Nov. 15, 2010, 8:36 p.m.
What sticks with me today are images more than narratives –- snapshots, literally, of lives we’re only beginning to know.
(By the way, as I write this, an impromptu choir has formed in the room of the innkeeper, Franchette. She had hernia surgery last week, a couple of days before we arrived; and she’s been in bed most of the time since we’ve been here. Now, a group of friends, probably from her church nearby, is gathered around her, praying and singing, in Kreyol, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Even if it weren’t a church group, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary in this country to hear people singing hymns in the hallway of a public building.)
I spent the day at Maniche with Vanessa taking photos of the students and interviewing them, through an interpreter, about some of the basics of their young lives: name, age, number of brothers and sisters, whether they live with their parents or someone else, how long it takes them to walk to school, and whether they’d come into the community recently, fallout from the January earthquake. We talked with all 147 kids at the school today (the enrollment is 161). Here are a few snapshots:
• Fabien Exantus is in the earliest preschool class. He’s 4 years old, and his grandmother brought him to Maniche from Port-au-Prince after his mom was killed in the earthquake. (We didn’t hear anything about his father.)
• Miguel Prospira is in 2nd grade. He’s 12 years old and lives with his sister after his parents died in the earthquake. He walks two hours each way to go to school.
• Vilant Adme is 16 years old and in 5th grade. He lives with his parents, who struggle to provide not only for him but for his six brothers, and four sisters, too. He walks an hour each way to go to school.
Of course, there are also many kids we talked with today whose lives are more “normal” than these three. But even “normal” is getting harder than it had been in Haiti. Kathy, the physician, is noticing signs of malnutrition more frequently than we saw last year, particularly in the orange tint to the children’s black hair, a sign of protein malnutrition. And this is despite the fact that we serve a high-protein lunch each day at our school. The supply of food in the country following the earthquake is even lower than usual, which drives the prices up and out of range for many of our school’s families.
So, part of our mission here is tending to the physical well-being of the kids. And toward that end, Kathy went out with Colbert networking with local health-care providers to arrange care for the kids at our school, charged to us. She found an office of the National Health Service about a mile away from the school (an easy walk for the kids here), which will serve as a referral facility for the “nurse” at our school. This is a good moment to remember that the root of salvation, in Greek and Latin, means “healing.” That’s what God is about, on every level we can imagine (and more).
While all this was going on, Chris the urban planner was teaching geography to the 5th and 6th grade students. His lesson was about aerial photography and mapping, and he brought the kids aerial maps of their school and community, as well as toy planes to illustrate what he meant by “airplane.” Then Chris took the classes on a walk to find points marked on the maps. The amazing thing to me wasn’t just that they understood what he was talking about (for the most part), but that they were not blown away by the concepts of airplanes or aerial photography. You never know what people here will already know about. After all, the entire country is connected by cell phones, which get reception even in a place as remote as Maniche....
We also had our parent meeting today, with about 100 parents showing up after we made the invitation at a grand total of 12 houses. Kathy talked about hygiene practices for cholera prevention, the need for parents to support their kids’ educations by encouraging them to do their homework, and the need for parents to volunteer as “disciplinarians” at Saturday study sessions offered by the headmaster. Several parents said they were interested, and she got one man to coordinate volunteers. It’s not exactly the PTA, but it’s an idea whose time may have come here.
In our theological reflection tonight, we talked about God’s mission in the world and the remarkable truth that we are participants in it when we allow ourselves to be sent on missional assignments (like going to work or the club, as well as going to Haiti). That’s a hard truth to accept because it can smack of arrogance: “Who am I to be doing God’s work in the world, and what if I’m imperfect in executing it?” And hearing that response, God smiles and says, “Perfection is never the goal. If I’d valued that most, I’d never have given you free will. The goal is faithfulness, and nothing more. The rest you can leave to me.”