Thursday, February 25, 2010


The recent earthquake in Haiti has shaken my heart and unearthed many memories.  At age eighteen I had never seen the mountains or the ocean; in fact, I had hardly been out of Illinois!  Yet, I boarded a plane heading for Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, on a medical mission. 


As our little plane landed, we were greeted with umbrellas to protect us from the pouring rain.  My heart pounding with anticipation, I peered out the window of the brightly colored Tap Tap (wooden Bus) as we made our way to St. Vincent’s Centre for Handicapped Children, my home for the next two weeks.   Waving, unashamed of their nakedness, women were washing clothes and bathing while their children played in the river as we passed by.


Port-au-Prince:  As we stepped off the bus at Haiti’s major facility for providing medical attention, schooling, food and clothing for children, we were greeted with thunderous applause and cheers.  Most of them afflicted with malnourishment as well as physical impairments, I was overcome with humility by the loving, grateful faces of these children.


Infectious mosquitoes were abundant and our windows were without screens!  Sleeping with nets over our beds was essential and, due to the unbearable heat, most often we slept in our underwear.  In fact, we were only allowed to work in the heat for 20 minutes, interspersed with breaks in the shade and our water bottles.  Following directives, we checked for nesting spiders before donning our shoes.  One morning a roommate shook a tarantula out of hers!  Not realizing their speed, with my shoe as my weapon, I thought I was prepared to smash the smithereens out of the ugly thing!  With my roomies on their beds screaming, I unsuccessfully chased the hairy, eight-legged critter around our room!


Built in a square with a courtyard in the center, the wall between our room and the corridors did not reach the ceiling.  I could stand on my bunk and observe the activity in the corridors.  Dogs roamed freely in the courtyard and often into the corridors of the building.  Early every morning, we were awakened by barking dogs!  One morning, they brought their yapping escapade to our corridor.  In my skivvies, I stood on my bunk while my roommates handed me their shoes to use as torpedoes hoping to detour our disturbing intruders!      


I was honored to assist with providing the children with necessary prostheses, dental care and medications in addition to renovating their living environment.  Yet, their needs were so tremendous that it felt as though we were only scratching the surface.  Although they had so little, their hospitality and gratefulness was a humbling lesson for someone who, in comparison, had so much. 



Bonnie Jaeckle with a friend at St. Vincent's, 1975         


                        St Vincent's, 2010.  Six children and staff members died.


Remembering the directive to not eat or drink anything offered on the street, we ventured off to the dirty, smelly marketplace where vendors vied for our attention and ladies balanced baskets of produce on their heads.  We learned quickly that the prices were never firm and that bartering was expected.  Before I returned home, I purchased a beautifully hand-carved mahogany bowl and an intricately hand-embroidered shirt for a pittance!  However, there was one offer that branded my heart forever.  A lady sitting on the sidewalk holding a baby motioned for me to come to her.  As I stepped closer, she held her baby toward me to take as my own!  Without requesting money, I believe she was honestly seeking a better life for the child.  How was my eighteen year old heart to respond?  


To be continued next week -




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