What a trip!! We had to wait several days to hear from Danita that things were stable enough to go into Haiti to visit. There had been riots the previous week and one was rumored to happen on Monday. The Haitian government was taking their time unloading a ship full of food. The ship of food sat there rotting while the people were starving. The Haitians had enough and were protesting against the gov.

When we told some of the Dominicans that we were going to Haiti, they tried to talk us out of it–they don’t even go!! We had become friends with a man named Odalis. He and his friend, Raphael, started a business together, Luperon Harbor Services, and we met them through the Naval Comandancias. Odalis & Raphael helped interpret since they spoke pretty good English. Odalis’ brother runs a taxi (gua gua), so he offered to take us into Haiti, we only had to pay for the taxi & gas, not his time.

We heard from Danita on Tuesday or Wednesday that all was safe, and settled on Friday for our trip. It was a three hour drive to Dajabon, DR. We happened to be going on a Friday, which was market day. Market day is a weekly event where the border between Haiti and DR is opened for a few hours. People from Haiti bring anything they can sell to trade for food, and those who have money, buy food.

Some other cruisers we met in Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos also sailed to Luperon and there were three other boats who were interested in going to market and possibly Haiti, so we talked them into joining us. They were hoping to be able to find some wonderful things at the market (art, perhaps), and they also thought it would be a wonderful experience to see Haiti. We soon learned that it cost $25 to cross the border back and forth ($50 per person), no matter if you were staying weeks or hours. Since it was so expensive, the rest of the group decided to stay in Dajabon and shop at the market while we went over. We wanted to go even though it would cost $250 for our family. We didn’t want to be this close and let money stop us. It was settled that we would all meet at the dinghy dock at 7:30am Friday morning where Odalis would pick us up.

In a van that seats 12, we crammed our party of 14 in with room to spare (based on our previous gua-gua experience, there was still room for at least 6 more)!!

The ride over was long, and it rained a little. Once we arrived in Dajabon the streets were crammed–I mean crammed. There were wheel barrows, peddlers, carts… anything that would hold merchandise was crowding the streets to the point that we couldn’t get the van through without running over people. Finally, a “guide” stepped up and led us to a place right by the government office where we could leave the van safely. Odalis “hired” a boy to watch the van for us. Those not going to Haiti went one way, and our family and Odalis went the other. We agreed that any survivors would meet back at the van at 3:00pm–the border was closing at 4:00pm and we wanted to make sure we got out before it was too late! We said our “hope we see you later”s and headed our separate ways.

John had called Danita while Odalis was trying to park to let her know we were at the border so she could meet us. With Odalis close by, we headed into another world. Kimi was scared, but I told her to just hold my hand and stay as close to Odalis as possible and we would be fine. Odalis would make sure of it-I am convinced that God sent him to help us! The customs officials and the UN guards (armed and everywhere-from Uruguay?) were anxious for us to stop and “chat”, but Danita and Karris walked up at just the right time. Danita was amazing and handled them all, and we didn’t have to pay a dime–since it was market day. Once we started walking away from the border, Odalis offered to go back and find the others; since we didn’t have to pay entrance fees, we knew they would want to join us. Odalis took down Danita’s cell phone number, and we headed to the orphanage while he set off in the madness to find the others. This was very brave, finding them would be like finding a needle in a haystack–except that gringos stick out pretty easily, and we were the only gringos crazy enough to be there.

The walk to the orphanage was an experience all by itself. We could see the building from the border bridge, but the sights between us and the building were overwhelming. There was incredible multitudes and organized chaos (from market days). We saw vendors selling everything imaginable–and some things quite unimaginable. There were animal heads laying out on display: donkey heads, pig heads, cow heads (skinny cows), and all freshly beheaded (trying to give you a visual image-sorry)… ewww! Ladies were making fried plantains and selling them. There were people selling charcoal–not the nice neat briquets you buy in the store, but the burned up wood ash they use for fuel/cooking. There are no paved roads, and it was incredibly hot and dusty, and filthy dirty.

The conditions are as horrendous as you’ve seen and heard. There were lots of naked children running around (this freaked Kimi out more than anything). Women carried enormous loads of goods on top of their heads. Hopefully, the pictures we have will help see how immense the loads were. Men were shoving carts full of stuff through the crowds. Motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) were whizzing by stirring up dust. Huge trucks with beds piled full of merchandise just purchased in Dajabon, had people piled on top of that, dangling precariously! Right near the river (Massacre River) was an enormous pile of garbage, basically a land fill. There were a few women washing laundry in the river, but mostly people were occupied with the market. Many beggars asked us for money, and even more vendors tried to get us to buy their wares. The men would grab your arm and try to get you to come buy from them.

Once we made it to the gate of Danita’s Children, we walked inside to paradise. It was like walking into a whole other world. It was recess time and the school children were playing on the magnificent playground equipment, which was more impressive than any park I’ve been to. The buildings were beautiful, the grounds were clean and free of trash (unlike the rest of the town), there was a huge tree in the middle. Some of the children immediately ran up to us, and Danita introduced them. The children that she has adopted understand and speak English, but the others do not. We said, “Bon Jour” in our Texas accented French. They smiled and hugged us. They were all so polite and courteous. It was very impressive. Those that spoke English said “hello” and “welcome”.

Danita and Karris took us to the older boys’ dorm, which is also where they live. The building was beautiful. What these women have managed to do is remarkable!!! Karris took us on a tour of the school, the church, the cafeteria, the future site of the clinic, the other dorms, and the village, while Danita waited for Odalis to call and say he had found the others. Danita was to meet him at the border to get the others in.

We had toured everything and were back at the orphanage. They had planned to feed us and Odalis lunch, but had not expected the others to be able to come. However, they quickly accommodated all of us! It was one of the best meals we had eaten in a foreign country–and they even had ice (a rarity for cruisers)! The other half of our group was almost not allowed to cross over, but Danita promised them they were only staying for lunch, then would leave.

We were able to watch the children come in for their lunch. They sat quietly (unlike noisy American school cafeterias), and orderly while waiting to be led in a couple of songs, then a prayer over the meal. Everything was in French creole, but we recognized the tunes. Words nor pictures would ever be able to convey to you what an awesome thing that was. These kids (except for Danita’s orphans) live in extreme poverty-most of their families have one meal every 3rd day, there is a 95% unemployment rate, the land has been deforested and stripped of any natural resources, they live in shacks along dirt roads filled with trash and feces (didn’t want to know if it was animal or human). We walked through their village and saw it for ourselves. Little children with bellies distended from starvation and/or worms. For these school children to have one meal a day was a huge blessing, and on top of that they are being educated and given hope–for free! This place Danita has made with God’s help, really is bringing hope to Haiti. It’s nothing short of a miracle.

Back to our meal. Odalis had arrived with the others after an hour of searching! (He’s a great guy). He had found them near a park. They were finished shopping (had all they could stand) and were trying to figure out what they were going to do for the rest of the day until we came back, when Odalis found them. Yippee! We all had a great time of fellowship over delicious food. The friends that were with us were from three different boats, two from England, and another U.S. family of 5. They were all extremely impressed with what Danita had accomplished.

The living conditions in Ouanaminthe are terrible, contrasted with Danita’s world where they lived very much like we do on our boat. All of us cruisers could relate to life with generators, conserving water & power, shopping for food in foreign places… it was all very similar except the orphanage had WAY more space and much nicer restrooms!

After lunch, we took the others on a tour of the school and village. Some of the teachers led their class in welcoming songs for us–again, very touching and moving. We got to meet Danita’s oldest, Roberson (I hope I got his name right), who is 16, and several of the other older kids. We also got to meet Lubenson, whose story is nothing but a miracle! (You can go to www.danitaschildren.org to read all about the orphanage and read Lubenson’s story). He was napping while the other kids were at school-he’s just 2 or 3. Karris also took us to the hospital where a woman was giving birth in the other room—Karris said that all they have is a rusted gurney with a steel bowl at the end!!! It was all open air, no a/c. If it had power, it had to be by generator because I don’t think any of the town has any public electricity.

In the village, most of the families that were not at market were hanging out outside their homes. Some of them knew Karris because their children go to school there, others gazed at us as we gazed at them. Once we said, “bon jour”, they almost always replied in kind with a wide smile. Mothers were doing laundry in a bucket with soap (much the same way cruisers living on boats do–except those of us spoiled with a washing machine-grin). A few little boys followed us around as they played chase with us and each other, they were very giggly and cute. One boy about Kimi’s age was taking a bucket bath in the road with his little brother and he saw us and hid behind his porch rail. He was the only one we saw that seemed the least bit embarrassed. All of the females wear dresses, it’s a cultural, traditional, as well as practical thing (cooler). I was in blue jeans and felt a little awkward. We met a little boy who was playing (naked) with his little piglets in the mud.

All of the children we saw smiled hugely when we talked to them or waved. They seem happy; you start to see the hopelessness in the older children and adults. That’s what breaks your heart. One mother offered Karris her child; in America, it would have been laughed off as a joke, but Karris said she was probably not joking.

We saw a group of young people hanging out at a house; they didn’t seem too happy we were there, until our friend from Kalida spoke french to them. Even though they speak a creole french, it was enough to break down their defenses, and they seemed to welcome us then.

Basically, there is no hope for Haiti—except for God and the people He is using to bring them His hope. Rationally, intellectually, reasonably, politically, agriculturally—there is no hope for Haiti. But God sees hope there, and we could see God’s hope through the work that Danita is doing, along with the other missionaries God has sent there. 500 children have a meal every day and are getting an education for free, all because God loves them! What a contrast to our life of extreme excess in America.

Time was ticking, and we needed to head back to the border before they locked the gates. Danita had to leave after lunch to go to Santo Domingo for some security dogs, so Karris walked us across the border in two separate groups so as not to draw too much attention. Back at the van, Odalis had us scrape up some pesos for the boy that guarded the van for us.

Getting out was a little easier, since the border was closing soon the traffic had thinned out a little. The van is not air conditioned, so we all had the windows opened and every time we were stopped by traffic (which was a lot) vendors were shoving items in for us to buy (rum, bras, panties, shoes, purses…), or beggars were asking for pesos. We shut the windows and laughed as Odalis shooed them off by telling the rum pushers that we didn’t drink-we were Christians. Kind hearted Odalis gave a guy some money after he listened to his sad tale (did I say what a nice man he is?)

The trip back was more exciting than the trip there because of all the military checkpoints we had to stop at. There were military police armed with M16’s every few miles. They were checking for Haitian smugglers and wanted to know if we had been to Haiti. “Of course we hadn’t–we were just a bunch of Americans going to check out the market,” was our driver’s wise response! We passed through a street in the DR that had burned limbs and logs in the way-remnants from the previous day’s riot over the government seizing private property for some gov. project. We also had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. We started to get worried when Odalis pulled out the cell phone vs. digging for the spare. He was calling his brother to find out if there was a spare–there was, so all the guys pitched in to help change it while us girls stood back and made up jokes about how many gringos it takes to change a gua gua tire. We stopped at several gommas (we called them gomer’s) to see about getting the tire fixed, no luck. Oh well. By the time we got back to Luperon, it was dark. Good thing we made it back safe because the gua-gua didn’t have any head lights. Actually, I take it back, there was a fog light in front that still worked.

We concluded the day with a yummy meal at Capt. Steve’s.

That, in a nutshell, was our trip to Haiti. Although we were well prepared for what to expect, it was still shocking to see it for real. It was a life changing experience that we are still trying to process. Our perspectives are different; things that seemed important before, are suddenly totally meaningless.

Next stop, Puerto Rico (we’re here, but I can’t post about everything at once…so pretend we’re not here yet and I will post about this place at a later date.) Adios amigos!

One Response to “Haiti & Danita’s Children-Hope for Haiti Children’s Center”
  1. AishaS says:

    Shirley,
    Thank you for the post on Danita’s Children. My husband and I are planning to take a trip to Haiti in October to visit her school and orphanage and would really appreciate any additional insight and tips that you would be willing to share.

    I look forward to the opportunity to talk to you further.

    Regards,
    Aisha S

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