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The streets are rubble,hand-chipped from quarry rock by breaking men, grateful for jobs no matter howlaborious. The smell, or stench, rather, is rotten and dusty, a bit salty fromthe sea. Garbage, chickens and the black tarp roofs of the makeshift hutsinhabitants call home along the streets make for an interesting, moving mosaic ofthe Third World. This is a different realm.
The people here are dark, allof them: dark in their skin color, dark in their future, dark in the soot of workand scavenging for survival hidden under their nails, and dark in the depth ofpoverty and struggle swimming deep and low in the rich brown of their irises.
Never are they dark in their hope, though. Nor in their smile or inthe undying glitter radiating from their laughter-creased eyes.
Theseare the people of Haiti: the children with needle-thin arms and fat bellies fullof nothing, the mothers with needle-thin arms and fat bellies full of starvingchildren, the old, the young, the dying, the ever-hopeful. These are the peopleof Haiti.
The decision to travel there was spontaneous and instantlyseemed to sit well in my soul. It was on the way home from a weekend working at ahomeless shelter that going to Haiti was mentioned. Phil, my new youth pastor,was a man of refreshing intensity and the will to push us from the comfort andidleness of ignorance into uncomfortable new growth territory. The trip Philplanned would take him into an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I was anxiousto accompany this man I so respected to a world I had never seen.
While Iloved the volunteer work and missions trips I had done in the past, I had neverfelt completely satisfied. I always believed that unless I was living on thestreets, starving and seeing as the people I yearned to help did, I could neverappreciate what the hope and comfort I was trying to bring them really meant. InHaiti, I was to find that much more than a longed-for "deeperunderstanding" awaited.
While my parents were unsure about letting mego, my resolve grew stronger every day. When the day finally arrived, I, witheight from my church, boarded a tiny plane for the flight.
When wetouched down, the steps were lowered and we descended to a vast, open groundoutlined on the distant horizon with purple mountains. The wind was thick andsodden with despair and love and beauty. The most amazing, vivid colors wereeverywhere: the deepest brown of the people's skin, the bright fuchsia of flowerscontrasting with the entangling green leaves of trees, the blue of the heavens,and the aqua of the sea. I was overcome. Sand stung my legs and I felt so atpeace. Soon, though, my peace would be invaded.
My stay at theorphanage gave me a taste of life I had never had. As the wrought-iron gates tothe orphanage opened that first time, swarms of children covered my legs withtiny, pink-palmed hands begging for the chance to hold mine. Small trainedpersonalities were flashing in hopes of finding a ride out of town - to apromised land called America. I was energized by their vigor as the hours, thendays, passed. I became sobered, then energized in a deeper sense. The kids'personalities switched from take-me-home mode to what their surroundings had madethem: children matured by the prospect of death and hopelessness, yet childrennonetheless. The walls of their orphanage meant daily food, spirituality,brother- and sisterhood, hope for escape and life. Many were not actuallyorphans; their mothers had given them up in hopes they would have a betterfuture.
The games I played with them, the bonds I made, the tears I sawin the bedtime cots, and their unwavering hope, despite the seeming hopelessnessof their country, overwhelmed me. I was overcome, burned, and changed by thesmiles in their eyes, by the dance of their worship, and by the way they touchedmy hair in wonder.
I was touched, cut, and molded by the way they helpedeach other, by the way they loved fat people and didn't care a bit about thelatest fashions, and by the way they were utterly and wholly thankful foreverything they had.
Haiti is a different world, and my time there had aprofoundly different impact than I thought it would. Instead of me teachingchildren of the hope in America and in God, they showed me the hope in Haiti andlet me touch the hope in God.
I came to understand that Haiti stillsmiles brightly, still sings sweetly, and still shines with a beauty indigenousto its land despite its Third World status. I returned home aching to see thesincerity and thankfulness those children held somewhere in the eyes of myfamily, of my nation, but found it only in my dreams, in the memories and dreamsof Haiti. Never has there been a place more sincere and beautiful than the Haitiof my memory. I am overcome, and I am thankful.
Road Trip by Brian H., Benton, AR
A New Identity by Serena F., Riverside, CA
Hometown Proud by Jill P., Chesterland, OH
I'm from...(Based on a model by George Ella Lyon) by Olivia S., Denver, CO
The Picture by Rachel Y., Lansdale, PA
By Sara T., Kaneohe, HI
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