I found myself in a circle of girls listening to their stories. I locked eyes with one who wasn’t part of our group and signaled for her to join us. She was a bit older than the rest, and she was even more reserved. When she finally spoke, she asked me where I lived. I told her I lived in New York City, and they were all fascinated by my response. She continued, “If you live in New York, why are you here?” I told her I came to spend time with her and all the other kids. She looked both surprised and reluctant. Then she smiled, and replied, “But why?” There were so many reasons I decided to join Fleur De Vie on that trip, but all I could muster was, “Because I wanted to see your smiles in person.” They all looked at each other confused, and burst out laughing. They didn’t believe me. They didn’t even know who I was, but they liked me enough.
It wasn’t long before my intimate moment with the girls, I stood under my tent, hot, frustrated and defeated, looking at a sea of red t-shirts. It was midway through the day, and by that time, I had already lost my voice. I was tired and overpowered in a field of chaos. The night before I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited to meet the children.
We got on the road around 7 AM and arrived at the field after an hour of driving to unfold hundreds of chairs and find of a designated spot for all the backpacks that we arranged a few days before the event. We fixed and organized the different tents based on the day’s activities. I was in charge of the “Health” tent where nurses and doctors provided free health screening for each kid. My job was to keep the kids entertained as they waited for their turn. I was given several kits of face painting materials, which I distributed to some of the local Haitian volunteers to break open.
The day’s itinerary was to provide medical checkup , food, and back to school supplies for all the children. We thought the best way to promote education would be through a recreational day and to let them just who they are, kids. They arrived in groups by vans and buses, chaperoned by either their teacher or principal.
From the very beginning, it was hard to get the kids to follow simple directions. To get the groups to line up, pick up a t-shirt, and wait for the next announcement required a lot of work and patience. About five participating schools made it, which included over 500 students.
After a few hours of yelling and screaming for order, I stood in the middle of the tent and started to look around. What I envisioned prior to my trip, turned out to be complete opposite. I wasn’t hugging and dancing with the children. They didn’t even get my humor most of the time. They were also very different from the kids in Dufailly. These kids were from Port-au-Prince, and they were tougher, and louder. It was harder to keep their attention or gain their trust.
It took me longer than fifteen minutes to get a group of twelve children to line up. They were running around, dancing, screaming, and pushing each other to be first in line. And instead of a straight line, I ended up with a cluster of kids looking up at me screaming to each other, “No I’m first, ugly! Get in the back!” Others were shouting back, “Shut up, you get in the back, monkey face!” They always had a vulgar response for one another.
By early afternoon, I finally figured out the way to speak with them. They were already used to being yelled at and ordered around. They’ve learned to not only live with being spoken to that way, but they’ve learned to ignore it. Instead of trying to get the attention of a big group of children, I decided to approach one or two at a time, and once I got a decent crowd, other kids got curious, and joined our games and conversations. I even played hacky sack with them! Once they got comfortable enough with me when I heard them shout to one another, I calmly told them that it was not polite to speak with their peers that way. They would immediately stop shouting. I taught them to introduce themselves to one another, and to shake hands. They laughed the whole time they were doing it.
I noticed a little boy get bullied by a much taller little girl at the face-painting line. She pushed him out the line, and as he went to push her back, the teacher noticed and sent him all the way to the back. He lost his fifth spot and got sent to the twentieth. He went back with tears and anger in his eyes as if it was the end of the world. So I walked up to him and asked him to follow me. At first, he looked intimidated, but he listened. I told him to go grab a chair without giving him much explanation, and I thought he would just run away from me and disappear in the giant field, but he didn’t. He slowly grabbed the chair, looking a bit shy, and sat right across from me.
I smiled at him, and he smiled back. I asked him his name. “Mackenson”, he replied, still glancing at the long line of kids waiting to get their faces painted. The line just kept growing and there were more unhappy faces who couldn’t wait to be next. I asked Mackenson about his interests. A simple question that caught him by surprise. It took a while to get an answer out of him, and he finally told me that he liked to play soccer. Knowing that our trip was about promoting education. I asked him what he liked to study in a very casual tone. After he answered, I gave him a hand full of candy from a giant bag I was carrying. The look on his face was priceless! I expected him to leave after he got his goods, but he remained there, and we kept talking. As he got more comfortable, other kids noticed and surrounded us.
About five other little boys joined our conversation. I invited them to sit with us, and they each grabbed a chair. I learned all of their names, and my favorite was Prince Schneider. Yes, that was his name and he was proud of it. I asked where he crown was, he said at home, and everyone laughed. I got them to tell me jokes and riddles, and more and more kids started coming over. Each person who told me a joke, got some candy, and they liked that. Watching them sit calmly, listening to one another made my day.
After about half an hour, I asked the small crowd if they knew my name. “You’ve told me your names, you’ve taught me riddles, and you’ve made me laugh, do you even know my name?” Those were my exact words. They all sat quietly and looked down shamefully. Finally, Mackenson asked, “Comment t’appelles tu?” I laughed loudly because the whole time we were joking around in Kreyol, and once it got serious, he decided to speak in French.
The trip was a success. Losing my voice was worth it. It’s easy to lose your patience with these kids, but you’ve just got to understand who they are and how they are treated every day. And once you do, you will love them. They are beautiful in every sense of the word. I’m grateful I got to experience such a rewarding day with Fleur De Vie. I’m even more inspired to return and do more.