This past July marked my 6th trip to Haiti. I’ve been asked by many “why Haiti?” and all I can say is “why not?”. Haiti is not the most glamorous location, it’s not the “in” missions location, and it hasn’t been a top vacation destination for a while now. Haiti is hot. The kind of hot that makes you want to take a shower 5 mins after you walk out the door, with sweat dripping down your back like the slow trickle of a garden hose. And it’s dirty. The smell of trash and urine in some neighborhoods is enough to make a strong stomach turn. But underneath all of it’s dirt and grime, it’s people shine like diamonds in the sun. And among those diamonds are the beautiful faces of it’s children and the children at Zanfan Lakay – the children I’ve come to love so dearly. These are all children who once lived on the streets for one reason or other. Some had caring parents and lived in a nice home before the devastating earthquake of 2010 took it all away. Some had parents who were drug addicts and chose not to care for them. And some had parents who were murdered or passed away from illnesses. Either way, they were left on the streets to fend for themselves, scared and broken, enduring things that no child ever should have to, before Grangou and Jimmy Bonhomme “Papa” rescued them and started Zanfan Lakay. In Haiti, no matter the circumstance of how a child came to live on the streets, they are cast out and looked down upon, not worthy of love or respect. But not with Papa Jimmy. These children are perfect in his eyes.
When arriving at Zanfan Lakay, you are greeted (or more like bombarded) by the rush of 70 plus excited kids, all wanting to hug and kiss you. Many of these kids want to talk with you, even though you may not speak Creole and have no idea what they’re saying, and most are content just sitting and holding your hand. Among these are kids that are extremely intelligent, who speak not only Creole, but Spanish, French, and English. It’s truly mind blowing.
For those reading this and may not know, I’ve traveled to Haiti twice a year for the past 3 years, July & December, with Grangou, the organization in the US that sponsors Zanfan Lakay.
In July, Grangou does 4 days of VBS (vacation bible school) with children from all over Port-Au-Prince Haiti. They come on foot, local Haitian taxis (tap-taps), and by the bus loads. To see them arrive in their ‘Sunday best’ one would not guess that many of them still live in Haiti’s tent cities. They are beyond excited with endless smiles on their faces, as this is the ONLY event like it that most of them will get to do the whole year. This year we had just under 1,100 kids attend.
Among the smiling faces are those of the Zanfan Lakay kids, who usually sit in the first couple of rows, and it’s hard for me not to beam with pride & joy when seeing them.
I arrived in Haiti Monday morning, 1 day later than our team and after the first day of VBS had already started. I quickly changed my clothes and was immediately greeted with hugs by team members from past trips, introduced to the new ones, and quickly pulled into the mix. Our VBS days always start off with singing songs, then a bible story which is followed by more singing, organized (as much as possible) outdoor play, crafts, snacks, followed by more singing, and then the children are given a hot lunch & juice as they exit the doors to go home. This trip was no different.
All 4 days we usually finished up around 1:30 and headed off for various adventures which always included visiting Zanfan Lakay, along with a local orphanage called Maison, or handing out food, clothing, and basic necessities brought by team members to the people who live at the cathedral, the cemetery, or in the streets in an area where many of Zanfan Lakay kids come from known as Zakat. Two evenings went late into the night as we made 600 peanut butter sandwiches for the kids snacks, all the while laughing with one another.
Our team was made up of 20 people from California, Nashville, Texas and Louisiana. Some were first timers, but all bonded quickly and we became an immediate family.
On day 3, we set out to paint the school just down the road from Zanfan Lakay that the 27 younger boys attend. The pastor who runs it has a heart of gold and his school was in desperate need of a face lift inside & out due to the earthquake. Three partial days and 25 gallons of paint later we finished painting and the pastor was beyond thankful.
You see, in Haiti a school or business gains respect and is thought of as legit by how the building looks. Now that it’s painted, his school would be respected in the community, he can hold his head up high, and everyone will know that it was Zanfan Lakay, the ‘street kids’, that did this.
Not all of our days in Haiti were upbeat though. One afternoon we went to visit an orphanage for disable children called Laura’s House to deliver wheel chairs that one team member brought. It’s ran by a God-fearing woman who also has a heart of gold named Laura and it’s home to 10 young children with various disabilities, including 4 with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) that ranged from mild to extremely severe.
The worst of these children was Maggie who is just about to turn 2 years old. I had never seen anything like it and it took my breath away. She was very small and layed on a bed in the middle of the room with her very large head supported by a neck pillow. With the help of an interpreter, Laura told us that it takes 3 people to lift her because of the weight of her head, but also that Maggie loves music. Maggie looked at us with amazement and a bit of fear as we entered the house, every so often pulling down on one eyelid to see us as her skin is stretch upwards so much that her lower lids cover her eyes half way, not allowing her to have complete vision. Most of our team was too afraid to approach her right away and a few walked back outside in tears, but not Kimberley. She immediately walked over, bent down and started singing in Maggie’s ear. Maggie smiled, raised her hands with joy and started moving them back & forth as this is her way of dancing. Once we saw this, our worship leader Doug grabbed his guitar and most of us took turns singing and dancing with Maggie. If Maggie had been born in the states, she would have had the surgery needed to correct her condition. But she lives in Haiti, most likely given up by her parents because they couldn’t afford to take care of her or because of the fact that in Haiti disabilities are looked upon as a curse. Either way, dear Laura does what she can to care for Maggie and make her feel comfortable.
That day our hearts were filled with Joy, and a lot of aching, as we got to know and love on Laura’s children. There’s no telling how much time Maggie has on this earth, but when she does go to be with the Lord, we know for sure that she will be made whole and will dance for eternity.
There was more joy to be found from our visit to Laura’s house. On our last day in Haiti, a 5 yr old boy named Cheggins (Che) that Laura cares for was released to go live at Zanfan Lakay. Che has one clubbed foot and one leg that was been amputated about 4″ below the knee and gets around by walking on both knees. He was very shy when he first met us but that didn’t last long. We could see that other than his disabled legs, Che was mentally just like any other 5 yr old child and it was clear to all that he needed to be in a home with other kids that he could interact and play with. It didn’t take one bit of convincing to get Papa Jimmy and Laura to agree. Che was greeted by all of his new brothers and sisters at Zanfan Lakay with excitement and immediate acceptance as he smiled from ear to ear. Another thing to know about Zanfan Lakay is that it’s a home full of music. Many of them play various instruments and we are often blessed with a special performance by them. During one of our visits to Laura’s House, Che sat on Doug’s lap, grabbed ahold of his guitar like it was natural to him, hands in perfect position, and he strummed away. Che is a definite fit for Zanfan Lakay!
My trips to Haiti are always filled with joy and a bit of heartache, each time having different circumstances, but I know for sure that I have what’s known as the ‘Haiti bug’ and can’t ever imagine not returning. These children, and moments like all of these, make me feel blessed and give me a deeper appreciation for life, the things that I have, and the road that God has planned for me. I can’t thank anyone for being able to serve in Haiti like I do but God, and you – my supporters. I pray that you too get the Haiti bug and the desire to learn more about this wonderful country and the beautiful children who call it home.