pearls around the neck 129
My first volunteer trip in Haiti was about to end. It was time to leave the place that had just
changed my life over the past six weeks. Due to political upheaval in the capital city, Port-au-Prince,
demonstrators blocked the roads and we were to be evacuated from Jacmel, a southern town, by plane.
The rest of the volunteers were already safe in PAP; this left only four of us at the airport of this vibrant
coastal town. Sadness and gratitude crept over me. Sadness, because I was leaving the place where I had
made so many personal connections. Gratitude for the incredible experience I had lived.
“OLIVIA… OLLLIVVVVIA.” From a distance I could see two bouncing figures jumping up and
down, shouting my name. They had now started to run around to the other side trying to get closer
to where we were. A young street orphan called Slovakin had been my sidekick for some time now
and he must have been excited to see his friend, Olivia, leaving at the airport on a real life airplane. My
knowledge of Slovakin’s background was very little but we had spent a lot of time just hanging out,
I had dedicated hours to him and his gentle and quiet demeanor intrigued me. Slovakin had the kind
of face that one knew was a mask hiding a story, he didn’t say much and at the end of each day, saying
goodnight to him in the pitch black while he went off into the night, not knowing where he was going
would always leave me thinking about his wellbeing well after our goodbyes.
Earlier in the day I had already said goodbye, maybe he just wanted to say farewell one last time. The
pilot was still doing the aircraft checks so I decided to run over and see what all this noise was about.
As I ran over to the fence with a huge smile on my face the bouncing figures got larger but also the
noise I thought to be cries of excitement became clearer. By the time I reached the fence, Slovakin was
screaming, his body wrenching forward with every deep sob. After the instant shock of seeing him like
this my first reaction was the same, as any adult would have when they hear a child cry and scream with
that much pain: ”He must be hurt! Someone has hurt him, I need to protect him, he is crying so loud”.
No, I realized Slovakin was not shouting my name in excitement, he was screaming with anguish in
desperation for me not to leave him. I held his hand through the wired fence and tried to calm him
down in my broken Creole, promising I would be back and not to be upset.
The crying wouldn’t stop and the handgrip only got stronger.
I had spent six weeks with Slovakin almost every day and I had never seen his emotions flicker past
calmness. He was never really happy and never really sad. The emotions this innocent child was
showing before me moved me to absolute silence, I had spent enough time working around children
to understand how serious this out-burst was. It made me feel sick. The reality of what these children
must feel living in extreme poverty, abandoned, hungry, orphaned and now victims of a massive
earthquake struck me like a bullet. Slovakin thought I was abandoning him. How was he supposed to
understand the concept that this wasn’t my permanent home?
Education provides us with the knowledge of a wider world and we are aware that poverty exists, but
it is difficult for us to really understand its impact on those who experience it, day-in, and day-out. I
wonder how many times this has happened to him in his short existence? I was angry with myself: I had
created a dependency for this poor child without even realizing it. At nineteen years old, I was barely
out of childhood myself but I was old enough to grasp the extent of how this moment had changed my
life and would definitely change Slovakin’s in the future.
“Dependency” was not what I was to create ever again; I wanted to create “Independence”. I wanted
to give something to Slovakin and many others like him, something that would last a lifetime. That
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