Why I’m Going To Haiti
Three weeks from today, I’ll be going to Haiti.
I’m getting on an airplane on Friday morning and coming back to Miami relatively quickly later, on Monday night.
I’m getting on the airplane alone. There, I’ll meet with friends that I’ve connected with over the phone and internet, but have never met in person.
I’m going to Haiti alone.
Yesterday, I sat in a doctor’s office to get some vaccines. Hepatitis A. Typhoid. A tetanus shot, because what do you know–I haven’t had one since I was 12! Whoops.
The doctor and I started shooting the breeze about my trip. At one point he said, “Why Haiti?”
And as I sat there on the uncomfortably papered doctor’s office bed with my legs dangling off the side, I didn’t have to think long for an answer.
“I’m going to Haiti, because when I was a kid, I thought I could change the world. And when I look at Haiti, I see a place that just needs a little bit of help to get back to being the great place that I see when I look at pictures of it. I’m going to Haiti, because now that I’m an adult, I realize what changing the world looks like: Changing the world is about making places better.”
Sometimes I look at how my life has unfolded and I can see so clearly how the paths I’ve traveled down led me certain places.
Some may call it coincidence. Others may call it fate. I call it what I’m supposed to be doing.
This summer, my heart wasn’t in the best of conditions. My heart was burned by a second chance. It was a heart that was unsteady after giving someone a first chance. It was a heart that was prioritizing in the wrong areas, as I spent much of my summer months off from teaching spending my salary. On everything. I didn’t feel like myself. And I knew that I wouldn’t again until I got my heart back.
Towards the end of the summer, in July, I got an email. I get hundreds of emails a day, most of which ask me for something. I scanned it quickly and saw that a Jets player was having a party in New York for his charity and that I was invited. I quickly wrote back that I live in Miami and would be unable to attend.
Later that night, though, for some reason I dug the email out of my trash. I actually slowed down to read it. In the email, I learned that the Jets player was David Nelson and that his charity was unlike any I’ve seen a professional athlete undertake. David had launched an orphanage in Haiti, because he wanted to change a group of people’s lives. For the better.
That night, I wrote the publicist back again. I asked her if I could write a story about the organization for The Huffington Post. Shortly thereafter, I interviewed David and learned more about what I’m Me is doing not just for the children it houses, but for the vast number of Haitian children it serves through its after school program. In our conversation, I heard a plan that was based upon a belief in the worth of other people. I heard a plan that was well-built and sound. I heard a plan that was based on following one’s heart.
Towards the end of our conversation, David said he was looking for sponsors for the nine children I’m Me had begun housing. As it turns out, I’m Me opened up its doors to house children earlier than the organization expected to. This is because one day, David and the I’m Me representatives were called to an “orphanage” to see its conditions. When they arrived, they saw children living in squalor, filth and extreme hunger. They had no choice but to act. And so, they brought the children home. To a place of safety and permanency, and perhaps more importantly, a place of love. That afternoon, I told David I’d sponsor one of the kids. I think neither of us thought much about that comment, but as time went on, that decision would change my life.
Over the course of the next few days, I’m Me began introducing the children in its home to the world, so that they could begin sponsoring them. Every day, I saw beautiful children whose eyes were wide. Some smiled, others didn’t. The stories of some broke my heart to pieces. In their faces, you could almost see them crying out, “Help me.” When I looked at these children, all I could see was a little soul saying, “Just give me a chance.”
Give me a chance to be a kid.
Give me a chance to follow my dreams.
Give me a chance to live out my full potential.
Every one of the children struck a chord in me.
Then, there was Prosper.
This kid. Seriously. When I looked at that little face, I was willing to drain my bank account and hand over whatever David and I’m Me needed to give this kid whatever he needed (or wanted).
I took a step back, though, and started reading about Prosper. He’s 5. He was left at an orphanage by parents who never returned. Even though he looks so joyous in this picture, when David and the I’m Me group found him, he was in a corner alone, sitting downcast. He said that he never had any friends. He showed them scars on his arms caused by children bullying him.
As I read this, my heart wept. No child should have to endure any of this. Childhood isn’t for worries. Childhood is about freedom and fun.
That day, I committed to sponsoring Prosper. At the end of the day, it’s a minor financial commitment. I remembered, though, something I saw when I visited Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthplace. There, I saw a posting that handing someone money doesn’t change the world. Rather, change comes from actually sitting with a person, learning about him and his condition and working through ideas on how to better his situation.
That’s why I’m going to Haiti in three weeks. My commitment to Prosper and his I’m Me friends is deeper than a monthly payment. I want to go to Haiti and see what it’s like. I want to see what resources exist there that can create possibilities for Prosper’s future. I want to learn about the education system to understand what more it might need to ensure that Prosper can become as knowledgeable as possible. I want to meet Haiti’s people and get to know their hearts so that Prosper understands there is a country full of people waiting to be his friend.
I’m going to Haiti, because in my 30 years, I’ve realized this: Change doesn’t happen by sitting on the couch. Change happens when you get up and facilitate it. I have 13 years until Prosper is 18. During that time, I will have donated thousands of dollars to ensure that he is clothed, fed and comfortable. That all will be worthless to me if I haven’t during that time done my fair share of work to ensure that once he leaves the I’m Me home, he can pursue his dreams and live out his full potential. I want him to do as his namesake says: I want him to prosper.
I think about the roads my life has traveled a lot. I try to find a reason in everything. I try to understand how I got here.
These days, I have a greater sense of why I’m in Miami. Miami is as close to Haiti as you can get while being in the United States. And as luck would have it, these days I have a lot of work to do in Haiti.