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Back in Haiti

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Journal #1

I am back in Haiti and very happy to be here. People are friendly and open although they are constantly by challenged poverty and lack of opportunity. There is hope here, and I'm not sure why. Neg Mawon, the sculpture of a black slave calling other slaves to revolt, is emblematic of survival and resiliency.

Today, the light was brilliant. Big puffy white clouds on a purely blue sky greeted us as we flew over deforested mountains into Toussaint Louverture Airport.

We all ate jambon et fromage sandwiches and chatted and rested before our afternoon's activities. Then we drove to Monley's home where I have been on many occasions over the last two years. We are following this Haitian family. The little boy, Monley, who is now 8 years old, was pulled out of the rubble nine days after the earthquake. He was dehydrated and naked, but alive. He had been inside a metal TV stand under mountains of concrete and "rebar" for 9 days and survived. His parents, George and Mona, were crushed and killed.

Monley's Uncle Gary, one of George's brothers, has been parenting Monley and his two brothers, Christopher and Moise, since then. WWO has been working with the family since, especially by helping the children stay in school.

Monley is having some behavioral problems at school and at home. He sometimes has a time out for disobedience. He hit his cousin in the head -- Gary showed us the scar on her forehead. Gary asked for advice, but I told him that we would need to meet as a team to make suggestions.

Monley often has no affect, and he plays alone a lot. He was more playful and affectionate with me today than ever before, but he is clearly preoccupied and sad. I am thinking this morning that he may have some organic brain injury from the dehydration and malnutrition during those nine days he spent under rubble. And he may also be depressed about his situation. He does not eat every day and he lives with 10 people in one room. He has no toys. He is like many extremely poor children around the world. In fact, half the world's 2.2 billion children live in poverty without access to food security, medical care, and education. At least Monley goes to school.

The film crew and I went into the family bedroom where 10 people sleep -- some on beds and others on the floor. Gary explained that he tries hard to keep the room clean and neat because there are so many people living in it. Everyone always has a very nice appearance when we come to visit, most of our visits are unannounced.

During today's interview I tried to get to know the family better so WWO can figure out ways to help them in their community. I spoke to the older brothers Moise, 13 and Christopher, 11 about school and their aspirations. Moise likes social studies/history; Christopher likes mathematics. Monley likes mathematics as well. Monley's brothers want to be doctors when they grow up. When I asked them how they planned to become doctors, they both replied that they would study hard. Makes sense.

I spoke to the kids about what they were watching on TV when we came into the bedroom. They were watching a daily show called Princess. I asked them if they knew who Spiderman, Batman, and Superman were, and they told me that they had seen these characters on TV, but not in books. I asked them what they did that was so special and they all told me that they helped people who were in trouble.

Andrew Allen and Nicholas Brophy, two WWO board members and avid sports lovers, had brought a Nerf football and were out back playing on a broken and angled concrete slab. They came into the bedroom to observe some of the conversation. It was at this point that I asked Gary about his dead brother George and wife Mona. It came to me that there might be family photos because I had just looked at photos of my brother who died 26 years ago and sure enough, Gary went to a suitcase, unlocked it, and handed me little photo albums. I could see easily how the brothers looked like their parents and how much Gary and George resembled each other.

In fact, George looked a lot like his father, Antoine, who was seated outside the bedroom playing gin with a friend. These elderly men had fashioned a hat from food package cardboard and they exchanged the hat when each man had won. Like boys, they played with the cards on their laps... smiling and enjoying the cards likely for hours.

The best photos were of the boys as babies with their parents. I asked Gary if he had ever shown the photos to the brothers. He became distraught and said he thought that they had been too young, but that now it might be okay. With his permission, I showed the kids a few photos of themselves, but they had no response. I recommended that he bring the photos out from time to time and that he should share his feelings about his brother with the boys so that they could talk about how much they missed their parents. He seemed very interested in this plan.

I also told the boys a diluted version of how WWO got involved with the family. They listened intently, but again without much response. I wanted them to know that we care about them. When I asked them what they thought of the story, they responded by talking about what they wanted.

Moise and Christopher both told me they wanted a bicycles. I am not sure what this means. They are hungry and extremely poor, but quite able to ask for things. Could this be the influence of TV?

Then we all went outside and the boys played more Nerf football with Andrew and Nick. The boys were really skilled at this football game even though they never played before; they teased Nick and Andrew and then ran with the ball for goal after goal.

Now, after a wonderful dinner and good conversation at the hotel, I am back in the room writing and listening to music and thinking about one of the movies I brought for my trip to Haiti, the 1956 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit starring Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, and Fredric March. The film explores family life and especially, how men are as fathers. It contrasts the 9-to-5 man with the mogul who has lost his marriage and daughter. It portrays the vulnerability in relationships and sets the stage for its characters' psychological struggles.

And it reaffirms for me that whether rich or poor, the human condition is universal. Monley's family is struggling with extreme poverty, lack of education and work opportunities. They struggle for food, live in an unstable shelter, and face challenges most of us can't even imagine.

Yet they are resilient and committed to each other and to the family. I will continue to learn more about this family so that I can know what we need to do to help them grow and realize their hopes and dreams. That is our goal for all the children whose lives we touch. That is why we are here.

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