Between Christmas and New Year's, Cathi and I went into the village of Rampa, which is in the opposite direction as Chambrun, but only a little farther. We went to visit a lady of the church, Silianis, who hadn't come to church in a little bit and we wanted to check up on her. She is the single mother of several kids, one of whom is a special needs boy. Her jogging stroller that she uses to push Johnny to church had broken, and so was forced to carry him if she wanted to get to church. She had done this several times and as a result, her back was hurting (as Johnny is now 5 years old) and was taking it easy. While we sat and visited with her and her kids, several other kids came from next door to her place to see "the blans." The kids had the tell-tale signs of malnutrition - some with swollen bellies, discolored hair, etc. Silianis then told us who these kids were. This is the backstory to the situation in which we now find ourselves. Some of you may have heard it by now, but so that everyone who supports us understands where all of this is coming from, this is the story:
On Christmas Eve, a mother took her five children, ages 10, 7, twin 4 year olds, and 3, to Onaville in the mountain and left them there. No one has heard or seen this woman since. All five children are malnourished and look smaller than their ages. The 3 year old has never been able to walk due to severe malnourishment. The older four kids actually walked all night to find their way back to their own village. The 3 year old was heard crying in the morning by someone walking by and was brought back to the village. I cannot state how much of a miracle all of this already is. Cathi saw the youngest girl, Rosamel (Rose as we now call her), in the malnutrition clinic in November 2012 when we came to NVM to interview. She had captured Cathi's heart even then. When we heard that she had been dropped from the program, we believed she would not make it. Yet, here she was, alive.
Unfortunately, the mother of these kids destroyed a lot of relationships within this community and her family that there is no desire to care for the kids. There is an aunt that lives nearby who decided to try to look after the kids. Solanj (the aunt) is 68. One of her other children died years ago and she now cares for those 5 grandchildren. They are teens and in school, so she does her best to put a roof over their heads, feed them, and put them through school. Now, she had added these 5 to the number of kids she is responsible for. There is not adequate space for the kids, nor does she have the means to feed them all, let alone put them through school. They sleep in a mud hut on the dirt floor, because there is no room for a second bed in it - Solanj (understandably) sleeps in the only bed in there. They don't eat every day - sometimes going without food for 2 or 3 days at a time. While we have witnessed abject poverty here in Haiti, God has allowed us to be absolutely broken for these kids.
We have felt God asking us to jump into the situation and help in whatever way possible. We started by gathering some clothes for the kids and bringing sandwiches and other easy foods to carry. Then, we asked permission if we could bring the kids to church. Sunday mornings, we go early to bathe the kids, get them dressed in nice clothes, and bring them on campus. Here, they can have breakfast, go to church with us, then be fed lunch, then have an opportunity to just play with our kids for the afternoon before we feed them again and take them back to the village. These Sundays have become really special - chaotic mind you, but great. We go down to Rampa every other day to either bring sandwiches or to bring them back here so that they can eat. Last week, we walked to Rampa to pick up the kids, then walked them down with us to Chambrun to visit our Haitian family there. It was a long walk and resulted in Cathi, me, and Kayla each carrying one of the kids! But in the month that we have invested in these kids, we have seen them open up and their personalities come out. Makenson, the oldest, and I played soccer with a balloon all afternoon Sunday. Miralin (7), though quiet and reserved, was playing with our girls' dolls, showing a tenderhearted nature. Juvelda (4), always serious, was spinning in her new dress, smiling and giggling up a storm. Juvelson, her twin brother, eats slower than his siblings and is always willing to share his food with them. Though quiet around other people, as soon as he is with us, he starts talking non-stop! And Rose has started lifting herself up and walking while holding onto furniture. Though people in the village are convinced she can't talk, we've heard her say phrases here and there to convey her feelings ("Give me water!"). Seeing all of this develop in them has been a blessing in itself. However, it's always heart-wrenching to take them back and know they may not eat tomorrow. Or to see their countenance change when we get ready to leave.
We've met with NVM leadership about possibilities for further help for the kids. Without going into too much of the legalities, NVM cannot step into the situation in a greater capacity. The mother would have to sign over legal custody of the kids in order for them to be in the children's home. And as of right now, only the twins are eligible to go in the home. Rose needs more than what they can offer right now. The older two would not be able to go into school - a requirement for the children's home kids. They're too old to go into the kindergarten class and without prior schooling, they can't pass the placement test for first grade. Still believing that God brought us into this situation, we're not letting any of that discourage us. On the third Thursday of February, the school committee will vote on whether to let Juvelson and Juvelda into a kindergarten class - with the knowledge that this late in the year, they'll have to repeat. But at least this way, they'll get fed every day and have access to our clinic for medical care. We've asked the school administration to recommend a tutor for Makenson and Miralin. If they can work hard between now and August, they could pass the placement test to enter first grade. Then, they, too could be in school and have the benefits of a meal and healthcare. For now, we'd work with Rose to see if we can get her to walk and talk in order to get into pre-school this fall too.
Please pray with us for these kids. Pray also for us as we seek to follow God's leading in how we are to continue being involved with them. We believe we're doing what He's asking of us, and are prepared to continue walking this road to ensure the kids have the opportunity to reach the potential God has for them. Pray that the gospel would take root in them and in the family. Solanj has heard the gospel, but is currently in a "commitment" period to voodoo gods. Pray for this bondage to be broken and Solanj to embrace the freedom in Christ! Pray that through these kids and what transpires, God would be glorified, so that others would see His power to save and restore.
Gami & Cathi Ortiz
Best friends; married for 17 years; parents of five wonderful children; living on mission in Haiti since 2013.