Haiti – The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return

Haiti…even just typing the word now makes me smile…  It was certainly one of the most amazing, impactful and surprising trips I have ever taken.

Before the trip, I knew about the devastating 2010 earthquake, and I knew Haiti was considered one of the poorest countries in the world.  With a poverty rate of 77%, the World Bank states that more than half of Haiti’s population lives on less than $1 a day, and ~ 80% of the country lives on less than $2 a day.  Therefore, I expected misery and depression and prepared myself for the worst…after all, that’s what most of the images I had seen in the papers and news had shown:

Street scenes of Haiti

Upon first glance, I saw poverty.  Poor infrastructure, lots of trash, poor shelters, tent cities, crowded markets, street vendors, earthquake damage, dirt, sporadic electricity…

Haiti market and earthquake

Luckily, I was in Haiti to see more than just the surface street views.  At the Tim Tebow Celebrity Golf Tournament I was fortunate enough to meet NFL wide receiver for the N.Y. Jets, David Nelson (and his fantastic brother Patrick) and learn about their non-profit i’m ME.  They are devoted to helping orphans.  Together with ministry partners, they offer orphan care, prevention and stewardship and I was lucky enough to tag along to experience and document some of the awesome work they are doing!

The best part was seeing that the group is really motivated by the right reasons and are helping so many people.  This isn’t a PR stunt or tax write-off, it’s a group of people with huge hearts and truly making a difference.  I love it!

IOur group (nine others plus Liz, Patrick and David from i’m ME) traveled to orphanages, schools, churches, mountain villages, the beach, a market and spent time at the I’m ME house in Port au Prince.  It was an incredible opportunity to see the country and meet lots of people.  I’m ME has future projects opening a sports complex and an orphanage, but current projects included a feeding program for school kids, a clean-up program, worship and prayer, and offers vision trips to help bring others to Haiti (and that’s just SOME of the work they are doing!).

Haiti pretty drivesThere were translators with us at all times, but with kids, no translator is necessary.  They just want to play, hug and laugh!  Here are some of my favorite faces:

Smiling Haitian facesIt’s indescribable how it feels to be unable to be empathetic.  I love trying to put myself in the shoes of others.  I think it helps me be a better photographer and a better person.  In Haiti, I had no ability to have any idea what a day-to-day routine or life in general is like.  It was a very strange and difficult feeling.

And yet, I wasn’t being asked for clothes, or money.  Instead, I was asked to play chase, or hug or hold a hand.   They have no bills, no plans for the future, just a live for the moment necessity and a desire to love and be loved in return.  It’s so refreshingly simple and amazing to be reminded of those joys.

The mom was making sure her son was smiling, and his smile was priceless

This mother looked down to make sure her son was smiling for the picture, and their exchange makes ME smile every time I see the image!

I loved this interaction…In a remote mountain village, I wanted to bend down to photograph from eye level of the kids, and they were copying me and bending down too:

Happy Haitian childrenFrom one of the smallest, poorest shelters walked out this boy, and when I waved, he flashed the most adorable smile in return… Then his mother appeared and I asked (with sign language) if I could take the his picture.  She nodded, then brought over another son and asked me to take his too…It was a wonderful interaction:

There was a boy A very strange enchanted boy They say he wandered very far Very far, over land and sea A little shy and sad of eye But very wise was he And then one day, a magic day He passed my way, and while we spoke Of many things, fools and kings This he said to me "The greatest thing you

“There was a boy ~ A very strange enchanted boy ~ They say he wandered very far ~ Very far, over land and sea ~ A little shy and sad of eye ~ But very wise was he ~ And then one day, a magic day ~ He passed my way, and while we spoke ~ Of many things, fools and kings ~ This he said to me ~’The greatest thing you’ll ever learn ~ Is just to love and be loved in return'”  Nature Boy, sung by Nat King Cole in 1948 and written by Eden Ahbez

The entire trip was incredible, emotional and impactful.  But by far the most powerful interaction for me came in a remote village in the mountains.  It was rare to NOT get a smile or a wave, but there was a stoic young girl who just observed, and despite my best efforts of peek-a-boo, tickling, laughing and funny faces, I could not get any reaction.  My new friend Liz (from i’m ME) shared the experience and learned her name was Roseminuto, who nodded her approval to allow me to take her picture:

RoseAfter I’d guess was 20 mins or so, I played peek-a-boo again while Liz was holding her, and that’s when it happened.  First a smile, and then an unabashed full giggle, and it was one of the sweetest sounds.  Now, a couple of weeks later, I still get misty (I’m sure it’s just allergies), and can’t help but wonder if it was her first laugh:

Roseminuto Haiti greatest smileI really admire and applaud the wonderful work that David, Patrick and Liz are doing through i’m ME.  The wonderful orphans and people of Haiti deserve it.  I am so grateful for the experience and look forward to helping as much as I can in the future!

If you would like more information, please check out http://www.imme.org/

Walk to the future

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