always mesmerize me and I want the kids to understand the sweetness of the Haitian people as they walk alongside the rocky, uneven roads of this country. After a traffic-free ride through Tabarre to Petion-ville, LaBoule, and Fermathe, I ask the kids what they think about Haiti so far. Des says it is poorer than Ethiopia and Vietnam where they have been twice thus far. With some of my usual Socratic queries, they are able to see that the people are smiling and that they are dressed quite nicely and neatly. Ben says that they appear to be hard-working.
We are in our compound in Kenscoff enjoying the camaraderie of the travel group. We came from many directions in the US and have convened for the debut of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO) soccer program and Kan Etwal (Camp of Stars), our newest camp. Our room doors were decorated with our names and a photo of the child who made the sign.
This is a very special trip for my family because my kids are here for the first time. Ben will be a Bar Mitzvah on April 20, 2013 and he is here to do his service project. He and Des will be trained on the Toy Library and they will play soccer with orphan children tomorrow as part of the tournament segment of the WWO Haiti Soccer Program initiated by Lee Samuel and Maya Selber, who started our Ethiopia program six years ago.
The early evening started with a dodge ball extravaganza. I filmed the fun, desperately wanting to join, but smartly realizing that the concrete was unforgiving. The dodge ball went on and on with a lot of laughter and many creative and comedic gestures. Ben and Des fit right in, because, after all, dodge ball is one of universal games for children all over the world. Where there is a ball there is joy and connection. They played until the ball was accidentally thrown over the balcony of the compound; it was located and retrieved by one of the players and all were relieved that the game could be resumed another day.
Dinner was like a family holiday repast. Romel, one of the owners of La Belle Cour, whipped up a delicious dinner with offerings that included broccoli consommé, chicken, pork, rice and ice cream (warm and soupy vanilla and strawberry).
The organic joining of the dinner guests was triumphant. Entering the dining room, the guests dispersed and with some of my usual coaching, everyone found seats near someone who could be a new friend. My boys sat with a new boy named Stanley and Andrew Garfield, our Ambassador of Sport, sat next to Maya and Lee to learn more about the soccer program and their two months in Haiti working as Orphan Rangers for WWO.
We had the usual toasts to set the tone of the trip. I spewed history and gratefulness, and Diana, our Director of Development and my partner, thanked Melissa Willock, our Country Director, for implementing the vision so exquisitely. Des took me at my word when I asked for something funny and zany. Lee Samuel spoke shyly about the soccer program with a dear and affectionate voice.
By nine o'clock everyone went to their rooms to settle down for the night. My sons were playing cards with Lee and Maya and I charged Lee to make sure that they would be in bed by ten. Noah from Puma, Andrew, and myself sat in the living area in the main house talking about sleep and its benefits as well as plans for the future of WWO.
Lee had recounted a very funny story at dinner: he and Maya had prepared the kids for the arrival of the guests for a couple of weeks. He told them that Spider-Man and the man from Puma were coming to visit. They immediately got excited and exclaimed loud enthusiasm for the "man from Puma." One eager soccer player said, "Will he bring shoes for us?" In fact, Lee learned, as I did in the spring when I interviewed kids from our program, that Haitians do not have any culture of superheroes. There are really no movie theaters in Haiti and there are no comic books. One child was wearing a T-shirt with Spider-Man imprinted on it and he didn't know Spider-Man at all. We should now go about the business of teaching children in Haiti about superheroes. How about Spidey in Kreyol!
I can't tell you how delighted I am about the kids' reverence for soccer. This will be our way to help strengthen bodies and minds here in Haiti, and we will try and prove that our sport program can create a culture of health awareness, which will improve learning and lead to success.
Post script: Lee and Maya told all the kids about Kohl, the little boy from my hometown who tragically passed away two weeks ago from a brain tumor. They decorated T- shirts with Kohl's name and his soccer jersey number, 14. Kohl's spirit is now in Kenscoff, Haiti. At tomorrow's soccer tournament he will be honored as the "striker."
Dr. Jane Aronson
Founder and CEO
Worldwide Orphans Foundation
Follow Dr. Jane Aronson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wworphans