HELO Orphanage in Haiti

HELOs Blog

Laughter and Learning

A team of eight traveled to Haiti on June 16, 2012 to bring laughter and learning to the children of HELO.   team This small team came together from four states:  Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey and brought great skill and creativity to HELO.

Science was explored in the most creative ways:  a marble maze was designed by a group of older boys with the help of our team architect, and physics explored in the various designs, what would enable the marble to move faster or perhaps not at all.  The children then built the maze they had designed with paper tubes.

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Chemistry class of the greatest kind delighted children and house parents alike!  The team was also pretty excited as each child carefully measured ingredients into their zip lock bag, placed into a larger zip lock filled with ice and rock salt.  “Souke, souke” was the cry as 65-70 children shook those ziplock bags with anticipation, and squeals of glee resounded as the bags were opened and delicious vanilla ice cream devoured by all!

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Thanks to the generous donation of digital cameras, photography classes were offered to the older children, specifically targeting some of the older boys who had shown an affinity for photography in previous trips.  The children delighted in taking each other’s photographs as well as photos of new friends!

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Pictures were printed at night and brought back to the orphanage the next day for critique and instruction.   Perhaps one day we will highlight the work of our budding photographers in an exhibit or booklet.  Stay tuned!

 

Marist 2012

Hands on Science

A group from Marist College kept the children busy and out of harm’s way while the builders worked.  There was lots of laughter and learning – math, science, even the trip to the beach was educational!  Professor Christopher Bowser delighted the children with a fishing expedition, catching sea life – a variety of fish and crabs, and teaching the children about each one before setting them free.  
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Even HELO’s teachers delighted in the activity as the whole school participated in the “field trip” to the beach. These lessons continued at HELO with fish dissection and fish painting.  

March 2012

Building a Roof and Relationships

A talented and dedicated crew from Colchester, Connecticut, worked on raising a roof on the addition to the HELO school, which also serves as the church.  Working tirelessly in the hot sun, they completed the roof and moved on to building benches with some of HELO’s older boys, patiently explaining tool safety and use, and completing much needed benches for the church.  It was a joyous worship service that Sunday under the beautiful new roof, sitting on benches made by the children.  It is our hope that our dedicated building crew felt the love and gratitude of those children, house parents, pastors and team.

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Updates from the December team

My Little One

It's taking me almost a year to find words to express how HELO has changed my life, and I'm still not even sure I know how to.

sodlyn1 This picture is framed and next to my bed, it's the first thing I see when I wake up, and the last thing I see when I go to sleep. And the feeling I get every time I look at it is so overwhelming, I decided it's time for me to try to write it down.

The first time I visited HELO was in January 2011, it was night time and so dark in certain areas, I couldn't even see the children unless I took a picture of them. I think it took about thirty seconds after I got off the bus for little Sodlyn to find me and attach himself to me. All night I carried him around, both of us drenched in each other's sweat, playing games with the other children, but never once would he let me put him down.  When we left that night he started to cry, but my mother reassured him I'd be back for the Christmas party and I'd be able to play with him again.

A few days later we returned and the Christmas spirit must have moved Sodlyn enough to let me play with him and his friends, without holding him the entire time (which was very nice for my back). sodlyn2

I remember when we left HELO that day, I cried when no one was looking. Because at that time I didn't know when I was going to be able to go back, I didn't want to leave the children, and I didn't want to leave Sodlyn. But most of all, because I didn't want him to forget me.

Fast forward six months, and I'm lucky enough to return on a glorious mother/daughter team in July. The months leading up to the trip were some of the hardest months I can remember, between a loss of a very good friend, heartbreak, and family health issues, I was at a very low point of my life, and couldn't have been more excited and anxious to return to the children.

I remember as we were driving up to HELO I suddenly got a sinking feeling in my stomach, and felt extremely nervous. What if he didn't remember me? What if none of them remembered me! As soon as we got off of the bus, I was not only greeted by the sweet children cheering "MAMI SARA MAMI SARA!", but it took my little Sodlyn less than exactly thirty seconds to find me, and just smile and squeeze me so tight I thought I was going to explode. sk__Sodlyn

I don't think I've ever seen anyone, outside of my family, so excited to see me. I don't think I could have imagined anyone being so excited to see me! He just smiled and stared at me, and finally put his hand on my cheek for a second, and just collapsed into my arms. I choked up knowing that we could not communicate, but I felt exactly the same way, so relieved and happy to finally see him again.

 I was once again lucky enough to get time off from work to go to Haiti in December, again so anxious and excited to see the children of HELO, and once again nervous that the children, most importantly Sodlyn, would not remember me.

But of course Sodlyn and the other children didn't, and within seconds of being at HELO he was in my arms looking up at me smiling... "Sara". The same instant relief and happiness we felt in July, and the joy of knowing he had not forgotten me.

That trip Sodlyn was in my arms or on my back the entire trip, per his usual.  And it further confirmed my love not only for Sodlyn, but for Haiti. My December trip further confirmed that HELO will always be a part of my life, a trip I will continue to make as often as I can.

I will never be able to put into words how much Haiti and Sodlyn mean to me, but there is one moment during my last trip that can best describe it. Sodlyn's house father, Pastor Erick, looked at us both and said "ti gason ou", I asked him what it My_little_one1 meant and he told me it means "my little one, my son". I looked down at Sodlyn and repeated the phrase and his response was simple, but was a moment I will treasure forever: "Wi".

It's amazing how much a child can change your life without having the slightest idea. What's mind blowing is how much a child can change your life with only being able to communicate knowing one phrase: mwen renmen ou, I love you.

Almost every time I've told a person I've gone to Haiti, or am going to Haiti, they ask me how sad it was. Or what I did to improve their lives, how bad is it down there? Is it getting any better? My response to the latter questions? I loved them, I taught them some new things, I played with them, or it's getting better; as quickly as it possibly can in a country with very little.  But what I really wish I could tell them is -- it isn't sad. It's the best place I've ever visited, filled with so much love and happiness it truly blows your mind. You hear of 51 orphans in a country like Haiti and immediately go to sadness and pain. But what you don't realize is these kids are some of the happiest, sweetest, most amazing children in the world and they will teach you more about yourself, the world, and love than you could have ever imagined.  They teach you that a hug, or holding your hand, or simply showing love in anyway is the best feeling and the best way to live. Who needs the frills and the added things? Yes, material objects are wonderful, I will not deny that as a 22 year old only child. But some of my best memories are with family, friends, and the children at HELO, just being surrounded by the people you love, and who love you most. I've spent almost two weeks with these children in total, and they have changed me and made me a better person, and made up some of the best moments of my life. And I wouldn't give up that time for anything in the world.

I wish I could describe the feeling I have when I think, or see, Sodlyn, so you could understand the way a trip to Haiti, or HELO, can better you. But in reality, I can't. There's no words to describe the bond I've made with that little boy, or any of the children at HELO. SK__Sodlyn1

To sum it up: it's a hidden secret, plenty of people know about Haiti and the struggles there, but a majority of those people are too scared to open it up and look inside. But I promise you, if you're brave enough to do so, you will never regret it.

--Sara Kennedy

Love Overcomes Barriers

I wrote and rewrote this blog statement at least a dozen times, trying to find an eloquent and successful way of communicating my thoughts and experiences from our trip. Finally, I have decided that the best way to express my thoughts is a simple and to the point account of a few interactions I had with HELO’s incredible children.

I was very anxious when we first arrived at the first house. I never have thought of myself as good with children, and on top of that anxiety was the language barrier. However, as other group members greeted some of the children, one sweet little girl looked up at me and smiled. Feeling compelled, I picked her up and she willingly held on to me. Nadege was the first child to greet me, and it couldn’t have been more poignant. She smiled, and chattered away in Creole not seeming to mind that I didn’t understand her and refusing to stop talking nonetheless.

At the second and third houses, the kids were so excited to see us walking towards them. I remember getting dozens of kisses on my cheek, and a small “Bonjour” in greeting. Even the neighborhood children would come around to play games and to be held. Jean Davidson fell asleep in my arms one day when I sat in the shade by the soccer field, his tiny body smiles_w_jesse_small unbelievably heavy but I didn’t want to let him go. Cherlande smiled and giggled when I twirled her around and around until she was so dizzy she just clung to me. Rosanie would try climbing up anyone in order to be held, and would cling onto you with tight arms and legs until she was sure you wouldn’t let her down. And Abraham, a young boy who stole my heart, would give me the biggest smile that was so contagious that you couldn’t help smiling with him.

All of the children are wonderful, and loving. In the United States kids are often taught what is considered propriety, which dictates how they may interact with people not of immediate kin. HELO’s children didn’t shy away from us and there were always little hands tugging on your arms or trying to play with your hair or get a little bit of attention. Their desire for some love, even just for a little bit is both overwhelming and wonderful. People often forget how important affection and love is, and it’s something that I will never underestimate again. This first trip was the first of many and I am counting down the months and days until I can go back to Haiti, and see her children again.

Jessica Huhn

1/29/2012

Celebrating Haiti and a New Year

HELO's first New Year's team traveled to Haiti on December 26, 2011, a team of fourteen from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, most repeat visitors, but a few first-time visitors to Haiti.  team_small It was a joy to watch the interactions of team members and the children as friendships were rekindled or created.  It was a great blessing to celebrate Christmas (a little late), the New Year, and Haiti Independence Day!

truck_small The children loved their trucks, dolls, games, and of course new clothes!  New books were shared by all, the joy of reading enjoyed by team members and children alike.

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The team had a wonderful time celebrating the New Year with Pastor Jean and Gardinette.  We filled our evening with stories, laughter, and wishes and prayers for the children and for Haiti.  happy_new_year_small We pray that 2012 will be a year of progress and renewed hope for the people of Haiti.

Activities took place throughout the week to prepare and recognize Haiti Independence Day.  My dear friend Jean Claude Degazon, visiting from Carrefour, taught the children of HELO and surrounding community about the history and culture of Haiti.  Jean Claude regaled the children with his stories, and the children participated, answering questions and cheering agreement.  They each colored a flag of Haiti, which were hung around the school to decorate for the special day.

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In an effort to share Haiti’s beauty with the children (and the team), we rented buses and took everyone to Port Salut, one of Haiti’s most beautiful beaches.  Team members were stunned to see 49 children sit quietly, enjoying the ride almost as much as the beach!  It was a beautiful day for all.

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I thank another wonderful team for sharing their time and talents with the children of HELO.  I know that you are a blessing to them, and they to you.  God is good!  I hope the team shares some of their stories with you in the days and weeks ahead, stories of dance lessons, volleyball, soccer, pillows and more....

Thank you each and every one for supporting HELO throughout 2011, may God bless you and bless HELO and its sweet children.

 --Elisabeth Kennedy


Updates from the July team

Laughter, Learning, and Great Beauty

HELO's first Mother-Daughter team traveled to Haiti on July 8, 2011, ten amazing women who soon formed strong bonds, not group only with each other but with the children and staff of HELO.  With four teachers on the team, the focus of this team was clear.  Each mother-daughter pair on took on a project, organized that activity, gathered all necessary supplies and translated all necessary materials. 

We held "Science Camp" for HELO's children and their neighbors, creating "stations" of learning and activity.  Children learned about the solar system, learned names of the planets, and colored their favorite with colored chalk on black mural paper.  They delighted in examining leaves, fingers, rocks with magnify glasses, and in creating rainbows with prisms.

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Inside the school, children learned about light using flashlights and mirrors.  Outside, they learned proper hand washing with cinnamon "germs", which do not wash off with water alone, teaching children the importance of washing with soap.  After attending the hand washing and tooth brushing classes, each child received a bar of soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste.  Children also took part in relay games and coloring, which reinforced the lessons learned in Science Camp.

It was not all work for the children, we played games, colored pictures, and took a trip to the seashore.  Nearly all of HELO's children took part in painting a mural at the school, each hand print a prayer or memory of Papi Jeff.   Much fun, laughter, love, and tears were shared by all, young and old alike.

parachute beach mural

Haiti is a land of great contrasts, and in an attempt to show that to the team, we took a side trip to see some of the beauty of Haiti.  More than eighteen months after the earthquake, hundreds of thousands remain in tents.  It is a difficult and  painful ride from the airport in Port au Prince to the guest house in les Cayes.  In sharp contrast to the poverty and devastation in Port au Prince, we stood in awe before the magestic Saute Mathurine.  The drive provided spectacular views of the mountains for which Haiti is named, many stripped of trees, both mountains and roads ravaged by landslides due to heavy rains.  Another example of Haiti's great beauty was the help that appeared when the team bus became stuck in one such ravine.  With no tools but their bare hands, men and young boys appeared from here and there, gathered rocks and gravel and filled in the ditch that had swallowed the bus' back tires.  These new friends later joined us on our walk to the falls, smiling and laughing while we gasped in awe and shouted with glee at the ice cold water we found at the falls.  Haiti is a land of great beauty, in her people and in all that God created there.

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Many thanks to the team for the talent they shared, for their flexibility, patience, and especially for the love they shared with each other, with the children and staff of HELO, and the many other children we encountered during our visit.  Heartfelt thanks to Pastor John and his family for their wonderful hospitality.  God is present in Haiti, we pray that He blesses this beautiful land and her generous people and provides for them as only He can.  We pray He continues to bless HELO with generous supporters and amazing team members.  Bondye beni ou, Bondye beni Ayiti! 

--Elisabeth Kennedy


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