The found and the forgotten

Two very different fates, and futures, for one grandfather and his grandson.
Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom

September 8, 2021

👋 and welcome to “Life at the Orphanage,” a newsletter about life for the 50+ children of Have Faith Haiti.

This is the tale of two fates.

The first belongs to a little Haitian boy whose name is Archange Chery. He was brought to us a few months ago, when we visited Les Cayes. The man bringing the boy was his grandfather, Pierre Chery, whose fate is the second in this story.

Pierre, a thin man with bags under his eyes, told us the boy’s mother, his daughter, had disappeared shortly after giving birth. The boy’s father was unknown. Pierre had been trying to raise Archange for nearly three years but with seven other people living in a cramped structure in the middle of the woods, the little boy had no chance. There wasn’t enough food or water to go around. He would never be fed well. Never get educated. He was already withering and infested with scabies.

We took him into our orphanage two months ago. Five weeks later, a massive 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti, and hardest hit area was the Les Cayes region, where Archange used to live and where Pierre still does.

At the time of the quake, a Saturday morning, Pierre was in church, attending a funeral for a woman from the community who had died when the baby she was carrying arrived too soon. The child died. The mother died. Then, in a twist of fate that could only be called “Haitian,” during the funeral service, the earth shook and the walls of the church crumbled.

“Everybody ran,” Pierre says. “I ran. The walls were falling. Pieces of rock came down. I tried to pull some people from under the (crushed) walls. Some of them were already dead.”

When he finally made it back to his ramshackle home, “Everything was destroyed. There was nothing left.”

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The collapsed church. Featured image shows the interior.

Had little Archange still been living with his grandfather, there’s a chance he would have been in that structure, or that church, and he might not be alive today.

Instead, as Pierre and the others scraped through the rubble of their flattened home, Archange played innocently in the yard of our orphanage, unaware of the seismic event that shaken his roots forever.

Luck favors the timely in Haiti, and the boy escaped just in time.

The grandfather did not.

A thousand natural shocks

It is this dichotomy that haunts me in Haiti. For nearly 12 years, we have been visiting shattered homes, crushed dwellings, areas devastated by natural disasters, earthquakes and hurricanes. Usually we wind up leaving these places with children. Last weekend, we went to the families who remained.

Because I thought it important that our older kids understand what goes on outside our gates, I brought 12 of them with me over several days. We went to Jeremie and Les Cayes, two of the hardest hit regions in the recent quake. We visited the extended families of the children who are part of ours. It seemed the right thing to do.

In Les Cayes we rented an old car that rattled as it drove and made our way over uneven stony paths that wound through the thickets of trees, until we reached a collection of dwellings. These are places that no one bothers with, places that you can only find if you know someone who lives there. Ramshackle domiciles of tin and metal and cinderblock, many of which — thanks to the earthquake — are now piles of useless debris.

It was here that we found Pierre.

The undiscovered country

“Have you gotten any help from the government?” I asked him.

“No.”

“From any NGO?”

“No.”

“No help from anyone?”

“No.”

The village where Pierre lives is called Edward, named after the grandfather of a resident who had lived and died there decades ago. It is hard to call it a village, as there is no organization to the homes. There is one here, one there, then nothing over a hill, or around a bend, then another structure, then a brown dirt path, then another. Water comes from a communal well. There is no plumbing for toilets or sinks. You use the woods. Toilet paper is a luxury.

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From tarp to tent

You would think fate would leave bad enough alone in such a place. But the earthquake flattened Pierre’s tiny house as if God’s fist itself had come down upon it. We gave him a tent that he set up in the shadow of the rubble. We gave him flashlights, sacks of food, bags of water and other staples. We gave him a solar light. Finally, we gave him a small envelope with some money inside.

He was beyond grateful. He said we were the only people who come to his aid. The only ones who seemed to even acknowledge his existence or the existence of the people he knew by name in their isolated outpost.

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John Carey holds little Archange’s hand. / Photo by Danielle Cutillo / Courtesy of Have Faith Haiti

Meanwhile, Archange played with a soccer ball alongside his 50 new brothers and sisters. He is a round-faced, giggly kid, who is perpetually smiling. When we returned from the long day in Les Cayes, I sought him out, just to observe him. I watched him walking with a three year-old’s waddle. Saw him holding hands with one of our older boys. I wondered if, when he grew up, he would even remember coming here, or where he had been before. I doubt it. Many of our kids ignite their memory banks with their arrival at the orphanage. What preceded that moment is a story someone else tells them.

But they are stories just the same, real ones, hard ones. Before we left the village of Edward, I showed a small video of Archange to his grandfather. In the video, Archange is eating a piece of cake from a paper plate. He licks his fingers to get all the frosting. He looks happy and content, and for a moment, as he watched, the wrinkles lifted from Pierre’s weary brow, and he looked the same.

Two fates. One bloodline. Haiti.

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