To create; to live...
By Susan D’Aloia
“There’s no place in the world I’d rather be right now than enveloped here in Haiti.”
This is what I wrote as a Facebook status update after three days of working as part of a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and artists here in Carrefour, an area of Port-au-Prince. That status update attempts to encapsulate my experience of visiting an orphanage, making star mobiles with young people, and playing kick ball on the hospital grounds while attempting to avoid the sun. Yet, even that descriptive falls short of harnessing the arts and community program of which I have been privileged to take part during this delegation. Today, with my team mates consisting of American practitioners and Haitian translators, we built accordion books in a project titled “Imaginer.” Eighteen young people between the ages of two and 17 drew a “place” from their imagination, created “a person” of their choice, and represented a “feeling” any way they wanted through creativity. Participants drew houses with the natural wealth of Haiti’s banana, papaya and “chedok” trees, and boats on the sea. The people depicted included self-portraits, “zamni pou l’ecole” (a friend), family members, and even Barack Obama.
Multiple projections can be pulled from this. Youth will express themselves, have fun doing it, experience more connection and heal. It need be mentioned the young people my team works with include patients that have lost limbs or have protracted injuries; young people whose family members are patients or were patients and still live in tents on the hospital grounds; and children who have found employment at the hospital, whose labor exchange is food and access to a more protected setting.
One participant,eight years old (whose name we will keep confidential), has participated in our programming every day in between late afternoon walks on the grounds with his rail-thin father, a patient in the hospital. It is hard to not to become affected by his smile and penetrating eyes as he holds his ailing father’s hand and introduces us to him. His unbridled enthusiasm to draw, play, learn a game and create surfaces every day. I am also struck by what I experience as his precocious sense of regard. On Monday, after working for six days, I feel ill and stayed back at the hotel to rest and hydrate. When I returned to the hospital grounds after the next day, the little boy immediately expressed concern over my sickness. That day he draws and colors a vibrate picture of a house and trees along with a self-portrait. His feeling was expressed via a boat on water.
That night, his father died from his battle with typhoid.
The next day, we prepared a bag with a few shirts, toys and a pillow from the donated items we brought as a delegation. The little boy, whose mom died two years before, awaits his fate somewhat determined by a distant family member who was expected to call after learning his father passed. As he waited for this call, he attended all the arts programming offered. He did puzzles and played with stuffed animals, and made art from ink pads. He demonstrated what might be considered anxiety when asking repeated questions regarding having enough materials. Finally, mid-day the family members got in touch, explaining that they don’t know him at all and can’t take care of him. He is also struggling with his health and it looks like he will end up at one of the many local orphanages. The hospital administration, though overwhelmed with patients and scrambling for money, acted concerned about him and agreed to have him stay in the hospital grounds until a measured decision can be made. Chia-Ti, my teammate, decorated the small area where he will sleep with the artwork he’s done over the last week, including a visor he decorated in preparation for a nature walk we went on. He has worn it for two days.
I do not know the outcome of this little boy's story, nor how his grieving process will unfold. I cannot assertively assess how much healing making art and playing games for two weeks will provide for him or the dozens of other children we have been so lucky to connect with through art and play. This little boy is but one Haitian child who survived what the kids in our program call “goodah goodah goodah!” ⎯ a name describing the sound of the earthquake. It is for certain, however, that the interactive activities we have shared with these Haitian children at the hospital grounds and the orphanages we have visited has brought us closer to these kids and their indomitable will to live.