By Ron Wozny
This past February I was fortunate enough to share a trip to Haiti with several members of our parish. Since this was the second trip I had taken to Haiti, I felt prepared for what I might experience. What I found, however, is that God has a way of opening our eyes to things He wants you to see.
As a “veteran” pilgrim I felt I had a good sense of the poverty of Haiti. Then we pulled into Cite Soleil, a slum of the capital Port au Prince. The houses were small shacks with tin roofs lining narrow streets of open sewers. The faces that looked back at us were faces of hunger and despair. Thousands of people live in this slum built on a flood plain. As we drove through the streets witnessing these horrific conditions, none of us could speak. My previous trip could not prepare me for this.
We arrived at our destination, a school run by Food for the Poor (FFP). Behind its high fences were three buildings where some of the luckiest children in Cite Soleil attend school. When we pulled in to the property, the gates closed behind us. We were in a safe haven to visit the children attending class.
We pilgrims crowded into three classrooms. I saw some of the most beautiful children I have ever seen. I was overcome with emotion as I headed to another classroom at the other end of the building. I poked my head in the door and a young girl, 2 or 3 years old, ran to me from her chair. She grabbed my leg and hugged it tightly. I knelt down and she looked at me with bright eyes, then hugged me tight around the neck. I thought of my own children, Emma and Ben, and how blessed we are. Tears were in my eyes when I said, “Thanks, I really needed that!”
Back outside, walking to the next building, I was drawn to look at the gates where we entered. There were twenty or so children and adults clambering on the fence, peering in to see what was going on. They were behind the barrier that meant the difference between despair and a fighting chance. My eyes settled on a little boy, wearing no clothes, his belly round and bloated, his hair orange, a sure sign of starvation. He is forever emblazoned on my mind. I will never forget that scene or their desperate faces.
We entered another building where a woman was teaching young mothers about nutrition….quite a concept since some mothers must feed their children dirt to keep their tiny bellies full. As the woman spoke, Philippe, our host from FFP
translated: “She’s hungry… she’s hungry….she’s hungry” pointing to each woman in the class. “we are all hungry. Please, when you return to your homes, don’t forget us.”
I don’t know how anybody could. Believe me, I won’t.