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Dr. Jane Aronson Headshot

'Mommy and Me' in Haiti

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Why do I love Haiti so much? I can't say all the reasons why, but I can tell you that I am addicted because of the success of our work. In a matter of hours and some minutes we can be in Port-au-Prince and climb up the mountain to Kenscoff to see the sweet faces of the boys and girls we serve.

Each trip is a chance to also see the program through the eyes of supporters. Whether they are board members or other professionals who work with us in some capacity, they believe that WWO is occupying a unique role in the recovery of the youth and kids at risk in Haiti and they are eager to learn about our work. Their process during the trip is quite telling about how human beings can, in a matter of days, become very aware and passionate about this work.

It is easy to believe in what we are doing. We are in the midst of training our staff to collect data as we monitor and evaluate our strategies to create change for the orphans and at-risk youngsters in Kenscoff.

Our first day was structured into four activities. First, we attended a training session with Dr. Anthony Salandy, WWO's Director of Program Evaluation who has been to Haiti twice since his arrival at WWO this past summer. We sat in our WWO Haiti office, which has been under construction for many months. It was a high level scholarly training session that went over my head at some moments, but the youth who will be managing the collection of data were glued to the PowerPoint and to Anthony's every word. The goal will be to train the youth leaders of our Youth Connecting with Children program (Y2C), which trains young adults to deliver intervention services to orphans and vulnerable children. The trainees will then train other youth. The capacity building of our work is the core of our success. The youth of Y2C are smart and earnest and they learn and become mentors and guides quickly.

Then we went up the hill a short distance to "Music-in-Motion" with babies/toddlers from the tent community and their volunteers; then we visited with the families of the "tent community" just across from our Toy Library (Ludotek in Creole). We finished up the day at the EFACAP school where the children from the orphanage, Les Amis de Jesus, and other community children were fine-tuning their dance class performance.

I was interested in the impressions of the visitors. The "Music-in-Motion" session was sweet and the visitors had some marvelous feelings. They saw the tentative and fearful faces of the little ones who did not know how to play. They loved the exuberance of the volunteers. They enjoyed playing with the children. Our board member, Sharon Hubregsen, who was on her first trip abroad for WWO, felt that the session was just like a "Mommy and Me" class on the upper east side of Manhattan. I interviewed each of the visitors and asked them to tweet their thoughts for WWO. Misha Rubin, took out his trusty Blackberry, and recorded all the comments and in minutes he was reading those comments as tweets sent out by Lili Barreiro, our communications associate in Maplewood, NJ.

Then we all walked down the muddy road to the tent community and greeted the families who live there. They invited us to come into their homes; they were proud of these dwellings. Too many adults and children lived inside and there was no electricity or plumbing, but the interiors were neat and clean and organized. The kitchens were little metal buildings separate from the tent homes to prevent fires. I watched my visitors become quiet and sad. Again, Sharon upon my questioning said that she was "humbled" by this visit to the tent community. We all experienced the warmth of the families. They kept inviting us into their homes one by one. One woman offered her spinach that she had grown in her little garden. I photographed a gorgeous flower garden that was truly a standout in the midst of the squalor. These families have no work or money. There is no food security here except some hand outs from local agencies. They sell their vegetables at the market nearby, but that is the sum total of the commerce for them. They survive from day to day on very little and the kids have some programming from WWO. A trip to the toy library for music in motion is just once a week. I realized that our programming was not frequent enough for these extremely poor children. That made me sad.

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The dance was the highlight of the day. The energy of the youth teachers and the vitality of the older children (six to 14) was breathtaking. All the visitors participated in the dancing and then Misha Rubin (Santa) gave out balls and bubbles. Everyone went wild, running all over the school yard kicking and throwing the footballs and soccer balls. Children and teachers filled the air with bubbles quickly and children yipped and yayed... Creole songs followed and that filled the atmosphere with joy and happiness. What a finale to our day at WWO. As Misha put it best, "this was the best day of my life."