MARY OF FATIMA’S SOLDIERS
Blessed Are The Poor in Spirit
I’ve always been questioned why I travel so much. People wonder what the fascination is? And I always tell them - people are my fascination. Learning cultures, languages and tasting different foods is a big part of it sure – but the real reason why I travel is to learn first hand about the people themselves. Who are they? Where do they come from? Who do they worship? Who do they trust? How do they interact with one another and especially how do they love? Travelling to another country gives you insight and that is exactly what this trip to Haiti gave me.
Like many, I heard on the news about Haiti’s earthquake hitting 7.0 on the rector scale and costing thousands of lives. But what I read on January 12, 2010 were facts and news accounts. I had no idea about the emotions and heartaches that would affect me during my trip there.
It’s a little over a month after Haiti was hit by the quake and I am with a few friends in a van driving 15 hours from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic on our way to Port au Prince, Haiti. This trip is very special. In such short notice of being asked to go to Haiti with Serving Charity, we managed to collect generous contributions from our families and friends back at home. Many gave with not much to give and this was so special. Others believed in our cause and were happy to know their money would actually reach the hands of the needy. The donations, tucked securely away in my knapsack, represented so many things for me, the greatest of which was hope. On this trip I realized how important and necessary the feeling of hope was for the suffering poor in Haiti. Hope for these people was all they could hold onto seeing what they saw; knowing what they knew and experiencing what they had experienced after surviving such a tragedy. Hope for a better future is what was keeping their spirits alive.
15 hours later, followed by a truckload of canned goods purchased with the donation money we received, we arrived into the capital city of Haiti; Port au Prince. As we drove around, I could not understand why I suddenly felt such a heaviness in me. What I saw truly reflected how I felt. It was dark and grey everywhere. Many ruins – homes, schools and buildings that were struck by the earthquake remained as they were – some half fallen and others entirely crashed to the ground. UN trucks rolled around every corner. Cries for help grafitied everywhere. Hatians walked the dirt roads with their heads down as if they were tired or almost as if they had been defeated by life. This devastating earthquake damaged many monumental structures but worse off, it destroyed people’s spirits. The place seemed unordinarily quiet. I can’t explain it. There was no color. There was no music. There was just hunger and sadness lingering the air.
We visited some special orphanages including the Nuns of Mother Theresa and the Sisters of St. Paul and delivered the donations to many needy children. I was blessed to meet so many beautiful kids. Some children were shy and others at first sight, threw themselves into my arms. They were all regular looking children like the ones you see at home in Toronto except, if you take a closer look into one of these children’s eyes, you begin to understand how amazingly different they are. These children’s eyes reflect sadness and a deep sense of fear. I can’t help but think they’ve experienced something they shouldn’t have at their age. They’ve experienced life beyond their years.
The final orphanage we visited was the hardest to leave. There were about 50 little children running around half dressed with runny noses and bouncing on dirty mattresses that lay outside on the ground. They played and laughed and ran around with no worry in the world. I fell in love with each and every one of them. This small orphanage housed a miracle. The suffering and pain was not present, only love and joy filled these little innocent hearts I met that holy day. The person in charge of this home was a young man, not over 30 years old. His courage and strength is something I will never forget. With so much responsibility on his shoulders, he showed us his humility and reached out to us for compassion. I admire this young man for being so brave to run this orphanage.
Our visit seemed quickly to come to an end. The saddest part was leaving. The children begged us to return. Tears gushed down my cheek as we waved goodbye to all the staff and children. In the distance ever so humble, stood this young man. He is the foundation of the orphanage, with tears in his eyes he waved to us, thanking us for visiting. He is the strength that holds this orphanage together. We knew we could not stay and had to continue our journey. I remember looking back at him and praying that God would speak through my heart and tell me how I was to help them.
Before we knew it, we were en route 15 hours back to Puerto Plata. The drive gave me time to reflect and pray on what I had seen and experienced that day. I can’t stop thinking about the beautiful innocent children’s faces and the looming heaviness I felt while I was there. I don’t want to stop thinking about these unwanted, forgotten children.
I observed a lot during this journey and learned even more. The children were my greatest teachers. The experience of being in Haiti helped me to realize we all have a responsibility in this world to offer compassion to one another. Too what extent, I leave that challenge up to you. Just remember only you can control your own heart and allow yourself to fall into the grace of charity, letting it take you to a world beyond what you are familiar. It’s not a fun trip and will definitely require some sacrifice. But at the end of the day it’s the most genuine, selfless act you could ever do for another. And then miracles start to happen.
Serving Charity in Haiti: Story of 5 women and a man
Everything started even before we passed the Haitian border! Different feelings are coming right now from the bottom of my heart when I think about those people staying there in between two borders (Dominican and Haitian) trying to survive by selling food, to pass through the border with supplies or kids begging for a little something. Such a nice feeling to be able to communicate in French with those who need our help! Our arrival in Port au Prince was pretty difficult for me, just the fact to realize than a terrible earthquake passed through this city a month before and that the Haitian, those who lost members of their family and their home were trying to move forward, to live as before.
The first destination we reached to deliver the food
was amazing, clean and peaceful thanks to the sisters of mother Teresa from
Calcutta. The highlight of the day was probably to see that in less than 30
seconds, those kids, orphans or not had a huge smile
on their face when they saw us, women and man from Canada. To see my friends
holding the kids in their arms, playing and singing with them touched my heart.
Being able in less than an hour to meet the poorest of the poor, have a special
blessing from this unique sister who left her country in 1982 to serve the poor
and have a beautiful baby boy telling you “Please come back”, will stay in my
heart forever. When you realize, like in our 2nd stop than entire
families has been evicted from their home, you just want to comfort them with
your own words, hold their hands and give them a smile. Those sisters from
Calcutta or Haiti are simply amazing. As sister, Marie Juliette told me, the
help is not coming from the biggest organization, so the only thing they can do
praying for a miracle and wait! Even before the catastrophe, the situation in
the orphanage “Le bon Samaritain” was terrible but
now it is worse because of the biggest number of people to feed (orphans and
They simply need our help.
After spending a day in Port au Prince, we all wanted to stay and do more because there is so much to do! We have a duty to not forget them.
Thanks to Serving Charity for giving us the opportunity to help the Haitian who need our help!
The Powerless and the Powerful
With no expectations, some doubts but even greater faith, the Serving Charity team set off to an unknown journey. A truck load of food, water,blankets and 7 hopeful hearts ready to serve the unwanted, the forgotten, the helpless, the desolate. As we traveled through winding roads, tropical and dessert lands, I began to reflect on how devastation, charity and faith form an equation and are dependant on one another. It's unfortunate that many of us only remember to open our hearts to charity after trauma's such as the earthquake and only temporarily.
Haitians have suffered so much and it breaks my heart to witness the poverty they continue to face due to this natural disaster.
The trip into Haiti was intense right from the beginning. We were waiting for over half an hour at the border with two trucks full of food and supplies and no guarantee we would be permitted to enter into Haiti. Once we received the papers for our entry we only had one objective ... to serve. We set off to Port au Prince.
We visited three different communities in the capital city. During each visit I felt as if it was not enough to bring food, water and supplies. I wanted to provide more, more of me not just the material things. I wanted to give more of my love. I wanted to keep playing with the 20 orphans at Mother Teresa and continue teasing Melinda a small 4 year old malnutrioned child. And I wanted to keep tossing Thomas in the air, he is a chunky, healthy 14 month old baby with mosquito bites all over his legs. If only everyone else could see the temporary joy that filled these children's eyes. They had no clue of what aid we had just delivered to them they just cared about playing and having fun with the "gringos".
At our second visit we arrived at a small community managed by the Sister of St. Paul. We saw many tents set up next to one another where victims and their families lived. The kind sisters showed us around the area and all I could see where broken walls and shattered hearts. Families were set up in small tents making the best of what little they had. As we greeted some people good-bye handing out candies we suddenly heard the voice of an American slowly and cautiously approaching us with a book in his hands. It was a U.S. military soldier strapped up in heavy armory. He asked us who we were and what where our intentions there. At that moment I looked around and saw hummers and troops all around. The U.S. had delivered a tank to store water for the community. The image before me was incredible. I was looking at my friends with their black and white serving charity t-shirts next to the U.S. military force brought clarity as to who the powerful and powerless really are. The soldiers where equipped with guns, strength and intimidation. On the other hand, Serving Charity was equipped with genuine love, humbleness, empathy and donations.
The third place we visited was an orphanage with hundreds of children running around. They lost their homes as well and were living outside in tents where it was safe. These beautiful children thanked us for our donations by singing to us in their angelic voices. With tears in our eyes we pleaded to Abbas (the founder of Serving Charity) if we could stay for the night with the children. The feeling the five of us felt in our hearts, the certainty that we all wanted to stay with the children, was overwhelming. Unfortunately, the day went by to quickly and soon enough we were heading back to the border in order to make it over before 6pm which was the time they close the border gates completely.
My heart was torn to many pieces that day. I felt as if I left a piece of my heart at every refugee camp we visited. There is no way I could ever forget my new little friends and how much in need they are. I will carry their memories with me each day as a reminder of the many blessings we have here in North America. I will also remind myself and others that these little children are and will be in poverty for the rest of their lives, however, there is an opportunity to provide them with the basics such as food and education. It is a part of our humanitarian responsibility to help those in need. We just can't turn our heads away and continue to live in our wonderland bubbles. I am one who will speak up for those unfortunate children and bring their cries for help here to Toronto. I know somewhere, somehow others will also hear these cries and have faith in Serving Charity as I do.
I realized compassion has many forms. it can take place in many ways but the greatest gift of all is demonstrating compassion through love. It is never ending and forever fulfilling, more than anything else.
Charity Begins with Hello
Feb 28th, 2010; 11 am. We are at the Haitian/Dominican border, pass the town of Jimani. The Haitian immigration allow us through with no hassles. The road is long and winding as we drive along the coast of a lake at the side of a mountain. The scenery is beautiful. Nothing bad here. But soon, ever so often a Haitian child will run to our vans, begging. They are no houses here. Where do they come from? Where do they sleep?
We then enter a little village. Ok, this does not look so bad. Yes the houses are pretty makeshift, but it looks like a typical island village to me. We see the cliché scene - 10 people, men and women dressed in their Sunday best, standing in the back of a van, on their way to church.
Welcome to Port-u-Prince. This is hardly a capital, even for a small island, and I know, I grew up on one. Aside from the first modern supermarket as you enter the town, where the UN vans seem to frequent, mostly what you see are people on the side of the road selling fruits, gasoline and charcoal. There are no large homes, most of the bigger concrete buildings are schools, police stations etc.
So what about the earthquake? It is one month later and perhaps we are fortunate to miss the death, but certainly not the destruction. Some buildings are completely smashed, some are partly demolished and some are like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
"Thousands of police men died in that station" says Tony, our Haitian friend who accompanied us to show us the way. Tony is 23 years old and has no money. He walks for an hour everyday to volunteer at a hospital so that he can obtain food and clothes. Tony speaks 4 languages fluently yet he has never been outside the Haitian border.
And then there are tents. Many tents. Tents cover an entire hill. Tents fill the yards of schools and other big buildings. Tents fill the grounds of the two orphanages and the shelter that we visited. And along the streets were the same signs over and over, pointing towards them, "Please help us", "SOS".
We deliver a truckload of food. Suddenly this truckload appears to be not a lot of food at all. We estimate that our supply would last about three weeks at each shelter. The beautiful nuns that oversee shelter at the Sisters of St. Paul tell us that aid from large organizations never reaches them. The US Military arrive. The nuns roll their eyes. "Anyone speak English here?" They interrogate us. "What did we bring?" "What are we doing here?" I ask them what is their reason for this investigation. They do not answer me. I guess someone has to be in control.
We do not stay too long in Haiti. We need to make it to the border by 6pm because that is when they close the gates. I am left with many vivid memories. Some are sad. I remember 60 orphans not wearing any pants. I remember a 14 month old little girl that really looked like a 4 month old baby because she was malnourished, being fed through a tube. But despite all the sadness, I also saw love and hope that our little mission was able to provide. I will never forget the caretaker of the orphanage, a man not more than 30 years old giving me a hug and crying as I gave him a donation. But most of all, what I remember most was the genuine appreciation and smiles on the Haitians people faces when I greeted them with Bonjour ça va? – hello how are you? I never in my life thought something so simple would mean so much. We say it all the time, to be polite, to be social. In fact we expect to hear it but we do not always mean it when we say it. As I continue to serve the poorest of the poor through Serving Charity, I will also remember that charity and love comes in many forms. And it starts with hello how are you?
Nazma Maida Abraham