Report from Joni Zweig:
With 19 kids under 10 running around, singing, laughing, riding bikes, wanting a cuddle, needing a refill on their plate, life in our children’s home in Port au Prince is never dull (or quiet!).
Our children are incredible, and watching them blossom is one of the highlights of my visits to Haiti. Usually, after checking my bags for treats and getting a hug, the first thing they do is bring me their school notebooks, excited to show off their accomplishments. We were told by so many to expect these kids to be slow to learn due to the severe malnutrition they experienced in utero and immediately after birth. What we have seen is the opposite- children assuming leadership roles in their classes, and embracing learning with joy and success. Perhaps the formula of healthy food, lots of playtime, a strong emphasis on art and music, and unconditional acceptance is a strong factor in encouraging the well-being of the children, each one an individual with special talents and abilities, and all responding so positively to the love and nurturing that is the foundation of the home.
On my most recent visit, Lola proudly showed me the prize she had won at an intercity school competition. The youngest in her category, she won top honors for her beautiful drawing on the environment. Kristamin, who arrived with one of the worst cases of eczema anyone had ever seen, was beyond proud of her ability to read and write. Although close to 8 years old, she had never attended school due to her skin condition. She had also rarely been touched or held. She is glowing now with the healing only inclusion and unconditional love can bring. Her skin condition is still a constant challenge, but a new world has opened for her that includes school, playmates, and lots of snuggles. In a small space with so many needs and wants, it always amazes me how the children look out for each other. These children recognize they are a family, and embrace the security that knowledge brings.
Over the past year it has become very apparent we are out of space. When I walk around the house at night, there are small bodies, sleeping on mats everywhere. With 2 bedrooms, 19 children, and 5 adults, privacy is a rare luxury. Imagine these same numbers as teenagers and you can understand the concern. Additionally our current location in Port au Prince is no longer safe. The nearby river offers relief from the tropical heat, but each heavy rain, brings floods that cut us off from the road. Violent crime is also moving into the neighborhood at an alarming rate.
With all this in mind, I traveled with Didi, our country director and main ‘mother’ of the home, to our center in Anse aPitre. There we have to build a new home for these children, one that has space for them to grow and flourish in a safe environment.
Now comes the challenging part- drawing up plans for the school and raising the funds to build it. It would be wonderful if we could break ground a year from now- and by the end of next summer, have our children settled into their new home and ready to begin their school year. Would you like to be part of creating this dream for the children? There are plenty of ways to plug in- we need ideas for the design of the home; people with expertise in architecture, solar engineering, large and small fundraising event planning- you get the picture. If you are interested in being part of this grand endeavor, please let us know. We are all excited about creating a more sustainable future for these amazing children.