I've mentioned Renel previously in my blog (He was previously known to me as Raymond...). At that time I wasn't able to paint you the correct picture of Renel (aka Raymond). I hadn't yet come to know him, his name, or just how much I would come to like him.
A friendship we began immediately, in spite of the language barrier. As far as Haitians are concerned he has been blessed. He plays the guitar for the church, eats on a regular basis, and donates to a local orphanage when he is able. Last week, he was kind enough to take me with him to the orphanage.
I didn't know it at the time but he was giving me a different taste of Haiti. I needed some cheering up and Renel knows I love playing with kids. As we are drove down the road we enjoyed semi-bi-lingual small talk. Our conversation died as we exited the patchy main road to dirt. Parking in a little area next to a local water pump he told me we were at an orphanage.
Usually I like to mentally prepare for these sorts of thing. Put up a little mental barrier and imagine bunnies with wings. I don't know why but it helps. No time to prepare, I just walked right in. The compound was paltry: a small classroom, writing on the chalk board that stretched onto the bricks, and a small house, sized for 1 American or 15 Haitians. I smiled faintly as I passed the two boys sitting in the class room. My brain instantly overloaded and I shut down, I was a walking recorder. Rounding the corner I come face to face with the orphans.
They are the shyest kids I've seen in Haiti, and hesitant to greet the goofy blan. At Raymon's suggestion, I began taking photos of the kids. Trepidations at first they stand and watch. The bait is set and I all I need to do is show them the first picture. The silence was replace with laughter and one of the few words I understand “Gade'm Gade'm” (Look at me!). They would wait for me to show them the picture rather than creating a mosh-pit so as to grab at the camera first.
These children were different from any others I've met. They were all leery of being hurt again. In their eyes I could see a tale of pain. The loss of a parent, brothers, sisters, and family to end up in a shelter with a kind stranger. Hunger, not a thing of the past yet less familiar than before. Deep wounds. The pain in their eyes was only a slight distraction from the smiles that sung a song of hope. One child in particular caught my attention.
I don't remember his name but I'll never forget his smile. The picture can not do justice to this smile. He warmed my heart again and reopened my eyes to the beauty around me. Such a small thing yet his smile had a profound affect on me.
As much as I want to say, “I inspired them,” I can't. I walked away from there with renewed hope and a longing to give more of myself to Haiti. After a few minutes we left and my brain slowly started thinking of bunnies with wings.
The orphans are all taken care of by a local pastor who doesn't have the means to take in more. He can hardly sustain the kids he's got and as you would expect relies on charity. Renel gives to them when he can, but for a struggling Haitian musician it isn't much. I remember his exact words, “God has blessed me so I like to give back.” I knew at that moment that Renel was going to be a great friend of mine.
Donations: I hate to give sales pitches so I'll keep it brief. I'd like to start giving the pastor food, clothes, and a couple toys. If you are interested in participating please let me know.