Written by Kaitlin Keyes, Manager at The Human Bean.
To say that my time spent in Haiti was “so fun” and it was a “good trip” is not far from the truth. But it is also an understatement. Haiti was so much more than that. So much more than those cliché answers everyone is waiting to hear.
Coming back from Haiti, I felt like I was in some sort of foggy funk. I was exhausted both physically and mentally. Physically, we had just spent five days going, going, going, in the unforgiving heat of the sun, in a different time zone, and keeping up with over 60 children who have an uncanny ability to never run out of energy. Mentally, we had just witnessed some of the most disturbing realities that are prevalent in third world countries, even more so in the poorest country in the world. There was a severe lack of any sort of stable structures, garbage dumped not only in the shadows, but everywhere alongside the road, in the road, and in the water. We saw what hunger looks like, we saw what poverty looks like, we saw what the lack of medical resources looks like.
A big part of why the orphanage at Desire exists is to eliminate some of the harsh realities for those kids that a lot of other Haitians face on a daily basis. The kids at the orphanage are provided with those basic necessities that allow them to live. They are fed, they are washed, they are educated, they have friendships, they are loved. These are the things we take for granted that these kids had to have something devastating happen to them in order to have.
Despite the heartbreaking realities we saw, there was an unquestionable look of hope in the eyes of those children. Despite having nothing, these kids have everything. They have found what most of us are still looking for. A way to look past the hardships and pain, and instead, choose to be thankful, to be content, to be joyful, and to thrive.
It’s not always an easy feat to create your own happiness in the midst of suffering and struggles. And yes, these kids fit the “poor but happy” stereotype, but these kids still also experience great sadness regarding the reality of their lives. The general population in Haiti is genuinely miserable what with all the suffering, abuse, and injustice that goes along with that level of poverty. It is something that affects everyone. But, the story doesn’t have to end there. In the midst of the daily atrocities, they can find hope, love, and redemption. And this is what I found while visiting the orphanage. This is what I realized after spending five days with orphans. This is what two special little girls, Guerlanda and Nimrode, taught me.
Guerlanda… a feisty 11-year-old who is stubborn as all get out, but has the best and most infectious smile I have seen in possibly all of my life. Like any other pre-teen girl, she likes to gab with her girlfriends, she picks on the boys, and she isn’t the biggest fan of playing sports like baseball or soccer. What sets Guerlanda apart from the others is her intense loyalty. When I think of Guerlanda I am reminded of the first time we met. It was Friday and we had just arrived at the orphanage. I was the last one off the bus that afternoon. The group and all of the children slowly dispersed throughout the courtyard. There was one little girl left waiting patiently for someone to claim her. She stood staring up at the windows of the bus with big, curious eyes. As I made my way down the steps, she immediately leaped into my arms. She held on with an incredible tightness. It didn’t occur to me what that first meeting really signified until the following day when I stayed back on the bus for a few minutes after everyone else had exited to update my journal. Looking up from my writing, I looked out the window and saw a single little girl looking up at me, smiling in anticipation. It was Guerlanda. She was waiting for me. She remembered me… For the next five days, I would be “her person”, and she would be mine. She would fight for me, for my attention and to keep my belongings safe. It didn’t matter that I was a stranger who didn’t even speak her language. She accepted me. She respected me. We were inseparable.
Nimrode… a kindhearted, 14-year-old girl who is wise beyond her years. She is the girl that our company sponsors. Our sponsorship provides Nimrode with basic necessities like education, hygiene needs, medical care, food to eat, and shelter. In the short time I was there, I had the opportunity to get to know a truly remarkable girl. Being “older”, she is the one that the younger kids go to for help, for nurturing, to be looked after and loved. She wasn’t always hanging around with the other children, or even her friends because she was preparing food, washing dishes or clothes, or holding onto a little one. She has been forced to grow up faster than most other girls her age. She has taken on a motherly role while still being a child herself. She has made sacrifices that you and I have never had to make at this point in our lives. She is not an outspoken person, and tends to be rather reserved and more of an observer, but when she does speak, it is with purpose. The effect she has on her peers is noticed right away. They listen to her, they wait for her approval, and they are pleased with themselves when they receive a warm smile from her. I experienced this same satisfaction of gaining her approval a few days after first meeting her. Connecting with Nimrode posed a far bigger challenge than I was expecting. The first day there was a quick introduction, after that, a couple random run-ins, and then almost no sightings of her for the next three days. My anxiety grew and I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I had come to do. It wasn’t until the day before our last day there that I got an unexpected, yet pleasant surprise. Nimrode found me in the morning as we were waiting to start an English lesson. She came and sat down next to me, placed her arm around my shoulders, and smiled at me. In that moment I felt my worries melt away as my heart melted at the feeling of being accepted by her finally. Our time to cultivate a friendship was short, but we didn’t waste any time in getting to know each other. We talked and we played. She invited me into her circle of friends and let me participate in her favorite game, Marel (hopscotch). She told me about her favorite subjects to study in school, which are math and social sciences. She loves jazz music and the color cream. Her and her best friends, Mirlande, Guerlanda, Soinise, and Modelene, enjoy playing games and talking about what they want to be when they grow up. Nimrode wants to work in one of the local banks as an administrator. Having visited the city of Gonaives a few times, she has seen these people working at the bank and admires how smart, well dressed, and put together they are. She wants to be just like them.
Nimrode has the ability to make anyone feel at ease with her kind eyes and big heart. Her character is strengthened by her honesty and compassion. She was the teacher, and I was the student in this instance. Befriending Nimrode instilled a sense of worth in me. She built my confidence up. She encouraged a feeling of purpose. She made me feel beautiful. All of this, from a child, is truly remarkable and inspirational.
These girls, and the rest of the orphanage, undoubtedly left a great impact on me. They have suffered. They struggle daily. Their bright and curious eyes mask an underlying sense of sorrow that may never go away. Yet, their story hasn’t ended yet. Despite all the odds that are against them, they still thrive.
Throughout my travels, I have always found that the places I go and the people I meet have always impacted me in some way. After Haiti, this feeling was the strongest it has ever been. I was no longer just a visitor in a country sharing in a new culture, but rather a part of it, partaking in a bigger role than I realized. I was a part of something bigger.
The orphans of Desire taught me some valuable life lessons. They were shining examples of what it means to be loyal, to have patience, to forgive, and to be joyfully content. These children may have lacked materialistic things, but they were far from being short of having a surplus of happiness and thankfulness. They have hopes and dreams for themselves and their friends. They have potential that cannot be forgotten simply because of their unfortunate circumstances.
The greatest thing I learned from my trip to Haiti is that no matter where you are in this world, we are all the same. We are all one. The orphans of Desire want the same things. They want to know they are worthy of friendship, worthy of love. Just like you and me.
Manager at The Human Bean
Please note, we will be hosting Kaitlin as a Guest Barista in Fort Collins at our Midtown stand on Thursday, June 9 and in Evans on Thursday, June 23 to raise money and supplies for Nimerode’s orphanage in Haiti.
Most needed supplies include:
Toothbrushes & Toothpaste
Mini First Aid Kits
Antiseptic cream (neosporin)