(This post is written by our Director of Development & Sponsorships, Matt White)
Back in September 2016, I took on a part-time role with Coalition of Children in Need Association (COCINA) as the Director of Development & Sponsorships, and I’ve spent about five weeks in Haiti over the last several months.
For more than 20 years, COCINA has been supporting children in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere through:
- a 2,500-student Kindergarten through Grade 13 school (Institution Univers),
- a nutrition program that ensures those 2,500 students receive a warm meal every school day,
- a full-service medical clinic (Univers Medical Clinic) serving more than 50,000 patients a year,
- as well as other efforts in the city of Ouanaminthe (pronounced “Wah-nah-minth”) in the northeast part of Haiti
So far, most of my time in Haiti has been dedicated to establishing (and today launching) our Student Sponsorship Program, which has involved taking photos and gathering information from hundreds of elementary school children. Each time I’m there, I always seem to capture at least one photo that really tugs at my heart and reminds me WHY I’m doing what I’m doing – and what COCINA is doing overall – in Haiti. Usually, it’s a particular “selfie” of me and a few of the children, or a sweet image of some of the kids gathered together making faces for the camera.
But, when I was there a couple weeks ago, I got a picture that truly captures the basic life story of almost every child at Institution Univers (IU) – and likely every child at ANY school in Haiti. All the photos we take typically show what appears to be a relatively vibrant, healthy young child, one that’s happy, or at least content, with life.
However, what this image represents is the dichotomy of the reality in Haiti:
The environment these kids experience at school is drastically different than what they know outside of school.
As you can see in this photo, this young boy – while he’s wearing his required school uniform (khakis, white shirt and tie) – on his feet are one shoe and one flip-flop; the shoe looks to be a girl’s style and the flip-flop is so worn, the heel is practically non-existent.
Most of the students at IU live their lives outside of school in small, one- or two-bedroom “homes” where breakfast and dinner are often a luxury, and sharing that home with 6, 8, or 10 other family members – from brothers and sisters to aunts, uncles and grandmas – is the norm. And, in a country where 80 percent of the population is below the poverty line and more than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs, their families are often barely just surviving. (2016 Stats)
A picture is worth a thousand words
Of the many pictures I’ve taken in Haiti, this one image of the boy and his “pair” of shoes has had the most impact. It’s hard to see beyond the cute kids in uniforms sometimes; it’s difficult to explain the hardships and the poverty when, as Americans, we naturally relate uniforms to private schools and money.
However, in this one image, I think the aphorism, “A picture is worth a thousand words” is absolutely applicable here. Actually, I’m not even sure a thousand words is enough.
Our goal with the COCINA Student Sponsorship Program is not to dramatize with photos of extreme poverty and desperation (although there is plenty of that in Ouanaminthe), but rather to represent to potential sponsors the joy and the opportunity that is available to these kids through the school and its many programs.
You can help.
Sponsoring a child for just $40/month makes a very personal and highly significant difference in a child’s life. Click here to learn more: Child Sponsorship in Haiti
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I realize not everyone who reads this is in a place to sponsor a child; but you may know someone who is. Please consider sharing this blog post with your friends, family, and coworkers.
Director of Development & Sponsorships