Meet Louis Charles Mackenzie. The thin yet sturdy eight-year-old gathers contaminated water shared by animals and people in a community of 7,000 called Kanpech. Today, Louis lives in Kanpech. Last week, he lived in Port-au-Prince.
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I kneel on the ground in front of Louis, holding his limp hand. His eyes are at his feet and never rise to meet mine. He speaks in a monotone whisper, describing being at home when the quake hit. “I ran outside and was fine,” he says. “But my dad was out. And he didn’t come back. I cried and cried and cried when my mom told me he died. Now I am living here with my mom’s friends.”
“Actually, I am not a friend,” interjects a short, plump woman in her sixties. “I am Louis’ mother’s mother’s cousin. My daughter went to Port-au-Prince to get him after the quake.” Louis’ mother had stayed behind in Port-au-Prince to earn some money for the family, selling cookies in the street.
I ask Louis what the difference is between drinking water in Port-au-Prince and drinking water from the open source here. Again, the woman interrupts — “Oh he is just helping me collect water, he doesn’t drink this. Everyone in the village drinks this water, but because Louis is from the city and had piped water in his house, we know he can’t tolerate this. I don’t have any money, but my daughter’s husband has bought him some bottled water.”
Trekking the steep hillside, we walk back with Louis to his new home. We learn that he is nervous to go to a new school on Monday but excited to be with his friend named Peter. Louis’ favorite subject is Haitian history. He’s obsessed with cars.
I tell Louis’ new guardian that she must be a really caring person to take in a young boy she doesn’t know. She merely shrugs. “I am just living through the Gospel. This boy needed to be cared for.”
* * *
After saying goodbye to Louis, we travel for more an hour on an unpaved road to reach the community of Marialapa. Desperately poor and isolated, Marialapa is home to 800 families. We find the community patiently waiting for us at their primary school, under a roof made of sticks and leaves. Three chalkboards lean precariously against the makeshift walls, blowing slightly in the wind.
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As village leaders speak of the sickness, long walks and inhumanity of their water source (which was a spring-fed irrigation ditch), we ask one man what the community would be willing to contribute to a new water project. Without hesitation the man replies, “We have no money, especially now. But we can dig and carry rocks.” Pausing and clearing his throat he concludes, “We are ready to give you our courage.”
That is what we have learned in Central Haiti: everyone is contributing, from the older woman who is caring for a boy she barely knows to the desperate and isolated community of Marialapas offering their courage.
With your help, we’re excited to be able to offer ours.
and Esther Havens, photographer
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