PORT-AU-PRINCE — In the middle of a construction site, I lined up the kids in various poses. One stood against an exposed interior wall. One stood against a small tower of rebar. A few stood in the foundation. Two others pressed against a beam.
“Now,” I said, going one by one, “tell me what you are.”
“I’m the freezer!” one hollered.
“I’m the pass-through window!” yelled another.
“I’m the propane burner!”
“I’m the mop sink!”
They laughed with each claim, as if they were appliances come to life in “Beauty and the Beast.” And as they laughed, my chest swelled with joy. We were standing in the middle of a soon-to-be new kitchen.
And we were feeding dreams.
With Thanksgiving now upon us, I realize the most grateful moments of my life are mostly here in Haiti, a place that has the least. But in a place that has the least, a little bit feels like a lot.
And that’s the ground floor of gratitude, isn’t it?
The one constant is your kindness
A little bit feels like a lot. You, the readers of these pieces, alongside hundreds of others who know about our orphanage through visits, media reports, friends, or my books, have done so much to make our children prosper.
I remain amazed — and humbled — by the continuous stream of donations. Someone I once met. Someone who read about our kids. Someone who saw a video.
One act of kindness from a stranger stays with you. But hundreds of acts of kindness? Well, that changes you.
And you all have changed me — and our kids. Thanks to donations from all over the world, the 60 kids we raise here go from starving to eating, from sickness to health, from boredom to engagement, from abject poverty to their own bed, three meals a day and school.
And occasionally, we get to dream even bigger.
So we moved to a new facility, with trees, and open spaces, and no waste facility behind us like we had at the last place.
And now we are building a kitchen from scratch, a place to feed 100 kids and staff members every meal. And before we build it, the kids get to see the dirt, the framework, the wiring, the drainage. They see what goes into a dream.
They are mesmerized.
And for that, I am extremely grateful.
Magic in the moonlight
Thanksgiving is a memory-maker, and a reconnector. To me, that’s its greatest value. I am blessed to have a large Thanksgiving gathering each year — I think we’re pushing 60 people this week — and nine of those 60 will be Haitian kids from our orphanage, seven of them college students, one a college graduate en route to medical school, and one an 11-month old baby girl.
To them, Thanksgiving isn’t an historical event. They didn’t grow up with stories of Pilgrims and Native Americans. They were all born into the harshest of circumstances, where starvation and death were regular visitors.
I wonder sometimes what they must think of our Thanksgiving, watching us gorge ourselves on such a big meal, so many desserts, so many leftovers.
I wonder if they privately say to themselves “That’s enough food to feed my family for a month.” I wonder if they think us terribly indulgent.
But then I’m reminded that they are here, going to college, through the kindness of others, schools, sponsors and donors. They speak English thanks to volunteers who come and teach them in Haiti. They have solid health because of doctors volunteering their time, hospitals waiving their fees, U.S. embassy workers speeding through visas.
I hate to fall on an old cliché, but it really does take a village to raise a child — more than a village, an international community. And somehow we have built that, thanks to you.
And those are the words I want to say. Thanks to you. Thanks to you for the privilege of watching children grow and laugh and pray and love and stand in a construction site pretending they are a freezer, and knowing one day there will actually be a freezer there.
Thanks to you. A million times over. Thanks.