Up until the earthquake, I often pondered dual notions of Haiti. Intriguing images of brilliantly colored folk art that I had admired competed with the dull, grinding poverty that I had seen so frequently in the news. Bustling marketplaces of magnificent color vied for attention with impoverished children begging on the streets. Lush jungles of wild growth contradicted congested cities plagued by a lack of water and electricity. Vivid imagery of two very different worlds crowded my thoughts.
After the earthquake, my mental imagery shifted. In the days following the devastation, television, websites, and newspapers depicted children alone and crying, men trapped under buildings, and people battling over emergency rations. Four months later, I am here in Haiti to see for myself, to form my own impressions.
As I arrived at the SOS Children's Village in Santo, outside of Port-au-Prince, I tried to take in as much as I could. The images in my mind faded into the past. Now I see the present -- and when I feel most optimistic -- a vision of the future.
SOS-Santo is like every other SOS Children's Village around the world. But it is also very different. Before the earthquake, Santo cared for 200 children who were without parental care. That number has since swelled to over 500.
Each SOS home used to shelter six to eight children. Twenty-five children are now cared for in each household, run by an SOS Mother and two assistants. Some children sleep inside the house, and others in a tent just outside.
The constant din of children's voices fills the Village. Most of these children have experienced horrific trauma that killed family members and neighbors. Yet, the voices I hear and sights that I see are happy ones -- seemingly carefree boys and girls who laugh, run and play. They are not alone in a tent with uncaring strangers or living on the street, begging for food. These children have a place to call home.
There are primary and secondary schools in the Santo Village that once taught a few hundred students, but now hold nearly 800. I cherish the image of children from Kindergarten through 12th grade all in plain and checkered orange uniforms. Even in worn dresses and beat-up shoes, these children look proud and confident. The simple schoolrooms seem very familiar to me with children shouting out their ABC's and proudly reading aloud to their classmates.
When I return to the United States, I will let these images settle in my mind, with the hope that one day I can do them justice by painting my own canvas. In the meantime, I know that by helping SOS Children's Villages to provide shelter, education and meals, we are nurturing children who will grow up to paint their own canvasses -- hopefully full of bright and optimistic imagery.