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Orphaned Child: I Was Happy Because We Did Not Die

As I sit in the front yard of the orphanage we founded in 2002, surrounded by our twelve laughing children, combing my strange hair, touching my funny legs, comparing their tiny hands to my giant ones, I wonder how I can quantify the electric pulses of love flowing from these kids? How do you measure happiness in orphaned children? By their smiles? By their appetites? By their school grades?

Jacmel. In July we moved our children from the gritty city of Gonäives destroyed by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 to the city of Jacmel, home of French colonial architecture, surrounded by lush mountains, and sitting on a beautiful bay.

Our home in Gonäives was always dusty, the city and countryside deforested and now desert-like. It is the inability of the land there to absorb rain and run-off from the mountains that leads to regular catastrophe. Our home in Gonaives collapsed during Hurricane Hannah eight weeks after we left.

Our children, many orphaned by Hurricane Jeanne, realize they escaped their own deaths by moving with us to Jacmel. They realize that they live in a home that flood waters will not touch, nor high winds blow away.

Our kids today have enormous smiles – bigger than I have ever seen them before. They have access in Jacmel to more food then they have ever seen in their lives and they are eating double portions three meals a day. Not to mention their academic scores have soared.

This is not to say they do not remember the hard times in Gonäives, or that psychological damage suffered there will not be hard for them to overcome.

Seven year old Jean told me yesterday, “If we had stayed, we would have died.” Twelve year-old Samson remembers from Hurricane Jeanne, “Cars and dead bodies floating by.” Bernadine, age nine, remembers climbing to her roof to survive. “I was happy last week because we did not die,” she confided quietly to me.

The children of Orphans International in Jacmel are as strong as the people of Haiti themselves. No where in the world is there stronger people. Independent for over two hundred years – the first successful slave revolt which finally sent their masters packing – has left a host of leaders and outside powers who have in effect re-enslaved Haiti’s population, creating poverty and violence generation after generation. Any Haitian whose family has survived the endemic violence is strong by definition. Pride follows strength.

We are raising our little Haitians to be global leaders. This international outlook, coupled with the strength of Haitians, will make them proud players on a world playing field. Through their own natural strength, coupled with opportunities we are providing to them, our children shall overcome any obstacles.

I thank our enormously dedicated staff, lead by Jacques Africot and Doris Chernik, Ph.D., and our numerous child sponsors, including H.S.H. Prince Albert of Monaco, Sovereign Prince. This team of committed individuals help the dreams of Orphans International become reality. And allow the nightmares of our children to become their own dreams of Haiti’s future.

– Jim Luce, September 10, Cyvadier Village, Jacmel, South East Province, Haiti

Originally published in OIHaiti.Blogspot, Sept. 21, 2008.

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