Being ‘always on the move’ makes our kids in Haiti stay healthy

Despite the most basic facilities, our children find creative ways to stay active.
Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom

March 30, 2022

PORT-AU-PRINCE — So how do our kids stay in shape?

American children have soccer, little league, gymnastics, high school sports. They have swim meets and health clubs, football fields and baseball diamonds.

We don’t have any of that, it’s true. But within our cramped, third-of-an-acre rectangle, our kids are hugely active. And I’d dare say they are faster, stronger, and more trim and fit than most of their American counterparts.

So how does that happen? Well. To begin with, we don’t have TV. We don’t have computers. We don’t have iPhones. So sitting on a couch — except to read — is the last thing our kids are interested in.

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Secondly, while some rooms have air conditioners, many do not. And with temperatures usually hovering between 90 and 100 degrees, you don’t want to be inside.

Which brings you outside to our “yard.” It’s not exactly an LA Fitness, but if you look carefully, it has its features.

For example, we have a 50 by 25-foot patch of lumpy concrete. This serves as our soccer field, our street hockey rink or our “tennis court,” depending on what nets or sticks we use. But there is rarely a moment our kids are not engaged in some sport on that slab of concrete, and the games can go for hours.

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‘Round the loop

Then there’s the “loop.’’ That’s what we call walking or running around the perimeter of our facility. And while there are no markings, lanes, or measurements, you do have to navigate potholes, mud, trash barrels, laundry lines and the occasional stray toy. This keeps you on your toes.

Ask J.J. One of our oldest boys (he’s 18 and heading to college next year), J.J. wanted to drop some weight. So he started running every morning with one of our incredible volunteers, Halie Chambers. They run early, before the sun starts baking the pavement. And just by doing that, in six months, J.J. has lost over 40 pounds. He’s trim and slim and ready for university. No membership fee required!

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We also have our own version of a “weight room.” Granted, it’s upstairs, outside, on the roof of the living room, and it’s never gonna rival the Dallas Cowboys training facility.

But it does have a half-broken pulley machine, some loose barbells, a few free weights, a bench with no cushion and this old metal contraption that you can use for chin ups.

And somehow, using this regularly, most of our young men look like a page out of “Ripped!” magazine.

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Basketball on the “court” / Photo credit: Danielle Cutillo Photography

In constant motion

But more than anything, our kids stay fit through perpetual motion. You know those PSA commercials encouraging kids to put in an hour a day of physical activity? They’re definitely not needed here.

As I write this, I look over the railing and see nine kids playing concrete soccer, four kids swinging hula-hoops, two riding bicycles (we only have two bicycles) and one running laps. Most of the rest are racing from one corner to the next, or dashing up the steps, or down the steps, or dancing, or holding hands with the nannies as they walk from spot to spot.

The orphanage is in constant motion. They run from school to music class to dance to the dining room. There’s no snacking between meals (we don’t have any snacks!) and so they eat breakfast, a big lunch and a small dinner at designated times. And while their diet, despite our efforts at full nutrition, still tends a bit towards rice and starches, they burn it off daily, and you’d be hard pressed to find any of the 55 children who you would label overweight.

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J.J.(left) and Appoloste (right) ready to pump. you. up. / Photo credit: Danielle Cutillo Photography

So our kids rate high on the physical fitness scale, and I am amazed at all they can do without breaking a sweat. But the nicest part is, for whatever reason, there’s no vanity in any of this. We have almost no mirrors in our facility. So no one is primping, posing, studying their proportions or taking selfies of their muscles.

The kids are in shape because they lead a life of active, engaged routines, that’s all. They have no idea how beautiful or fit their bodies are in relation to some magazine glamour scale.

What we see when we see them at the end of the day is a group of strong, limber, growing bodies. What we see is health. And health, in this hot and poor country, may be the most beautiful feature there is.

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