There are not enough words to express how amazing the organizations were saw in Haiti are. St. Joseph’s Family is the umbrella organization we worked with in Haiti. And they have an incredible story. The St. Joseph’s Home for Boys was created in 1985 by Michael Geilenfeld to take boys off the streets and/or out of child slavery and give them a home, a family, an education, and more. We visited for a day and met Bill Nathan, the current director of the home, who grew up at the home. He fell seven stories off the building when the earthquake hit and lived not only to tell the story, but to return as director and oversee the rebuilding of the home. You can see a video about Bill here.
Wings of Hope is who we stayed with and worked with most of the week. It is a home that was saved by the boys at St. Joseph’s in 1994 when it was about to be closed. It is a home and family for children and young adults with physical and mental disabilities – something that is not accepted at all in Haiti. All but one of the 31 children/young adults who reside there were left by their families at the hospital, an orphanage, on the streets, or in front of the Wings gate. Most of the them have fairly severe disabilities. Some of them have little to no use of their legs and/or arms and have to depend on others to move, feed them, and care for them. Others have no physical disabilities but are high on the autism spectrum or have Downs Syndrome. But these children/young adults are the most loving group I have every met. Wings with Hope’s motto is “possibilities not disabilities”, and in a society with such a strong stigma against disabilities – they surpass what anyone would expect them to do. During the school year, they provide occupational therapy, physical therapy, recreational therapy, and classroom time for each child. During the summer, there is more free/play time, though we still got to participate in some organized activities like Bingo – a group favorite.
The kids are very smart. Many of them do chores throughout the year to earn an allowance and have an annual shopping trip to spend their money. We were fortunate enough to be able to accompany them on their shopping trip this year!! Most of the kids wanted radios, my shopping buddy, Teddy, wanted cereal – a guy after my own heart 🙂 After shopping we went out to lunch and had burgers and fries – a real treat for the kids. It is definitely a highlight for them for the year and it was a highlight for me on our trip.
We also were able to accompany 12 of the kids to horse therapy, which they do on a weekly basis! It is a treat but also a great therapy for them all. And of course there was dance party Friday. But I think the best part was just the day-to-day hanging out with kids, getting to know them. Despite lack of language sometimes and what most would consider abnormal behavior, we loved on these kids and more importantly they loved on us. Sometimes just sitting and being present can make all the difference in the world. I can truly say that I got to know every single one of the kids/young adults on some level – some more than others – and that I love every single one of them. They all have nothing but love to offer, gains to make, fun to have, and a family to support them.
I know I have not done the trip justice at all. I guess you’ll just have to go for yourself to see how amazing it is. 🙂
To learn more about these organizations, visit their website: www.heartswithhaiti.org