This year with the Christmas tree decorated and presents laid out underneath, I couldn’t stop thinking of Port-au-Prince. Hot heat day and night. Half-built concrete shanty towns. Goats munching on garbage and debris along a trickle of sewage water. Streets packed with people bobbing by like bright colorful waves. Women with one hand balancing a basket of goods on their heads. A skinny street dog waiting for an opportunity. Music blasting from an overstuffed tap-tap minibus rolling steadily by.
Visiting St. Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti was an incredible experience. The political instability, corruption, and violence that has corroded away the infrastructure of this country was miles away from me behind the concrete walls of the school. Inside, children danced and played under the big tree in the courtyard on the compound. What surprises I discovered during that week at St. Vincent’s. One might think that the reality of handicapped children living in the poorest country in the Americas would be one of sheer desperation and sadness. How far from the truth did I find this to be. I witnessed incredible strength of human spirit and ingenuity. The young woman who spoke sign language with her feet because she had no arms. Beautiful works of art painted by artists with prosthetic limbs. Too many moments to describe.
We ran the clinic and served many, many people. I have no idea of the actual count. Even so, there is no way to feel satisfied knowing how great the need is. A whole country of people in need. Living on almost nothing. One man came to the clinic and said that every time he ate, he would get a headache. I did my best to translate between French and Creole, but some things were lost. Once he saw the physician, it became clear that I had misunderstood what he had said. He rephrased. He said, when he eats he feels great but when he doesn’t eat he feels terrible. The doctor asked him why he doesn’t eat, and he said because he could not always afford food. What prescription can we write for this?
The world is not a fair place. Many hundreds of thousands of people suffer everyday because they do not have access to food, safe drinking water, and medical treatment. They live in countries without stable governments, in war zones, and disaster areas. I can not save the world or solve all of its problems. Sitting on the balcony overlooking the courtyard at St. Vincent’s I enjoyed the company of my two new friends Mael and Judith. I sat with the girls, both wheelchair bound, and we watched the other children play in the courtyard. These kids are amazing. So strong against many odds. The children of St. Vincents will always be in my heart. I have made a special place to keep them there.