Friday June 2nd was a day I will never forget. Like most of you, I’ve been known to shout out (at least once)on a Friday, TGIF!! Excited for my weekend. Thankful for the week to be done. I knew that I wouldn’t be having that same sort of day while in Haiti. I expected, if our first day there was any indication, it wouldn’t be a “regular” Friday, heading into the weekend sort of day. And I was not wrong. In all my life I’ve never started a day the way that one began.
David had arranged for us to start our day with a morning mass on the property where Father Rick built a pediatric hospital to work hand in hand with the orphanages of Haiti, and now the community at large. Our day would begin with mass, then a tour of the hospital, followed by a visit to the brand new adult hospital. From there we would carry on to the APJ Academy for 7th-13th graders, and finally wrap it up with a flight to Jacmel, to visit the Artists Institute and then dinner at David’s beach side house.
I’ve gone to many Catholic masses, so I knew what to expect. Until I didn’t.
As we pulled onto the property, the armed guards let us pass, there are armed guards everywhere in Haiti, it is something that I’m not quite sure I will ever get used to. When our car came to a stop, David bluntly told us; “there may be some caskets in service today. It just depends on whether or not any children died in the last few days.” I caught my breath, and my stomach sank to my feet. Are you kidding me? In my entire life I’ve never been to a funeral for a child. I quickly prayed that today wouldn’t be my first.
Walking into the open chapel, as Father Rick sang, there they were. Three caskets in the centre of the room. Two of them small, so I knew they were kids, and one regular length. I fought back tears, I didn’t want to assume anything, maybe there was only one casket with somebody in it, and the other two smaller ones were ornamental. Father Rick was speaking Creole so I couldn’t pick up on what he was saying about who was inside them. Then he switched to English, and my fears were realized. One was a two month orphan who died in their hospital and the other was a seven year old.
Children shouldn’t be orphans. Children should be loved, cared for, and nurtured. They are pure, selfless and innocent. I couldn’t contain my tears. Children shouldn’t die before their lives even begin, and if they must, then they certainly should not die all alone, without parents to hold them to tell them that it will be okay. That where they are going is better than where they have been.
Since you probably want to know who was in the third casket I will tell you. It was a man who was 77, a friend of Father Rick and the St. Luke Foundation. So Father Rick was giving him a proper funeral. Conducting mass is one thing, but having to regularly conduct funeral mass? Not for me, thank you. I’m not sure how Father Rick does it; other than by leaning very heavily on his faith. Once mass was over we spent time with Father Rick talking about his work, getting the stats on how many families now have access to full medical healthcare thanks to the two hospitals he has opened. It is a miracle, and a blessing that this one man is getting all that he is getting done for the people of Haiti. The world definitely needs more men like Father Rick in it, that’s for damn sure.
Once we left him and the hospitals it was on to the school to really see our money in action, at the academy. I was blown away at how much APJ has accomplished there since 2010. Honestly, our governments could all learn a thing or two about how to get out of the way and let growth and progress happen, rather than fighting and causing everything to get tied up in political red tape. But that’s another blog.
It is corny, but it’s true. Children are the future, give them knowledge and they will lead the way. And prayerfully some of the APJ academy graduates will be the next leaders. Leaders who will create, and implement a sanitation system for all the slums. Who will get the millions of pounds of plastic waste off the streets and into recycling programs. Something, anything, to return their country back to it’s original state of beauty, and prosperity. It is crazy to me to think of all the natural resource opportunities the country has being squandered by the war between government and gangs in Haiti. I hope and pray that the graduates of our school are the ones who repair Haiti’s relationship, and reputation with the world. Although I will confess I’m not exactly sure how they will do it. The work that needs to be done in cleaning up just the garbage in the country is, to me, overwhelming. I honestly don’t even know where, or how that work would begin. Walking around, looking at the kids at the school I wondered if now that they’re learning about the world around them if they have more, or less hope than they did before?
While we were speaking to the Philo kids (those are the graduating students, in grade 13)I did my best to communicate to the young girls that their lives don’t need to end at high school. They don’t need to leave the academy and go find a man, make babies and then become like their mothers, their aunts, possibly even their sisters. They can get more out of life than just that. I told them that if they never quit, they will find their own success, separate from being tied to a man and children. I hope they heard me. More than that I hope they believed me.
As we were wrapping up, a boy who had kept his eyes downcast during our entire talk with the students, finally put his hand up, stood up out of his chair and asked the question I knew he was going to. I could tell from his posture, the expression on his face that this young man didn’t buy it. He was there at that school, dressed impeccably in his school uniform. Proud, committed, but he was pissed. This boy was two weeks out from graduating and he wondered, as I’m sure all the other kids were wondering, thinking the same thing most young people today are thinking. “NOW WHAT? You’ve educated me. And where do I go from here? What if I don’t get into one of the only two universities we have? What do I do then? What am I supposed to do with my life after I leave here??”
He didn’t look us in the eyes. He looked everywhere but in our eyes. He was angry. He was scared. And he was feeling defeated.
I wanted to run over to him and put my arms around him, to shelter him from all his upset, to calm his nerves. Instead, I opted to tell him the truth. To tell him that I have no idea what will be next for him, for his classmates. In fact I took it one step further and told him, that he and his friends are not alone. The youth of Haiti are not so different from my own daughters in North America, who are educated, who are out there in the world wondering the exact same things as all of them…NOW WHAT?
I hope he heard me. I hope he believed me. But more importantly, I hope he never quits, and that he knows that the failure is in the quitting, not the trying.