The feeding program gets personal -- Monday, Feb 15
Today as I was walking toward the boys' home after lunch, I was surprised to find some new little friends sitting outside the Ben's. It was Isyanna and Geneveau, the two girls I became attached to at the fasting gatherings over the weekend. Isyanna is 9, Geneveau is 8, and they had with them their younger brother Lickson, who is 5. I think they also have an older brother. I was delighted to see them, and we played together for about a half hour before they were allowed to enter the Ben's for the feeding program. I didn't know before then that they are feeding program kids. I was told that the girls don't show up that often.
I am very impressed by how tough these kids are. At one point, I started chasing Isyanna up the street. She is incredibly fast! After a couple of steps, she kicked off her beaten up yellow plastic, two-sizes-too-big, sandals and took off barefoot up the dirt road strewn with rocks and bits of trash. She bounded over the rocks in bare feet like it was nothing to her. I don't know the human foot becomes that tough. But I get the impression that these kids are as tough as their feet.
I had fun teasing and playing with all three of these kids at the feeding program. Isyanna and Geneveau kept sneaking looks at me while Isguerda was preaching. (Yes, Isguerda, our sponsor girl preached! I am so proud of her!) They want to know if I am looking their way, paying attention to them. Still, I get the feeling that they are reserved about me.
It was all fun and games until I ran into them late in the afternoon, close to dinner time. They were walking around with a couple of friends near the guest house. As we bantered in what little Creole I can manage, Geneveau turned her face up at me and said, "M' grangu." Or, "I'm hungry." I replied weakly, "Ou te manje nan feeding program la." ("You ate at the feeding program.") We are not allowed to give out food, water, or other things to kids outside the guest house, because when you feed three kids, in an hour there will be fifty. It creates all sorts of problems and prevents us from fulfilling our mission to be an orphanage first. The feeding program is organized and gives us a way to feed kids without the situation spinning out of control.
Geneveau then asked for water. I said I did not have any. That was true. I didn't have my water canteen on me at that time. A couple of minutes later, she asked for a tent. By that she meant she wanted to get a piece of tarp for her family. This means her family is among the thousands that are sleeping outside. I said, "I can't do that." Later I asked one of our kids to ask about the girls' living situation. "We live up there." Geneveau pointed uphill. In a house? No. In a tent? No. I am not sure what this means, but it might be that her family is sleeping completely outside. There are some families doing that, including one family that lives directly behind the guest house.
In this conversation, my relationship with Isyanna, Geneveau, and Lickson began to turn a corner. They are not just fun, interesting and incredibly cute kids to play with. They are young children who run the streets and are accustomed to begging. Maybe their life before the earthquake was more normal. Maybe they went to school. I have asked about that yet. But now they are basically neighborhood urchins who appear to be trained in the art of asking for things. This is a widespread and highly developed art in Haiti.
I wonder now what the girls' world is like. Do they have both parents? Do they have any parents? Do they sleep under any kind of shelter? How do they eat... or do they eat outside the feeding program? How do they view me? Do they look at me as a source of goods? The rare man who will give them a fatherly hug? A temporary playmate? A pastor who has prayed for them? (These were the two girls who pressed their faces against me as I prayed over that group of kids at our fasting gathering.) All of the above? These girls exhibit a blend of affection-starved eagerness and street-wise caginess that draws me in but leaves me wondering.
I feel like there is an important transition one makes here at Maison de Lumiere from playing with kids at the feeding program to getting involved in their lives and the lives of their families. I see that door opening with these girls. If they show up again, I will be drawn to find an interpretor and ask them more lengthy questions. But that means getting more involved, and I am not sure there is a solution to any of the problems I would uncover. I can't close myself off to those three kids, but I don't know what I can do for them. Ultimately it comes down to living for Christ and allowing my world to get messed up by doing even small things in their world. It is for me to discover what, if anything, God wants to do between me and that family.