They told us the hike would be around 35 minutes.
It was supposed to be a nice, uphill tread to the top of the hill where the orphanage was built. At the beginning of the hike, we laughed and made light of our adventure.
Being my fourth day in Haiti, I was well aware of the fierce heat and rocky grounds. I knew the trek might be difficult and certainly an experience, but I was not emotionally prepared for the events to come. The uneasiness began only about ten minutes into the trip.
The sun beamed intensely on our faces and sweat drenched our clothes. We complained. We dragged our feet. We stopped time after time to drink from our heavy and inconvenient water bottles. Finally, fatigued and frustrated from the long walk, we arrived at the gates of the orphanage.
Solemness immediately filled the air. Separated from the outside world, the place looked extremely desolate, barren and, surprisingly, quiet. And in turn, our attitudes and our hearts were immediately silenced. In that moment, we became aware of our self-centeredness.
Children whose faces should be radiating joy and innocence, just laid on the stone steps as flies swarmed and the heat intensified. I was shaken. It was a scene which weighed so heavily on my heart, I had to do anything and everything possible to change this situation.
A young boy around the age of ten approached me and sat by me on the steps. His big brown eyes gazed up into mine and the brightest smile began to fill his weary face. Samuel, as he introduced himself, leaned against my shoulder and grabbed for my hand. He just held it and kept squeezing it a little tighter every few minutes.
After a while of sitting and trying to preserve energy in the heat, his sweet face looked desperately at mine and politely motioned for a sip of water. Knowing that the little water I had left would not suffice for every child at the orphanage, I shook my head no.
Not long after that, we learned the two barrels which held their water had been empty for at least a day. Sporadically, a truck will make its way up the hill to deliver water, but the orphanage is never told when they will receive water and it is usually only every 15 days or so. These children had been without water for over 24 hours, and on a good day will be given half of a boiled egg and a handful of spaghetti for dinner. We began handing out a variety of little gifts we brought for them and watched as a few of them argued over a cheap toothbrush.
After distributing the gifts, one need stood out among the rest. These orphans on the hill were still in dire need of water. Of all things, water is something I am always assured will be easily accessible wherever I am. Water is something I would never even think to bring as a gift. Burning on our hearts and knowing it was one of our only options, we all began pouring our water bottles into their mouths. “Ahh” sounds filled the air when the children opened their mouths to receive water. Many of the children held out their little frisbees we had given them to catch the water, as if it was gold.
Unfortunately, our water bottles eventually ran out and the problem remained. The hike back to the village was very different. We were silent. We sobbed. We desired to do something more. The next afternoon, we were able to fill the two barrels. A temporary fix.
After returning to the States, my eyes had seen extreme poverty and my heart had grown close to people 1,830 miles away. My emotions ranged from disappointment at the land of excess I called home to sadness because I missed these people who stole my heart. The realization hit that it was not an option to board a plane to Haiti the next day and never look back.
But, I knew I had to do something.
I began researching fundraising ideas, sharing my experiences and more importantly, opening my heart to friends, family and various adults in my life.
I didn’t allow myself to reside in a state of emotions, but I wanted to spread the news like a virus.
I knew the words of William Wilberforce held true, “Having seen all this you can chose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” The need was obvious and the need was great. I held onto a sliver of hope that the need can be met, if I choose to take action.
Photo Credit: Mary Claire Brock