(This blog is about my experiences working and living aboard a 220’ treasure hunting ship, the M/V Sea Hunter)
Talk about bumpy roads. The trip from the dock to the orphanage was filled with giant pot holes in the dirt road. There were few tar roads so the trip took twice as long. As we crossed a bridge I looked down and saw muddy water running below, and off to the side was a bunch of huts crammed closely together. There was people washing clothes and themselves along the bank.
As the homes got fewer and fewer, I would notice a solitaire home sitting in the middle of a field. It was surrounded by lots of grass and vegetation, which you didn’t see in the city area. I wondered about the people who lived there and how they fed and clothed themselves.
As we drove up to the orphanage, I first noticed the aqua colored gates that we drove through. There were quite a few children standing around the gate waiting for our arrival (or so it seemed). As I climbed out of the car, I grabbed my camera and hung it around my neck. I knew I would be taking many pictures that day.
The children didn’t approach us but followed our every move with their eyes. Father Marc and a couple volunteers met us and the introductions were made. He immediately made us feel welcome. I noticed three or four young girls standing close by just watching our every move. I walked over to them and said hello and introduced myself. I asked if I could get a giant hug. Though they didn’t understand everything I said, I believe hug was universal, as they all wrapped their arms tightly around me. Before long a group of boys came over and hugs were given out freely. The kids kept looking or touching my camera so I asked them if I could take their picture. Most of them were shy at first, but a few actually posed for the camera. Once the picture was taken I retrieved it on the lens and showed it to them. Their eyes widened and they nervously giggled. Then, before long they were really getting into it. They would point at my camera, stand back and pose. I would take the picture and they would immediately run over to see the end result. It was wonderful watching their faces light up when they saw themselves.
Father Marc spoke to the children in Creole, then turned to us and asked if we wanted a tour. Of course we wanted to see everything and so we started to follow him. The first thing I noticed was how well the children listened to him. He had told them we were going for a walk and for them to wait for us until we were done. And that is exactly what they did.
He led us first towards an area that was splattered with tiny concrete houses. This, he explained is where the children slept. Each house was just a couple of rooms that housed 4-6 bunk beds each. The beds were made of old medal frames, a thin mattress, a blanket and a pillow. Each house had a window with no covering on it. The homes were really void of color, mostly white. There were no toys, pictures or even a mirror. They were plain and simple.
Outside each house was a little garden area and chickens were running around freely. Father Marc explained that each house had an older child that was responsible for the younger ones and that each child had some responsibility, whether it was to feed the chickens, make the beds of the younger ones or something else.
As we walked between the gate and the houses I noticed that we were walking on dirt and most of the children were barefoot. There were no paved sidewalks. I wondered about how messy and muddy everything got during their rainy season. How just a paved walkway between buildings would be a blessing?
We then walked to the area where the children play. My heart sank, there was an old swing set with only two swings. There was an open covered area where kids were playing ball. As I walked towards it to watch, I saw that it wasn’t really a ball but a bunch of rags taped together. They were playing soccer and enjoying it. How, I thought did over 700 children play in this dilapidated area.
Just then a couple young boys around eight or nine walked up to us holding the hand of the most precious two year old. He was a chubby little boy with a wide grin. I immediately went up to him and scooped him in my arms. He put his little arms around me and gave me a hug. I swung him around and he would just laugh. Then he noticed my sunglasses hanging on a cord around my neck. He picked them up and saw his reflection in the glass and immediately broke out in giggles. He would throw his head back and laugh, pick up the glasses, look at himself again and laugh. This went on for a full couple minutes. Each time was like the first for him and the others around us were getting a kick out of it too. I didn’t want the other boys to feel left out so I gave them a huge hug and asked if I could take their picture. Just like the others, they loved having their picture taken.
The next part of our tour has stayed in my memory to this day. It was the kitchen area. The cooking is all done outside in giant vats with fire beneath them. There were three women who cooked three meals a day, seven days a week for all those children. Father Marc explained they were local women who worked for $1.00 a day. I truly didn’t know what to say or think. I was shocked! I stood there and watched as these beautiful souls bent over these large crocks to wash them after a meal. I immediately thought of my clean, well-stocked galley on the Sea Hunter and the many times I felt exhausted or overwhelmed when I cooked for 15 or so people. It really put things into perspective at that moment.
As we walked across the field, Father Marc explained how the orphanage grew from about 600 to 750 children after the earthquake. Some kids had lost both their parents or had only one parent who could no longer take care of them. He said that each day after the earthquake he would walk to the front gate and find two or three new children. They had either been dropped off by a relative or walked there on their own. He couldn’t turn even one away. Though he was way beyond capacity, he knew God would somehow provide. This is where he thanked us for all the aid that we had just delivered. He showed us the large covered area that housed all the aid we had brought and explained how they were sorting and distributing it. How excited the children were when they got a new pair of shorts or shoes. How proud they were when they got a new toothbrush. It was at that moment, when I thought of all the people back home that had contributed towards this aid that my heart was full of gratitude.