My Neighbors Children

Monday, January 23, 2012

HAITI - The Invisible Recovery

January 12 marked the anniversary of one of the most catastrophic events in history. Unfortunately, it took place in a small country that happened to be one of the poorest in the world - the country of Haiti. As many as 300,000 people died that afternoon in 2010, countless tens of thousands were injured, and over a million were left homeless with no hope of a home for their foreseeable future.

How do you recover from such a thing? Can you recover?

In Haiti, many asked the question, "What would you recover too?" The situation in Haiti was so bad before the quake, the country already needed recovery. There were better days in many ways. Better economics. Better security. Better roads. Better education. Better opportunities for many. But with those better days also came a brutal dictatorship that strangled the freedoms of many and unwisely centralized Haiti's internal structures.

For years, Haiti's reputation became "the poorest country in the western hemisphere - because of corruption." Leadership basically consisted of the Duvaliers, Preval, and Aristide. These men came to serve as the most powerful men in Haiti over the past 50 years. Each represented corruption, accusations of the murder of dissidents, self promotion and preoccupation, personal gain, and a total lack of care for the country of Haiti and its people.

During Baby Doc, Aristide, Preval, and periods of occasional military control, the people of Haiti suffered as the economy declined, education disappeared, and the country spiraled into deep decay. The decay was visible on every level of Haiti's infrastructure. But somehow in the midst of it all, the people of Haiti (at least those who stayed) managed to maintain a national pride that exists in great strength to this day.

The quake was clearly the most horrible event in Haiti's history. One pastor shared a story with us that his mother came out from her damaged building after the quake, looked at the destruction and dead bodies all around and was so overcome that she had a heart attach and died. As we traveled to the Presidential Palace - Haiti's Whitehouse - immediately following the quake, hundreds of people were gathered on the street in front of the palace weeping at their losses. The loss of loved ones and friends, the loss of homes, the loss of a sense of security, and as important as all of those - the loss of so many of the remaining things that made them proud to be Haitian. About the only thing left they could point to to show their national pride was the simple fact that they were Haitian born.

As horrible as the quake was, it garnered attention and compassion from around the world. If there has been any glimmer of hope since that terrible day, it has been that the attention and support of the world could help create changes in Haiti that would rebuild and restructure the country into a "nation of people" instead of a small group of greedy leaders who siphon the needed dollars away to some foreign account for their personal gain.

Every time I return from Haiti, I am asked the question, "Is it getting any better down there?" Early on, I would immediately think about the rubble cleanup and the rebuilding of structures. Those things for quite a while were going slow. Tent cities still lined the roads, but the tents were now old and tattered. Rubble still could be found everywhere on the sides of roads. Occasionally, you could see a piece of heavy equipment in use. That was the typical scene before the election.

After the election, things began to improve. Nations who had been burned before by Haiti's corruption wisely held pledged money until the new president was placed in power. This new president, Martelly, began to address structural changes that included much needed leadership changes. The level of accountability began to increase. He represented the voices of the people and has not forgotten those voices. For the first time, a man was elected who was not connected to one of the three most powerful men who had ruled Haiti over the past 50 years.

Change has begun. It is visible in many places. Economic changes in Port au Prince and Cap Haitien are noticeable. Industrial parks are springing up in both cities. A university has been completed in Cap Haitien that will educate several thousand students. Outside investors are being attracted to Haiti on a daily basis. The coffee industry is being revived. These are all good signs of the beginning of a recovery.

But when I am asked this question today I think about a bigger picture. The recovery that Haiti is beginning to experience is more evidenced in what is not visible. It is in the spirit and hope of the Haitian people. Their national pride has risen significantly. Their sense of hope can be detected on every level of society. As they go about their daily work, whether as a self-employed vendor, a teacher in a church school, an employee of a local government, or a newly employed construction worker, there is hope. For many, circumstances have not improved much, but their hope in Haiti's future is greater than ever.

Perhaps the most powerful force behind the great future Haiti has in front of it is the Invisible Recovery that is taking place in the hearts and minds of the Haitian people.

To the people of Haiti, we applaud you.

Come Go To Haiti With Me!


Come go to Haiti with Me!

I have been what do you do when you go to Haiti?
Let me share.

First, go to the airport, weighted down with four suitcases that
are over limit, over weight, and full of stuff that you have to get
to the people.  Over the counter medicine, food, diapers
(large ones that can't be found in Haiti for the handicap kids),
 vitamins, shoes, underwear for the kids, items that they need
and just can't find in Haiti, i.e. plastic bags/shopping bags,
endless sippy cups and bottles, kids get the picture.

Arrive in Port au Prince, and see before you land, a landscape
 that is full of tents, and people, and need.

Fight through the endless people trying to "help" that are at first
annoying, but you realize they just need to make money, and
 with unemployment at 80%, carrying a suitcase for someone
might buy them a pot of rice that night.  It stops being annoying,
when you realize it is desperation.

Get in a truck with a pre-arranged driver, and get on the
 road...........full of potholes, and people, and traffic.  You immediately
 see what you have heard about..........humans living in tent cities
that were built for an emergency, and are now there two years later,
 worse for wear, and full of stories of sadness and desperation.
This is within two minutes of leaving the airport.

The scene continues...........tents, people trying to sell whatever they can (5 mangos, old clothes, whatever) on the side of roads, to buy food.  They are wearing donated clothes, donated shoes,
and are doing whatever they can in a crowded and dirty world.  You see in the tent towns, maybe for the first time ever, kids without clothes/no underwear/no diapers looking at you with shame
and hope and you drive by.  You can't look for long, it seems too wrong to see this and to keep driving. Your instinct is to stop your truck, get out, take care of those in need.

You will arrive at what will now seem like an oasis, New Life Children's Home,after one dirty street after another, full of people that are trying to stay alive.  New Life is a walled compound for children and guests, and it just happens to be one of my homes.  You are greeted by a guard, and you scrub down with soap and bleach to kill whatever you have picked up on the outside......all before you enter the compound.  They can't risk you bringing in anything that would harm the children, more than they were harmed before they came in.

And then you start your work.  Some people stay within the safety of New Life, and work with the kids, and interact with them, and try to make difference with them, and try to not get too attached, and wonder how you can leave them?  Some people go back into the rubble and dirt and problems, and try to make a difference there, through work projects, and feeding people, and providing care and reassurance, and hope that a few people will go to bed each night less sick, less hungry, less exposed, because of what you did.

You go to bed at night, covered with mosquito nets, and think "I am glad to be here, glad to have done what I did today, and how can I do more?".  And in the morning, you get up, and you do the same,and you are both happy that you are there doing what you are doing, but somewhat lost in the vast need.

You have to keep focused on what you are doing........not what you can't do.  It is the only way to move forward.  EVERY LITTLE bit matters.  You keep repeating that.  You repeat that when you see the peoples eyes whom you are not helping this time, you repeat that when you are too tired to do more, and you repeat that when you realize that you will be leaving soon.  It is all that you can do, repeat EVERY LITTLE BIT matters.

And, your time is up.  You think "what did I do?", and here is a list I will share: you stopped some hunger pangs, you gave your one bottle of water/your one protein bar/your tablet of 
antibiotic to someone who needed it more, you cleaned a church or school and not because the others were too lazy but too weak to do so,  you held a child that desperately needed to be held, you laughed with a couple of adults who have had a rough life but can still share a laugh, you shared the contents of your suitcases because to leave with anything seems criminal when these people are grateful for everything.

You made a difference, for a day for a week for a month.................

So, you travel back to the airport, same roads, same half-dressed hungry kids, and you hate to leave because you feel a sense of responsibility and guilt.  But go, and tell the story of what you did, make plans to return and do it all again, and share the message of these people, just like us, worse circumstances, but just like us, and how they need us. 

My Vision Has Changed/The People Of Haiti


The People of Haiti

I would like to share with you all some thoughts
on how my vision has changed over the past fifteen
months, and specifically about the people of Haiti.

When I first started travelling down, for my "volunteer missions",
I saw the people in a very simple and one dimensional way.
It was simple, straightforward, at least in my mind.  They were victims.
They were victims of a terrible natural disaster, the earthquake that
hit January 2010, killed close to 300,000 people and devastated the
poorest country in the western hemisphere.  They were victims of
poverty, a bad economy, a corrupt government, few natural resources,
bad infrastructure, lack of education, lack of nutrition, lack of medical
care, lack of resources, and lack of any known future.  These were the
people of Haiti, at least in my mind, during my first trip in September 2010.

I don't know when my vision started to change..............with the
frequencyof my trips there........with my growing relationships with
some of the people,both children and adults, that were cultivated by
returning to them time andtime again...............with my growing
knowledge of the history of Haiti.............notsure when it happened,
or even sure if it is finished transitioning, but I knowthat it has changed.

I have started seeing the people as no longer a one dimensional view, with a
label of "victim".  They are much more complex, and much more like me,
than I ever thought.

These people are mothers/fathers, family members, people trying to beg and borrow to become educated, who can clearly see a past of strife and a future of hope, they are smart if not educated, they are caring and generous although often with nothing to give, they love, they hurt, they want more and better and stronger than they have had.

These people strive to live, but are also homeowners, employees, community leaders, mentors, and caretakers.  Yes, they do it all with so much less than we can even imagine, walk many more miles a day than we can imagine, struggling to find the books, the money, the food, the health, which they need for themselves and their families.

They have personalities, can be funny, sad, smart, smart-assed : ), wise, discouraged, hopeful, tired, excited.................just like us.

Yes, they do this in tent homes, or shanties, or dirt floored one room houses.........while bathing in contaminated rivers.............while eating rice and beans every single day for nourishment (if they are one of the lucky ones)..............while waiting in mile long lines at a free clinic............while hoping a group of missionaries show up with  shoes for their kids.............

No, how they live their lives, does  not look like ours at all.  But, take that away, and just look at the people, and they are no different.  Their minds and bodies all work just like ours.

And, I am so glad that I have learned to see them more clearly, to enjoy them as people, not just as a victim.  Through this I have learned the lesson that we are all the same, inside our heads and hearts and bodies.  Our different environments and circumstances cannot eliminate these facts.  Around the world, we may all look different, life different lives, eat different foods, use different monies, enjoy different pleasures and suffer from different pains................however, the truth is, we are all the same.

I am fortunate that my vision has changed, become clearer, and that I have learned to see these people for what they are...........people, not victims.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Year in Review - 2011


The Year in Review - 2011

Sometimes I believe we need to take time to really record
history.  It can be too easy to forget.....

This past year has been one of being stretched, but in a good
way.  I have felt one hand reaching forward to help the many
people in need in Haiti, and one hand reaching in the other
direction to the many generous people that have provided
donations, shopped, wrote checks, to give to me to give to 
them.  It is for these generous friends that I feel most
compelled to write this list............
so that we can all remember what we have accomplished

So, here goes, in no order, other than that of how I start to
remember the work that has been done, with the other hard
workers, with My Neighbors Children in 2011:

150 Easter Baskets provided to New Life Children's Children - the first these
kids had ever received, everything but chocolate as it melts WAY too easily
in Haiti!

Easter Dinner for approximately 200 people - a feast that I still savor

Thanksgiving Dinner for the same number - sharing the American
tradition of thanks, and feeling the tradition in such a meaningful way..........

8 trips to Haiti for myself and other My Neighbors Children
Team Members - each trip for me started to feel more and more like
"going from one home to another".

Visits to Tent Cities to distribute much needed products and let the people living there know - people care and are sorry for what has happened to the good people of Haiti.  And realizing, these people were terribly and violently stripped of their "normal" lives.............

32 checked suitcases of my own - 4 per trip - each carry much needed children's medicine, supplies, children's underwear and shoes, and always one of them packed with the much anticipated "goodies" to eat.  About 250 pounds of luggage per trip.

An industrial size and strength playground for New Life Children's Home - which provides so much fun and excitement for the kids that live there.

A shipping container full of wheelchairs, exercise mats for the children that need time out of the wheelchairs, riding toys, diapers, a new movie projector so the kids can enjoy a beautifully projected outdoor Friday night movie.

Eight shopping trips for food throughout Port au Prince, a minimum of 6 stops per trip, to fill the truck with food supplies...............that produced shouts of excitement from the kids as we returned with the food!

Three new laptops to take to Haiti, for our friends there on the ground helping to fight the same battles we are, and were in need of this means of communication.

Three dental appointments for Jackie, to help correct years of neglect and mal-nutrition.

Building a network of on the ground connections in Haiti, a dentist, medical doctors, lawyers, other NSO leaders...................that are a necessity and a luxury when trying to make things happen in Haiti.

Visiting and helping to strengthen a school in Cap Haitien, through cleaning to planning repairs, to hoping to pay teachers.

Visiting a clinic in Shabba in CapHat, and seeing more sick mothers holding more sick children than one wants to see, in an area in which I do not know how people survive...........

Paying to bury a child, that should not have died a death of 2011.

Finding a wonderful home for a little boy who I love, .........he now has a grandma that he loves, who cooks for him, cleans him, and a "momma" from the states that now lives for my visits to see him.

The joy of watching the same children, trip after trip, grow and becoming healthier with time.

The scare of being in Haiti when the cholera outbreak started.............and knowing that this was one more devastating thing this country did not need.

Meeting so many wonderful people, on the ground in Haiti, who are there simply to give............some have been there for a week, some a lifetime.

Having a van donated so that MNC can have an easier way to move around in Haiti, and deliver the supplies that we collect.

Holding more kids in my arms than I ever could imagine, hugging them, and telling them that I love them, and meaning it every single time...........

Understanding unimaginable happiness and joy in watching a child eat, in a country where this can be a luxury.

Looking at every child in the orphanages, and wishing so much they all did not have to be there, but being so grateful that there was a place for them.

Seeing so much misery, and hunger, and fear on the streets of Haiti, and not being able to look away, because the scenes all start to run together.

Buying a week's worth of food for Bon Samaritan, when they didn't even have enough for one more meal left in their pantry.

Being told over and over and over, by the people of Haiti, Thank You.......and knowing that saying You Are Welcome feels terribly inadequate.......

So..........I don't believe this list is complete, but a good representation of what 2011 has been for me as a part of My Neighbor's Children.  As I have typed this list, I realized, there is no way to truly capture it all.  Every item, every action, has been so impactful.................

Please read this list, and realize that your help MADE THESE THINGS happen.  I am grateful to be the one who gets to deliver these items, and your prayers, and your hopes for these children, but I know that it is a cumulation of so many.  I want you all to feel the sense that we have made a difference, and we will continue to...........because to not do so no longer seems to be an option.

Thank you all.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What I Did For Thanksgiving or Can One Person Really Make a Difference?

I spent Thanksgiving week in Haiti, with a group of orphans and Haitian employees, and, again, will be changed forever. 

First of all, this was my eighth trip in just over a year to Haiti.  These trips have been filled with working with orphans, visiting the "temporary tent cities" that continue to house nearly 900,000 people 22 months after the earthquake and are barely still standing, visiting clinics and schools, distributing products, and falling in love with so many children.........children that need everything, love, food, medicine, education, underwear, shoes, supplies, and hope.

Each time I return to Haiti, I hope to see improved conditions, homes being rebuilt, a stronger economy, less sickness, less fear in the peoples eyes, and more confidence in the future.  For now, less than two years after the earthquake, there  is still too much focus on survival and not enough on other things.  It seems to be all about "how and what can we eat today", "do we have enough rice", day after day after day.

I started the trip with the following plans, share Thanksgiving with a group of children that I love and provide them some diversity from their daily lives, let them know they are special and that there are a lot of people that care for them.  Also, visit another orphanage to "adopt" on behalf of MNC in 2012, and develop a plan to support them.  Spend a solid half day "shopping" with some of the Haitian staff to gather enough special foods to have a feast and show the children how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.  Deliver a supply of donated items to the children in need, shoes/underwear/medicine, etc.  And lastly, spend as much time as possible with my two special children, Jackie and Noah.  This was a reasonably easy plan............  Also, I had specific marching orders from a friend, who informed me that there are six new children at New Life, brought down from the mountains suffering from starvation and malnutrition.  One child, Alex, a three year old boy, was not recovering very quickly, might need a blood transfusion, so needed lots and lots of love and holding and toys and nutritional supplements.  The order was to "spend lots of time holding and rocking Alex".

I arrived in Haiti, and went straight to the orphanage where I would stay.  I was greeted with over 100 children, all ages, all happy to see me, and there was so much "catching up" to do, kisses to exchange, hugs that never stopped, noses to blow, swings to push,  and kids to pick up and hold.  Within a couple of short hours, my heart was full, my mind racing trying to take it all in, and my shoulders and back already starting to ache a little bit from lifting and holding so many children.  I distributed some of the goods that I brought down immediately, the important stuff first,  which to the kids included cookies and cakes and cereal bars, and other snacks packed into a suitcase.  Like children everywhere, they are bottomless pits!  While they are well cared for at the orphanage, I know that many of them remember hunger too well.

In addition to Alex, there is a ten month old boy who appears to be a newborn baby, a little girl with tiny pigtails, a little boy that is the sweetest child I have ever met named "Jenny" who broke my heart when he asked "you my mommy?"  (I said yes), the tiny baby's older brother who is mature beyond his years, and another small/shy little boy.  All of the children are at different stages of adjusting to their new home.  It is so different from the remote mountainous region where they came from, far away from any family, and far away from the conditions of daily hunger.

I went to bed my first night, tired and happy and thinking there was no where else that I would rather be.

The following morning brought the blackest of intense sadness that I have not been able to shake.  You see, Alex died that morning.  A three year old boy, died of starvation and malnutrition which was so severe that he could not recover.  This happened a short one and half hour flight from Florida.  There is so much that could be told about his hard life.  He was not without love, but without food, clean water, electricity, new toys, new clothes........the many things that we believe all children deserve.  There are other victims here, a mother that died of cholera this year, three other siblings still trying to stay alive, a father that loves his family but doesn't have the means to keep them alive.

This should not happen.  Alex did not die of a disease, or an accident......he died due to lack of food.   Yes, his suffering ceased, but it was a suffering that should have never happened.  I am sad and angry and emotional and furious...............I am more determined than ever to be an advocate for these children.  These children exist, and they are human beings, and they deserve to live and to dream of the future.  They deserve a full tummy, and clean water, and to have a world that cares about how they feel today!  They deserve to be picked up when they fall and are crying, they deserve to have someone kiss them and say "I love you so much".  AND, the moms and dads deserve to be able to provide for their families and to keep their children healthy.

So, I am often asked about my efforts in Haiti "do you really think that you or one person can make a difference?" 

I will tell you tonight..............yes, one person can make a difference, because Alex has made a difference............he has made me recommit and become more determined than ever to stand up for these kids, to kiss and hug as many of them as I can, to fill as many of their bellies as often as I can,  and to help them reach their potential.  I will give to them, I will ask others to give to them, I will work harder for them, and I will tell their story...............until someday, I hope they will be able to tell their own story! 

I had a "fantasy" before this trip to Haiti to come back and tell a happy story of Alex's recovery and how well he is doing.  Now I have to tell the sad and painful story of a child that did not make it.  However, it is a story that needs to be told...............and yes, one person can make a difference .
Even if we make a difference for one day, for one person, it is worth it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jackie Jupiter

In July 2010, I was at New Life Orphanage & Rescue Center in Haiti, and traveled with a team of doctors and other volunteers, to the mountainous area of Pestel. At night, some locals would gather around us at base camp, including a 10-year old boy named Jackie Jupiter. He was absolutely filthy...both his clothes and his body. He was covered with dirt, bruises & what appeared to be untreated burns. We noticed that he seized abut every 45-minutes, and that his right arm and leg were lame. I went over and tickled him and planted a big smooch on his cheek, which in turn, produced the biggest squeal of delight I have ever heard.  On the 2nd or 3rd day, we proposed to Chris Coburn of New Life that we take Jackie back to the orphanage, and Chris talked to his aunt, who consented.

So, we cleaned Jackie up, dressed his wounds, and traveled by cattle car for a few hours, with Jackie sitting on my lap. The boat trip was next, and then a tap-tap and a wheelbarrow. It was an arduous 2 days, but Jackie smiled the whole way, exposing his broken and discolored teeth.

When he got to the orphanage, Jackie saw, and used, his first toilet! It was hilarious. He kept stroking the porcelain and squealed when we flushed!  He was given clean clothes, shoes (which to this day he refuses to wear), a baseball cap, and a matchbox car he adored.

Since last year, he has put on weight and is on anti-seizure meds. He has become quite the favorite of the staff and visiting volunteers, and he entertains them with his stories of taking a helicopter to New York, being Sheriff of the New Life campus, and bringing food to his hometown in the mountains. Jackie’s laughter and pure joy lit up the compound, but he started complaining about tooth pain, and this is a child who never complains, never whines…why cry when nobody hears?

There are fewer dentists in Haiti per capita than anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, and dental care is provided primarily by volunteers, a handful of Haitians lucky enough to have attended dental school, and numerous Americans doing their best to reach, and treat, the nearly 10,000,000 Haitians in need. Haitians visit the dentist’s clinic like they visit the Emergency Room of a hospital. It may take a day or more to get there, and then they wait on line for hours, usually in pain, hoping they will even be seen that day.  Cavities are rarely filled, because by the time they get to the dentist, extraction is the only answer. There is no X-ray equipment or hovering assistant, just a spare room, a tray of equipment, a sink, a chair, and a plastic pail for teeth.

Even at a Haitian clinic, the cost of a days visit can equal a sizeable portion of the patient’s yearly rent! It is understandable that food comes first.

MY NEIGHBOR’S CHILDREN arranged for Dr. Herman Luma, Jr., a kind and dedicated Haitian professional in Port-au-Prince, to see Jackie, and I can’t even imagine what he thought of the dentist’s office and equipment! Tammi Runzler and William Lowry from My Neighbor’s Children took Jackie for his first visit, and it turned out that Jackie had 14 cavities and a badly infected tooth. For his very first appointment, Dr. Luma extracted the tooth, and Jackie was a trooper...not a whine, not a whimper, not a single complaint.

All the way back to the orphanage, Jackie thanked Tammi over-and-over again for his visit to the dentist…can you imagine an American child being grateful for his/her turn in the chair?  Jackie understood that, perhaps for the first time in his young life, someone listened to him, cared enough to show up for him, and to take action.

It was a very long walk that day from the orphanage gate to Jackie’s dorm room, because he stopped every child he passed to show off his teeth. Visually, he didn’t look any different, but he was so proud and insisted every child peer into his gaping mouth. Jackie had been taken to the dentist in the “machine”, and it was an event to celebrate.

For Jackie’s second appointment, Dr. Luma filled 3 cavities, and whitened Jackie’s front teeth, a rare indulgence in Haiti.  It was assumed that the curvature and discoloration in his front teeth came from a combination of malnutrition and years of sucking on sugar cane that could not be repaired, but only one whitening gave Jackie a new smile, and hope for a better life.

But Jackie’s joy was short-lived. Just a few days later, he started complaining about tooth and ear pain, so it was back to Dr. Luma for us. Yet another infected tooth was removed, and Jackie was once again a star patient, while I have to say, several of the local adults put up quite a fight!

We Need Your Help to Establish a Dental Clinic. Your donations can help us fund...


This and his spirit, his sense of wonder, hope and joy are his legacy. Every child deserves to have a chance at life, to live with dignity and without pain. Every child should be cared for and listened to…are you listening?

If you are interested in making The JJ DENTAL CLINIC a reality, please contact us at or gidion@myneighbor’ or call Tammi Runzler at 407-234-7381.

You can also go to the MY NEIGHBOR’S CHILDREN website ( to make your donation, and NOTE that it is specifically for The JJ Dental Clinic. Any amount is most welcome, and 100% of your tax deductible contribution will go directly to the clinic. MY NEIGHBOR’S CHILDREN will send you photos of some of the happy, hopeful smiles you made possible.

Submitted by Gidion Phillips