Sunday, April 02, 2006

One Child At A Time:

We walked to church at the Missionaries of Charity, dodging piles of garbage and polluted puddles covering the road. Because we forgot Daylight’s Saving Time started today, we arrived at the 9 am service an hour late, right as the homily was beginning. For those of us familiar with the length of the Mass in the U.S.—if the priest goes over an hour, we start to fidgeting—it’s humbling to know the Haitians aren’t in a hurry to get home to their televisions.

The MC’s, Mother Teresa’s sisters, run a home for abandoned children. The 9 am Mass is the children’s Mass, and the open air church is filled with row after row of boys and girls sitting on benches. Today most of them are wearing grey t-shirts, perhaps because it’s Lent. Not all of these children live in the home; many are from the neighborhood.

Some sights are unexpectedly touching, like the little girl in the white dress with the broken zipper. Her dress is pinned at the top, leaving part of her back exposed. It’s her Sunday best. Most of the children are well-behaved but I see one exception as a girl turns around in frustration, swatting at the retreating hand of a boy. Kids are funny; they haven’t become captives of culture yet, so there is a universality about them and their behavior. Another little girl with her copper colored skin, wide set eyes and thick black hair hanging in a braid down her back must have Arawak blood in her. The Arawaks were the original inhabitants of Haiti before Columbus introduced them to genocide and smallpox.

After Mass, John leads me through the serpentine hallways of the Sisters’ home for the children. Though John used to be a frequent visitor, in all the times I’ve been to Mass here, I have yet to visit the home. It’s a good thing to do. Even in Haiti, I can avoid hard sights if I want to. Averting our eyes from the suffering of others seems to be a human instinct. If we don’t see it, we don’t know about it and we aren’t required to do anything about it, or rationalize it, or live with our guilty consciences.

What is a more difficult sight then suffering orphan children? We walk through several rooms: one has 25 cribs containing the sickest babies; 15 babies are in another room; another has 11 babies, and another 16. One of the children is covered by loose, scarred, scaly skin. His eyes protrude from their sockets and are covered with an opaque membrane. They dart from side to side, clearly unseeing. He has a large protrusion from the base of his head. He looks as if he has been burned but one of the Haitian workers in the room tells us it is a congenital condition. He is crying, but as John strokes his back, he quiets. These children crave the touch of skin. I pat another sobbing boy. He looks at me with sad, searching eyes as if to say, “I didn’t bargain for this.”

The good news is that the Sisters are taking excellent care of these children. The rooms are clean and well organized. Under each crib is a basin of water with a rag, the child’s own wash water, which avoids germs being spread from baby to baby. The pharmacy is well-stocked. As we visit, large dishes of chicken, rice and beans, potatoes, and vegetables are being ladled out. Four boys old enough to feed themselves are sitting in a row on a blue mat on the floor, shoveling in the food. The babies have to wait until a worker can reach them. We pick up one small girl and feed her. As I hold her on my lap, I can feel her lungs rattle with each breath. TB? Pneumonia? Asthma? Just a cold?

Taking care of these children is hard work. It is also the most important work, and should be recognized by everyone—individuals, governments, churches—as such. But the Sisters are not in it for worldly recognition. Still, they are human and at times the need must seem overwhelming. A prayer tacked on a door perfectly addresses this human fraility:

I was regretting the past and fearing the future.
Suddenly, my God was speaking:

"My name is I AM.”
He paused. I waited. He continued.

“When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I was.

“When you live in the future with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I will be.

“When you live in this moment, it is not hard. I am here.
My name is I AM.”


dubby duck said...

check out this blog

from haiti aswel, french & dutch

Maria Carroll said...

Thanks for the tip