Our travel group in Haiti is dispersing after three amazing days visiting with the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO) Soccer Program. We bonded quickly, fell in love with the children and were intoxicated by a sense of purpose that saturated our perspective and renewed our commitment. We are also afraid of leaving and losing the connection to one another and the children. If you have ever been on a mission, this is the desired and inevitable trajectory of the intensity of the work.
Our last full day in Haiti started with a morning trip to the Toy Library. The primary colors of the library shelves filled with toys were gentle and appealing, and the trainees were engaged with the children as they explored the toys that had been assigned based on the most recent ASQ (Ages and Stages test). Iseult, the WWO Early Childhood Program Officer, presented the science of the Toy Library eloquently. She opened the children's files to share the test results so we could understand their individual delays and appreciate their past progress and goals for future developmental and attachment work.
We observed the workers in the clean, yet dark room (everything in Haiti somehow ends up dark due to the lack of architectural and design strategies for the entrance and inclusion of light). The lack of light is a topic for us every time we enter a building whether home or business. We talk a lot and try to distill our observations about how some youth are not engaged as much as others. We conclude that this is a long term project for the children as well as the youth. If you never played with your parents, then you will not play as an adult with your children. This can be learned and taught and changed.
The discussion about the importance of play for adults and children enters almost every discussion while here in Haiti. Play is how we all learn and achieve our developmental milestones, and without it there can be attachment issues. The interaction between adult and child while exploring the environment is how bonding/attachment and competency grow.
We observe a little toddler girl named Poutchana staring and quiet; I hold her for a while, but she is not relating. I put her down and after a few minutes, someone has given her a package of crackers. I didn't witness the opening, but she is biting into the plastic and enjoying the snack without manipulating the crackers out of the package. I guess her age to be about 30 months and conclude that she has some fine motor delays without having seen the ASQ; if she had normal skills, she would have opened the package and pulled the crackers out. We find Iseult, who checks her file and confirms my suspicion. She is 27 months old and has very delayed fine motor skills. She will be working on this area of challenge at the Toy Library. It is such a great moment of discovery for the group because we understand the strategy of play and I am delighted that the toy library is growing as a concept in Haiti.
Later, we take a short ride to a local community school for the soccer awards ceremony. All of the teams/orphanages assemble and are seated with the children adorned in their colored T-shirts. The event begins with a music and dance extravaganza. The dancing and singing are beautifully choreographed, and each group of children is proud of their performance. We eagerly photograph and film their budding talent in awe of their serious dedication and pride. We complete the procession for each team as we hand them their certificates -- over seventy of them, proudly signed by me -- saying over and over again, bravo, brava, and bon travail.
Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and the Man from Puma (Noah Gonzalez) are acknowledged at the event and everyone screams and cheers with enthusiasm. We have begun the introduction of superheroes to Haiti.
The final moment comes that evening when every child and adult crowds into a classroom to watch Orphan Ranger Ben Drucker's slide show that he created for the WWO Soccer Program. Each photo fills the entire wall and inspires the kids to cheer and scream. They recognize themselves and their friends having fun and achieving success on the soccer field. Some of the photos are stunning giant portraits that almost reach out into the room. Other shots are little moments of hilarity where "you had to be there" to know the context, but it doesn't matter because the screaming that erupts tells us what we need to know. I suddenly get it and realize that this is history in the making. This moment is the same as all year-end school parties I experienced as a teacher and as a parent. It is the mundane daily child routines that create memories for a lifetime.
The children are enjoying how they look and they are reliving moments of their recent history. Orphans usually have little or no history; these kids are different. Because of the soccer program, they have memories now and five local orphanages have joined to create a community. The silo effect of isolated orphanages has disappeared in Kenscoff through the work of WWO. The kids are pumped up about their skills and abilities; their self-esteem is growing.
Though I have been working abroad for more than twenty years, I am renewed on every trip and never eager to leave. I am always changed and inspired. My memories are unique this time because my children, Ben and Des, were with me here for the first time. They expressed their happiness and appreciation for being with the children served by WWO. They fell in love with Haiti just as I have, repeatedly.
Dr. Jane Aronson
Founder and CEO, Worldwide Orphans Foundation