Did you ever look out your window and see your family there, playing or running through the sprinklers? Did you ever take stock of your loved ones in a noisy moment around the Thanksgiving table, eyeing them all together in one setting?
Here we are. For years I had these “inventory” moments at the orphanage, standing on the second level balcony from which I could see the entire expanse of our cramped, third-of-an-acre facility. If the children and staff were outside, I saw them all, from east to west, north to south, gathered under my watchful gaze. In those moments, I had a feel for the totality of the place, what we lacked, sure, but mostly what we had. Standing there, taking it all in, felt good. It felt…satisfying.
Times change. This morning, I tried to take stock of “where we are” and realized our little orphanage has spread out in so many ways. It covers more land. It covers more settings. It covers more countries!
It starts, of course, with the dormitories on our new facility, where the kids now wake up. Where we once had all the boys in one room and all the girls in another, we now have divisions: youngest, middle, oldest, boys, girls, eight rooms, multiple nannies.
Our live-in “staff” used to be a few people sleeping where the kids slept. Now we have multiple nannies, nurses, volunteers, administrative staff — many of whom have to sleep in our facilities because the streets are too dangerous to travel back and forth.
It’s not possible to see everyone from a single balcony or window anymore, because the new place is expansive compared to where we were, and at any given moment the kids might be exploring trees, or running on our makeshift “lawn,” or in the school building, or the kitchen, or doing a nature walk.
Here we are.
Family in Michigan
Then I think about our “extended” orphanage, which tentacles itself to America, beginning with our home in Michigan.
This is where you find Knox, 11, Ziggy, 5, and Nadie, 10 months, all here for various medical treatments. They bundle up in winter clothes they never would use in Haiti, they travel freely to doctors and rehab centers, they enjoy an occasional trip to a frozen yogurt store.
But they still pray before every meal, the same words the kids in the Mission pray, and they still study their lessons during “school time” in the house, and they can’t wait to get back to Haiti this weekend and shed the coats and the boots and run freely with their brothers and sisters.
Then there’s the college kids, seven of them, spread across two campuses, Madonna University in Livonia and Hope College in Holland. There, our kids are plowing through their studies. They call or visit regularly, and this week I heard from a number of them with their midterm grades. Almost all A’s. That’s incredible, when you think about the culture shift they had to endure just to reach their first day on campus. New environment. New laws. New weather. New food.
“Yeah,” said Kiki, who had a single B+ in his psychology class, “but I want to have all A’s. I’m going to get up earlier to study.”
These kids have adapted better than we have a right to expect, making friends, participating in campus activities. But they still can’t wait to Facetime the kids back in Haiti, and when they do, it’s a raucous, laughing, shouting exchange, teenagers simply giddy with the excitement of reuniting, even over a computer.
Family home in Haiti
Then there’s the 11th “ex-pat” of our orphanage, Manno (Emmanuel) who takes the bar the furthest. He graduated Madonna last June with the highest honors and a 4.0 grade point average, and while he is now applying to medical school, he is working for the year as a medical scribe.
He lives with us as his own man, earning his own money, arranging his own way. For all intents and purposes, he is a responsible adult in an adopted country. But his dream, as soon as it’s possible, is to return to the orphanage as a pediatrician and take care of those who never had access to such a doctor before.
Here we are. In four different locations, two different countries, various classrooms, various bedrooms. The orphanage that used to fit in a glove is now growing, thriving, opening its palms and reaching to the skies.
In the very first installment of this series, I wrote that we needed to move. And now, a year and a half later, we finally have — but it’s just the start. We need help desperately to build essential areas like a kitchen, a church, a living room, a music room, security facilities. Our costs, like all costs in the world, have skyrocketed. But juxtaposed against Haiti’s current backdrop – gangs that terrorize and murder, politicians that manipulate and don’t care, essential services that shut down at all times of the week, a populace trapped between frustration and desperation — well, those costs seem almost insurmountable.
The money that was raised by this newsletter on Bulletin went directly to help our orphanage. And now, just as our kids have shifted, this format shifts. Bulletin itself will soon go away. But we are taking this newsletter to havefaithhaiti.org, where I will continue to share our joys and triumphs and challenges while we – with your help — continue to build up our new home. There are more stories to tell, and so much work to be done. [**More on the changes to the newsletter, and what this means for your subscription below**]
Our story, like our kids, is shifting location, but it is nowhere near over. I hope those of you who, through these pieces, have grown attached to the Have Faith Haiti Orphanage, will retain the first two words of our name as we move forward. That way, when we look out at our precious children and ask that take stock question — Where are we? — the answer will be here, there, and, with you, everywhere.