Once into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, we made our way to the outskirts of Port au Prince and arrived at the St. Damien’s children’s hospital. Grassy courtyards were surrounded by an oncology ward, infectious + non-infectious disease wards, public health center and, most heartbreaking, an abandoned baby ward. (Take a look at the St. Damien’s blog here for more information – http://saintdamienhospital.nph.org/)
Some children, Ivy, our guide, informed us, did not get placed in the nearby orphanage. It seems the Haitian government has caught on to the lucrative adoption trade, snapping up the healthy (and cute) children – leaving behind only those with special needs…
Luckily St Damien’s had not suffered much damage during the earthquake but we paused at a large crack in the wall, by the names of over 2 dozen hospital employees and volunteers, victims of the nearby, affiliated with the Petionville hospital collapse.
From St Damien’s, we visited the recently erected Angels of Light orphanage and school. It houses a few hundred of Haiti’s recently orphaned earthquake victims. The orphanage was erected from a series of steel cargo containers. They were utilitarian but effective. In the dormitories, each child had a neatly made bed with a well-loved stuffed animal awaiting their return.
We then took a quick drive through the Angels of Light school (closed this Sunday afternoon) – a tent city donated from UNICEF, USAID etc – a school that had been created to educate the huge number of orphans and displaced children from the nearby makeshift shanty villages.
We set off for the final leg of our 14 hour drive – up the mountain to Kenscoff – 25 miles from PaP but with road conditions and traffic, 2.5 hours away. We were joined by Liz, the art therapy teacher, a 2-year volunteer from Ireland, and Lizette, the school nurse – a 1-year volunteer from Indiana.
Mornings at St Helene’s began with the crowing of the local rooster from the valley below our guest house. He was soon joined by the baa’ing and moo’ing of his barnyard counterparts. Finally the children began to awake – their voices carrying down to us from the dormitories in the hills above.
Kenscoff’s damp and chilly mountain climate can not only be inhospitable but makes for difficult building maintenance – peeling paint, mold and cold, damp dormitories required tending. Unreliable electricity was an added challenge as there were no inside heating sources (or hot water).
It was determined that we would focus our efforts on the “Special Needs” house. Gena began the Special Needs house when she arrived at Kenscoff, 18 years prior. Nothing like it had existed before.
With nearly 10% of Haiti’s population considered mentally handicapped but with no support system in place, prior to Gena’s program, most of these children were abandoned by families who didn’t understand how (and didn’t have the resources) to handle them. Those that were not lucky enough to end up an orphanage were simply left to die. Gena has since started outreach programs in Petionville and Tabarre.
We divided our time over the next few days. We attacked the paint job on the exterior windows of Kay Christine (the Special Needs house) and finished unpacking and sorting through the 20+ bags of donations that we had brought with us. The following days were more of the same as we continued to paint and finally finish Kay Christine.
Liz was gracious enough to allow us to visit her art therapy class. We were particularly captivated by Christian – artistically driven and talented, Christian is physically handicapped, wheelchair bound, HIV positive, and legally blind.
Our final night in Kenscoff, the children gathered together in their outdoor arena and performed a talent show for us. We responded with a dutch clog dance, the Hokey Pokey (both huge hits) and a slide show of our photos. Saying our goodbyes, it was hard to leave but our bus awaited us with a 5am departure and a 16 hour return trip.
I think a few of us are already planning our return.
This trip was made possible by Friends of the Orphans