My Neighbors Children

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



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