This is the word Dr. Susan Nelson used to describe St. Vincent’s School and Orphanage and the children in Haiti. A facility she has been serving since 2008 through the West Tennessee Haiti Partnership.
True – the school is amazing, given the lack of resources available to them. True – the children are amazing given their unique situations.
From the onset, the first ten minutes at the school I would have described the environment, children and staff as not Amazing but Amazing Grace.
The blind, deaf, mentally and physically impaired children are the epitome of amazing grace. The blind children lock arms and walk throughout the small compound, keeping one another safe. They smile, laugh, play and sing or play the violin without the aide of their eyes. The deaf children guide the blind, push those confined to wheelchairs to class or the clinic, and express the desires of a child via sign language and smiles. The smiles – the dance of joy when a 5 year old deaf child tries on the pink crocs and dances!! The smiles as the children color, paint, make jewelry, or play ball with others. The little boy that was a resident of St. Vincent’s that had shoes but wanted shoes for his two friends, day students at St. Vincent’s that did not have shoes. These two boys, his friends, lived with their families – he did not have a traditional family but rather the family at St. Vincent’s. An orphan concerned for his shoeless friends- Amazing Grace.
Marie Carmel, the 46 year-old wheelchair bound cook, unofficial matriarch, and life-time resident of St. Vincent’s. Marie was dropped off at St. Vincent’s when she was a baby, almost 47 years ago: her birthday is April 26th. She has no knowledge of her family, yet she smiles and enjoys the children and her place of honor at St. Vincent’s. Each day she sits in the breezy place, in her wheelchair watching the children – overseeing the activities of the children, the courtyard and orphanage – Amazing Grace.
There is Jo Jo, the artist in residence. John Joseph, the rock star – he is limbless yet creates masterpieces with the use of an bandage to his right “nub” or his mouth. He signs with his nubs, eyebrows, lips, and face…he communicates with the deaf children, he translates English to Creole or Creole to English. He is the unofficial patriarch of St. Vincent’s, a 50 year resident. He does not know his birth family – yet he knows the story of each child at St. Vincent’s. He smiles, laughs, jokes and makes light of his lack of extremities. He never complains – Amazing Grace.
There is Margaret. The hydrocephalic toddler abandoned in November of 2010. She is fed, always dressed appropriately with even a ribbon occasionally in her hair. She does not speak. She does not walk and yet she responds to the touch of her caregivers. She responds to the physical therapy provided to prevent her arms and legs from contracting. This innocent, helpless child is loved by her caregivers: given to St. Vincent’s by a caring family member, who could not provide for her-Amazing Grace.
There is Pere (Father) Sadoni, the Priest and administrator of St. Vincent’s. A quiet young man in his early 30’s. He manages not only the orphanage and school but a church. He is guarded almost shy but so tender when you see him touch a child. He is devoted to the children, both residences and day-students. He uses the resources made available to make a difference in the lives of all the children. He allows a teenage boy to stay at St. Vincent’s and attend high school because he has no where to go. This boy lost his mother, the cook, and his younger brother in the earthquake. He could see them, he could hear them, he could give them water and food for three days but could not get them out of the rubble and they died. He plays his guitar and sings. He is not bitter or angry or troubled at the world but has moved forward. He provides comfort to the blind and deaf children and adults at the orphanage. He assures Father Sadoni he will work hard to be a good student – Amazing Grace.
Seven nurses enrolled at Christian Brothers University in the RN to BSN program and myself, their teacher were witnesses to the Amazing Grace of St. Vincent’s School and Orphanage in Port au’ Prince, Haiti. For five, short incredible days, we left our comfortable homes and families to travel to St. Vincent’s. The students assessed and documented the height, weight, arm circumference, and heart and lung sounds of 208 children in four – six hour days. They played with these children. They colored with the blind and deaf. They painted the nails, combed the hair and made beaded necklaces. They held them. They cradled them in their arms and loved them. These seven nurses immersed themselves with the children and staff of St. Vincent’s – Amazing Grace.
This was designed as a student clinical experience, a “mission trip” to provide health care to Haiti. However it reality, it was a human experience where the children and adults of St. Vincent gave far more to us, the CBU community then we did to them through their Amazing Grace.
Sue Trzynka, Ph.D., RN