I’ve visited at least a dozen or so orphanages throughout Europe, Mexico, and S. America. The one we went to yesterday wins the award as the worst orphanage I’ve ever experienced.
Honestly, I don’t know what I was expecting - maybe a simple concrete structure with dormitory style rooms, a large meeting room, small kitchen, etc – you know, a basic setup to take care of all the needs of children. That would have been heaven for these kids. Instead, they had one strip of a concrete shell divided into rooms, except the rooms had no doors, most had no roofs, and most of the walls were missing chunks of bricks. If you ever visited old castle or monastery ruins, picture those…except surrounded by trash and green overgrowth, and inhabited by children ages 4 – 15. No electricity. No plumbing. No kitchen (except for an outdoor fire pit with two bowls and a pot).
Right now there are 25 children sharing 2 tiny rooms. Each room has 5 cots (the size of twin bed mattresses). Small shirts and pants hang on a single line strung across the wall. Clorox bleach bottles fill the spaces under the cots. One room has a microwave stuffed full with papers, a plate, and a spoon. But the children are proud of their space. As I walked into the rooms, they would run in with me, smiling ear-to-ear and eager to show me the few things they do possess…a toy made from string and bottle top, a pair of craft Styrofoam glasses made with the last mission group to visit, their dogs that roam about the grounds and sometimes get “trapped” in their rooms (kids are still kids…bringing home strays :)
Next to the bedrooms are two rooms that serve as classrooms during the school year. Thin, cheap chalkboards lean against the gray walls. A few wooden chairs sit scattered in the corners. One room has 2 desks. It’s hard to believe this placed is used as a school. There’s nothing there. And the worst part…this is the only school for many many miles. For some of the people in the mountains, the children travel 6 hours to come to this school. In Haiti, there is no free education. All schools, even the government schools, require families to pay for the children to attend…sometimes up to $2,000 U.S. Dollars per year. I’m not sure how much this “school” charges, but people pay. Not only do many of the schoolchildren just attend the school, they live there as well. When school’s in session, there can be up to 150 – 200 children staying on the “orphanage” grounds. 10 cots will not sleep 150 kids…so they sleep wherever they lay down.
The orphanage is located in one of the mountain regions, on the outskirts of a small village, which also has no running water and sparse electricity. Although a water well has been built in the town, the land owners on which the well is located, charges villagers to buy the water. The main water sources are the streams that run from the mountains. They dig irrigation tunnels to help stream the water. On our drive in we witnessed a variety of activity at these streams…a group of women bathing, children gathering water for their families, a few families washing clothes, and the animals getting something to drink. For the orphans, these streams are off-limits. For whatever reason, the villagers refuse to let the children gather water from these streams, so they must walk 45 minutes into the mountains to get water. Remember the clorox bottles under the beds? They serve 2 purposes…when empty, they’re used to carry water. The remaining bleach is used to treat the water they bring back to make it drinkable.
This place is basically child exploitation and slavery. The Owners have received thousands upon thousands of dollars in donations (not including the school tuition money) to improve the condition of the orphanage. Even GCOM sent a couple of thousand of dollars and new shoes just a few weeks ago. The new shoes were nowhere on the grounds, the children wore old shoes or flipflops. As for the money… no one knows…but the director took a vacation to America with her husband this week…(not accusing her of stealing the money or the donations…but where is everything that’s been given? And why are the kids still suffering in horrid conditions when the owners are traveling abroad and building/expanding a lavish house?)
Once over the initial shock and horror at the orphanage conditions, we set up the clinic and treated all the orphans plus over 175 village men, women, and children. We also were able to feed them and pass out donations of clothes, baby products, and toiletries. Despite the conditions, I personally thought this was the best day of ministry…but, I have a special reason…
One of the best activities you can do with children on a mission trip or outreach is to make “Salvation Bracelets”. These simple-to-make bracelets use colored beads to tell the salvation message. I set up the director’s office as a craft room and held mini-classes for about 6 children at a time. We talked about the different colored beads and about Jesus. I asked questions and then answered their questions. I was so blessed to hear the children’s knowledge of Jesus. Most of them were already Christians, but not all. After the class was over, I pulled aside the ones who admitted they were not Christians, and had the opportunity to speak more personally about Jesus with them. In the end, 2 boys chose to accept Christ as their Savior and Lord! I asked lots of questions to make sure they understood what they were doing and why. I told them that this had to be their decision, and if they weren’t ready, they didn’t have to pray….but they thought about it and said that this is what they wanted!
One boy, Bobo (age 11), touched me deeply. His parents practice Voodoo. He remembers attending a local Christian church when he was little, but they never go now and his parents don’t talk about Jesus. As we talked about his family and how they might react if he becomes a Christian, I could see by his facial expressions that he was truly thinking about what he wanted to do. When I asked him, “Are you sure you want to do this now?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes. I want to ask Jesus into my heart.” After we prayed, we talked about how it may not be easy for him, but he needs to try to learn as much as he can about Jesus…read the Bible, pray, talk with his christian friends about God, and go to church when he can. Once again, he turned his big eyes towards mine and asked, “Can you please pray that I can get some church clothes? I want to go to church, but I don’t have any clothes nice enough for church?” As sad as that request was, I rejoiced. It showed me the heart of a young boy who truly has a new heart to serve and grow in his relationship with God.
As with all the days, we all have heartbreaking stories from this experience. But through it all, we rejoice because God IS working there…He is revealing himself to these children and they have a strong faith in Him. It’s that faith, when they grow out of their childlike innocence into an adult realization of how horrible their earthly circumstances are, that will sustain them.