PORT-au-PRINCE, Haiti − I am standing in the sink. Good. Where the sink is supposed to go one day.
“We need to install drainage pipes,” says the construction man.
“Uh-huh,” I said.
I move a few feet. Now I’m standing in the fridge. Good. Where the fridge is supposed to go one day.
“We have to put current 220,” the man said.
“Uh-huh,” I reply.
I slip in and put myself in the oven. One more step and I’m into propane burners. A few more inches and I’m inside the freezer.
There are no floors yet. Orange dirt stains my sneakers. There is only one wall and half of another. I head for a corner between chunks of concrete and metal rebar.
“What is happening here?” I say.
“Mop sink,” the man said.
“Uh-huh,” I said.
I am building a kitchen. For 100 people. I don’t know how it’s done, but it has to be done. We have 60 orphaned children and 40 staff members in a country so torn by poverty, corruption and gang violence that no one even comes out anymore. It got so dangerous that earlier this year we uprooted everyone from where we had been for years and moved up the hillside to a safer facility.
And now it’s Thanksgiving week, when kitchens are front and center.
So I’m standing in the sink, asking for help.
Can you even imagine?
Some of you already know my story, founding the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage in 2010, after the devastating earthquake that killed almost 3% of the Haitian population. I come here every month. Our amazing children are some of the greatest joys of my life – and of many who come to visit, work or volunteer with us.
As I write this, I hear the children singing outside the window. They go up and down a path. Their spirit, curiosity, faith and endless gratitude – while living in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – amazes me every day.
But food is still a problem in Haiti. A recent report showed almost the half of the population doesn’t have enough to eat. The half of the population ?
Could you imagine if all the other people in America were hungry? I can’t. Because I didn’t grow up in such difficult conditions. But I see these conditions here every day. Bony body. Wasted children. We recently welcomed a baby who we were told ate nothing but sugar water for the first six months of his life. She was barely alive.
Even our longtime children, who eat three times a day, often attack food when given. They swallow it and are always ready for more. Once you get hungry, you keep wondering if the food is going to run out. This is a terrible shade for a child to wear.
So a kitchen is not just a necessity here, it’s a beacon of hope. The fact that you have enough food to use a kitchen sends a critical message: we are going to eat today.
Here’s how you can help
I think back to my Thanksgiving kitchens. The further back I go, the smaller they are. Our dining table was in the kitchen of my childhood home, you could push your chair around and turn on the stove.
When we moved, my parents created a dining room, so we didn’t eat right next to the oven. Later, when I bought my own house, I saw my dream of an “open” kitchen, where everyone could talk, cook and eat at the same time. This blessed configuration will this week be the backdrop for the 30th consecutive Thanksgiving that we will celebrate in this house.
So my blessings are more than abundant. But the others are not. And I believe in a simple obligation: those who have must try to take care of those who have not.
So we launched a campaign called “A year of thanks and donations” in our orphanage to try to turn our new facility into a home. Each month we focus on a different need. For November, it’s the kitchen, because well, November is the month of the kitchens. I would like our children to create their own Thanksgiving one day in the middle of what is now a mound of dirt, pipes and cinder blocks.
If you would like to help, you can do so at havefaithhaiti.org, or by sending contributions to Have Faith Haiti Orphanage, c/o ASOP, 29836 Telegraph Road, Southfield, Michigan, 48034.
I stand in the mop sink, but one day we will drain mops there. I’m standing in the freezer, but one day there will be food inside.
I stand at the crossroads of hunger and childhood, and I see no alternative but to bridge them with a kitchen. A week where our own kitchens are full of abundance, how not to do it?