Our family’s trip to Haiti with the Global Orphan Project
This post is part 1 in a two-part series, highlighting my reflections on our family’s trip to Haiti.
The city I saw as we drove from the airport toward our inn wasn’t what I had expected . . . and yet somehow it was just what I had expected. I’d never been to a developing country before, but my first glimpses of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, looked just like the pictures you see in newspapers and magazines. Concrete walls with barbed wire lining the tops. Small specialty stands beside the road. Skinny dogs, cows, goats, and pigs roaming the side roads, eating from garbage heaps. People milling the streets, some just sitting with their backs to the walls, staring into space.
Traffic was impassable to all but the brash motorcycles carrying one or two passengers each. The parliamentary elections were in just three days, and the president had made a visit to this part of the city, resulting in four lanes of cars trying to drive down a two lane road. When we reached the inn where we would be staying, we were tired, sweaty, and beyond grateful for the air conditioning unit in our room.
The next morning, we dove right into our schedule of planned activities, making the two and a half hour drive to Central Haiti (which turned into a three and a half hour drive, due to traffic) to an orphanage run by one of the GO Project’s church partners. As our bus drove up the dusty mountain road and through the people-lined streets of a mountain town, I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers, and prayed we wouldn’t hit anyone.
When we reached the orphanage, we were swarmed with tiny grasping hands and raised arms. We could hardly get off the bus without stepping on small feet. Within seconds each of us had three or four little ones attached to us, and minutes later, any neatly braided or tied back hair had been taken down to be played with and re-braided.
Then phones were discovered. As three little girls looked through my photos, they stopped on one of my family from our vacation a week before. They looked at it for a moment, then at my sister sitting a few yards away, and made questioning gestures. I asked our translator for the Creole word for “sister.”
“Sè,” he told me.
“Oh, sè!” the girls said, recognizing the word. Together, we sorted through the rest of my family members in the picture, with me learning the words for brother (fre), mother (manman), and father (papa). I pointed to each member of my family where they stood in their spots around the courtyard, and the girls smiled, nodding excitedly when I said “manman” or “papa.”
Only a few hours after we arrived, we prepared to leave this first orphanage, and our trip leader gathered the children together to talk to them. “We came all the way from the United States to meet you,” he said. “We heard that God was doing something amazing in you. So whenever people tell you you’re not important, don’t listen to them. You tell them, ‘I have a Father, and He loves me.’” I held two little girls on my lap and prayed they were listening.
However, when we left and began our drive back to Port-au-Prince, I didn’t feel particularly emotional. I had thought I might—that was what I was supposed to feel, right? I was supposed to be heartbroken at leaving those kids. I was supposed to want to take them home with me and feel terrible that I couldn’t.
But I arrived back at the inn, thoughtful but not sad, and more grateful than usual for family and cold showers. We sat on the breezy rooftop and talked with our travel group, awarding each other beads for acts of risk, leadership, compassion, or service we had witnessed that day. Some members of our group began talking about mental snapshots from the day or specific children they had met who had touched their hearts. I listened quietly, unsure what to add. My snapshots weren’t especially memorable—a lake seen through the bus window, a girl sweeping outside her home, dark eyes watching us drive by.
The next day we visited two more orphanages, and it was interesting to see the contrast. The last place we visited had a large school associated with it and more people to care for the children. You could see the difference. The kids there knew more English and were more independent, less needy of our attention. That night we visited the home of the manager of our inn and met his family. His seven children, some biological, some adopted, nodded shyly when they were introduced, but not one of them came to hug us or sit on our laps. They already had the love they needed.
That night, as we were debriefing, several members of our team shared what they had been learning from God the past two days. We’d been told God had something He wanted to teach each one of us during the trip, and that statement certainly seemed to be proving itself true. But when our trip leader asked me what I was thinking, I drew a blank. No profound lesson seemed to have been pressed into my mind yet, so I deferred, saying I was an internal processor who probably wouldn’t have coherent thoughts to share for at least a week (which is true—it’s been two weeks now, and I’m only just forming complete thoughts about the experience).