We really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we boarded that one-way flight from Miami to Haiti almost three months ago. There was no way we could have known and we had minimal preparation and forewarning. We have spent the past three months really getting a feel for things and beginning to understand exactly what working in this position looks like. Some things were as expected: quite a bit of emailing, blogging and social media, spending time with the kids, and learning Creole. Other things were less expected: acting as liaisons for all expat interactions with Espwa and the Guest House, ordering merchandise, dealing with a termite-infested kitchen, and learning how to install new toilet seats. Those we were less prepared for, but I can say confidently we now know how to handle.
Among the things that I didn’t fully expect, was how consistently inspired I’ve been working here. I’m sure you can imagine how disheartening it is sometimes to be here knowing that there are kids out there we can’t afford to take in, families who are still struggling, and children within our homes who have lived through things I can’t and wouldn’t want to imagine. And while that does occupy my thoughts much of the time, I find that, more often than not, I am inspired by the people here.
The Staff. We often joke that the staff here would make an excellent reality TV show. In many ways that’s true. The antics people get into here, the circuitous route it takes to get things done, the personality conflicts, and the relationships are more entertaining than the Kardashians or Survivor. But take even one person and spend some time with them individually and the advice you get is astonishing. We’ve heard from a Catholic priest how each religion is just a different vessel to get people to the same place, each following a different route, but none less effective than the other. “Catholics are in a train,” he said. “Others in a boat, others in a car, others in a plane. But we’re all headed the same place.” We’ve heard from our Canadian finance director how to send out positive energy and love to even the people who frustrate us and put us down. And we’ve learned from both just how important it is to keep those things in mind every day, something they both do even when we see them constantly facing impossibly difficult people and scenarios.
The Visitors. We’ve had the opportunity to meet some truly extraordinary people who stay at the guest house. Not everyone in the world wants to go to Haiti and, for the most part, I’ve found that those who come here are unique. They are gut-wrenchingly kind, friendly, and have led exhilarating lives. In the past three months we’ve met a number of women, in particular, who’ve blown me out of the water. From those who have bravely overcome divorces and career changes to take the time to figure out exactly what it is they are called to do, to fearless mothers who traverse the world and don’t take no for an answer, we’ve heard countless stories of bravery and persistence from the women we’ve met. One instance in particular illustrates that spirit well. After the earthquake, a woman running the guest house at the time decided she needed to return home the next day and see her family.
“You’ll never get a plane out of here,” they told her.
“Watch me,” she replied. And she set off to Port-au-Prince on her own to figure out a solution. After hitch-hiking on two private planes she made it back to the United States the next day.
The Kids. Of course the kids here are incredible. At first we knew them on a very impersonal level, just enough to hold hands and play simple games. Now we’ve begun to learn names, personalities, and stories. We look forward to seeing each of the kids at night and feel a special bond with each of them. After three months, we know Beth and how she had to have two surgeries to remove a tumor from her side before she was 6 years old. We were there with her as she overcame her fear of doctors and had her teeth cleaned last week. After three months, we know Sonny and Sonice who came here at age 1 malnourished and close to death and now are the strongest and most energetic toddlers you’d ever meet. Now we know Wildin*, one of the boys in charge of the chicken coop and how he was once a restavec, living as a slave, abused in a family home until the 2010 earthquake gave him the chance to escape and find Espwa. Every day I am inspired by each of these kids and what they have been through to get where they are now.
The Country. Talk about grandeur and inspiration. If all of the inspiring people here don’t impress you, I dare you to watch one sunset over the rice fields, to feel the warm summer breeze as the trees sway in the distance and the light kisses the horizon and tell me you are not inspired.
Tomorrow we leave at 4 a.m. for our trip to Peru. We’ll be away from Espwa for ten days, the longest we’ve been gone in the past three months. Hopefully we can bring back some new things that inspire us when we return to this place that has given us nothing short of that every day since we arrived.
*Wildlin’s name has been changed for this article