Saturday, October 13, 2012

If You Build It, They Will Come...

I remember the scene well: Spring of 2006, walking into a delightfully cheery little preschool in Morocco, and peeking my head into each classroom as we were given the tour down the hall. The children were eagerly writing, singing, learning, creating. Filling their classroom walls with typical preschool "art". Enter the "orphan class". All the way at end of the hall, 15 little boys, all dressed in ratty white shirts because they didn't have uniforms like the rest of the students, crowded around 3 round tables in a room so small they barely had space to stand up and walk around the tables. Nothing on the walls, no books, no chalk boards, no singing, no art. I remember how it broke my heart. I remember that was the beginning of the dream to provide a place where the most vulnerably children could learn and grow TOGETHER, with equal opportunities and resources: Children with and without families, with and without disabilities, with and without socio-economic challenges. I didn't know how long it would take, or where I would even start, but I could see the vision.

When I think of the earthquake 2 years ago, building is the last thing that comes to mind. But in this story that's exactly what was going on, behind the scenes of destruction, heart-break, and collapse.

"If you build it, they will come..."

It started with relationships. A 10 yr old Haitian orphan living on the streets of Carrefour. A group of Haitian pastors who thought of rebuilding the church first before their own collapsed houses. A Haitian teacher with a kindred spirit... Little by little, the foundation was laid and the dream began to take shape. My five months at the Hands and Feet Project was a bit of an experiment for everyone involved. And although it was shorter than anticipated, I count it as a success for everyone. The toddler house grew from 4 to 9 kids while I was there, and 3 of them had developmental delays in various areas. I didn't go looking for them, they just showed up. And we had all kinds of fun learning, reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?, playing dress-up, and building things.

Even after I left Haiti and returned to Nashville for a few months, the building continued behind the scenes. When I returned to Haiti, I found myself in a new place, with new people, but the dream was still there. I tried hard to envision 20 preschoolers in a room that held little more than a cafeteria lunch table and another table full of computer equipment. Where would they sit? What would they play with? What would they look at on the walls? How would they learn? God had that covered. One of the many wonderful relationships I've built in Port au Prince over the past few months is with David Sandler, the director of Child Hope's transition program, Lighthouse Designs, who along with the young men he is training, built shelves, tables, chairs, cabinets, and a door, to make both classrooms as child-friendly as possible. The team from Greater Works Outreach brought loads of materials donated by friends and family, to stock the cabinets and fill the shelves with developmentally appropriate toys and books.

Level 1 - Before

Level 1 - After
And then the registration list kept getting longer and the questions changed. Where am I going to put all these children? Do we have enough staff? Will the classrooms be ready in time? Have I lost my mind???

"If you build it, they will come..."

Level 2 - Before
Level 2 - After
After many a late night, the rooms were put together. The lesson plans were made. (more or less) The teachers were trained. On October 1st, 2012, six and a half years later, the dream became a reality. In God's infinite wisdom, creativity and timing, HE built it, and they came...the orphans, the ones with families, the one who lost his leg in the earthquake as an infant and now walks with a prosthetic leg, the ones who cry all day long because they've never been away from home, the one who doesn't speak or respond to environmental cues, the one with autistic behaviors, who comes to school with marks on her face from an incident the parents can't identify because they weren't home to see it happen. They come, ready or not, to learn, to be loved, and to build the foundation for their own dreams.
Early Literacy
Creative expression during morning praise & worship