While waiting at the new Haiti office of World Relief (the former one collapsed in the quake), the initial HORT assessment team watched a few children from the adjacent King's orphanage play basketball with a tennis ball. When their hero Theo (a youth pastor on our team) retrieved a flat basketball from a nearby roof, the children were elated – excited to have a regular-sized ball, albeit a punctured one.
Theo is a big guy anyway but, in comparison to the small kids, he towered over them like a giant. Wanting the children to experience the pleasure and thrill of a dunk, he lifted them up into the skies so they could plant the ball directly into the net. He used his power and position to help them fly. They scored the points with their own deflated ball. But they needed a little boost from a strong neighbor.
As the children ran and jumped on the cracked court, their country limped around them, trying to find the will and resources to go on after the air was violently squashed out of it.
According to a report by Inter-American (Latin America's main development bank), the Haiti earthquake is "the most destructive (natural disaster) a country has ever experienced when measured in terms of the number of people killed as a share of the country's population." From a property standpoint, the same report stated that "damage from Haiti's catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake may be twice the value of the country's annual economy," which was approximately $7 billion in 2008. Haiti was already the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The devastating earthquake hit Haiti's main political, business and population center, taking hundreds of thousands of lives and billions in assets . . . and leaving an already weak country further stripped of life and economy.
The children who played basketball in front of us have similarly been robbed of life and economy, having lost parents and providers. But, at that moment, they were simply boys and girls with a ball.
As the buildings came down all over the city, playgrounds were crushed, soccer fields were filled with rubble, and toys were interred under tons of concrete. Sure, those seem like really petty things to note in the grand scheme of things but, to a child in need of healing and forgetting, the lack of play, and the natural therapy it brings, adds to the damage of an already-suffering soul.
Much like the resourcefulness of Haiti's adults pounding away at recyclables, the children are doing their best to not be robbed of childhoods by making toys and memories out of trash piles. This sort of thing already occurred daily in pre-quake Haiti, but is now much more evident. An empty bottle with two twigs stuck to it was a UN relief helicopter soaring through the air, bringing hope to the people. Bound up plastic bags became a soccer ball driven into the net for Haiti's first World Cup victory. Paper cups in an open sewer trench were gleaming white yachts heading out to turquoise waters.
The most enduring images for me, though, are of countless Haitian children standing atop mounds of debris while piloting kites made from sticks and plastic retrieved from gutters and smoldering dump sites. It seemed everywhere we turned, there they were – standing on a flattened building with kites reaching well beyond the structure's original height; balancing on crushed concrete heaps to get an extra initial lift; climbing onto the remains of their country while dreaming of new heights.
Kite flying has always been popular in Haiti, and throughout much of the Caribbean, especially around Easter time. The April winds provide fuel for flight. And the significance of the season reminds the kite flyer of new hope and resurrection. The Creole words for kite flying, Monte Kap, actually translate into being "raised up," and it's rumored that the Easter tradition of flying kites was first started in the Caribbean during the colonial period when a priest used it as an illustration for Christ's rising from the tomb. Even though Easter is still over a month away, these children already yearn for the raising up of their nation. Their kites are the symbol of their longing and hope.
Early in the deployment of the initial HORT assessment team, Theo led us in a devotion using the first few passages of Isaiah 40, which begins:
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God."
Theo used the verses to underscore that, in the midst of such human suffering, comfort is only found in God. Afterwards we all prayed as a team and I recited the end of the Isaiah 40 chapter in the closing prayer (verses 28 -31):
"Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."
This is my prayer for Haiti and for the children of Haiti – that God would give strength to those who currently have no might; that the faint, weary, exhausted people of Haiti will be renewed by God, through His church; that God would use us, as stronger neighbors, to give them the initial lift they need to find victory in the sad game that's playing out before them; and that God will have them stand upon the rubble and, like the kites of hope and resurrection, soar like eagles.
Will YOU help? – www.HaitiOrphanRelief.org
The Haiti Orphan Relief Team (HORT) can be found on Facebook.
Abandoned-Orphaned is the personal blog of Paul Myhill, President of World Orphans. Subscribe to the blog in the upper right-hand corner of the home page. Paul can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @paulmyhill.