Orphaned Starfish continues to amaze me in showing the resilience of the children we serve. I have seen children who have suffered the worst abuse imaginable to grow to become happy, healthy adults. I have seen children trafficked for sex from the time they were five years old recover to have happy, healthy families. In Haiti, I have the satisfaction of knowing dozens of children who suffered the loss of their family to natural disasters recover to have hope for their future.
This was my first trip to Haiti after the devastation of Hurricane Matthew destroyed parts of our partner orphanage: HELO Haiti. We started with Helo shortly after the earthquake when they took in the children orphaned by that disaster. Hurricane Matthew destroyed two of the homes, which had to be rebuilt, and our computer center, which OSF rebuilt.
This was also the trip where we took my “daughter” Magda back to her orphanage after ten days of a trip of a lifetime to Connecticut, Las Vegas, and New York to be honored for her bravery, determination and success in the classroom.
After a six and a half hour trek across Haiti, you could see the evidence of the hurricane grow and grow as you approached Les Cayes. The feeling of distress fell away as we were greeted by Pastor John, happy to have his wife back at his side and welcoming us with open arms into his home. That night, we went to see all the boys and girls at Helo in Laborde, across twenty more minutes of more potholes than road. The pure joy at seeing us, knowing that we had come back to them, and that we had brought them back their beloved friend Magda was overwhelming.
We saw that computer center is back up and running with perfection. The students showed us all they have learned and are learning and started practicing their English with us. Making lemonade out of lemons, our computer teacher started classes in computer repair (a very useful skill for employment for our children) fixing the computers damaged by the hurricane. So excited to add this aspect to their education.
For this trip, we had a surprise for Helo: we brought, through ARTEAMOR (OSF's Arts Program), Grammy Award winning music producer Tony Black and renowned actress and singer Margot Bingham to develop a state of the art music recording studio within the OSF computer center.
The music studio was an absolute success. Watching the faces of the boys of “Level Style”, the rap group that four of the young boys had created to have their voices heard through music and hear the beautiful voices of the girls’ group was miraculous. Together with Tony, Margot and Dilia, they laid down their tracks, added other final touches and the first two songs are done. They learned all the details about continuing to use this studio on their own and will also use the studio to record others in the west of Haiti for support.
There is so much more to these children of Helo than I can explain. They show such joy and appreciation, whether for my magic show, Dilia’s singing, the gifts of Tony and Margot or just the appreciation for having us there for three days to share their dreams and goals. These children are the definition of Resilience and will overcome all that they have endured.
Last note, we attended services with the Pastor and then again with the children. When the power went out at the church (there is only power for a few hours a day in this part of Haiti), the singing continues and takes on such a powerful force in the dark.
L’Ecole La Redemption
Leogane, Haiti was the epicenter of the earthquake and most families lost their homes and their belongings. At the school L’Ecole La Redemption, over six hundred impoverished children from Leogane receive a top quality education at little or no cost. They had never had computers until Orphaned Starfish. Now, the computer center runs every day for hours a day to get each of the older students (sixth grade and above) the opportunity to learn they need to excel and to gain employment. Orphaned Starfish not only provides the computers and teachers, we provide the monies for books, the generator, and scholarships.
There is no feeling like having hundreds of children laughing and giggling to the well worn magic tricks that I perform. The looks of amazement in some of their faces will be forever etched in my mind.
But, again, it was the resilience of these children, their dedication to moving forward and making a better life for themselves and their families that will always stay with me.
The last picture from the Haiti trip will be hundreds of children waving goodbye (some with their balloons clutched to their chests) while the head of the school, Felipe wiped tears from his eyes, though I am still not sure if it was the conjunctivitis or tears of thanks.
Thank you to the children of Helo and La Redemption for providing us perspective on overcoming obstacles, resilience and love.