Some of my friends will tell you they're not sure if I know what to do with kids....but when a little face looks up at you and her arms reach up to be held, there's just an instinct that comes over you, no matter how much time you spend with adults, no matter how hardened, how preoccupied with the big picture problems of this world. That simple act of holding and being held is something I'll hold in my heart for Haiti for a long time.
I'm talking about a little girl named Belinda. She's quiet and a bit shy...but when I visited Rosa Mina orphanage yesterday to cover a congressional delegation of Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) who came to the orphanage, I got to meet her.
The politicians were long gone with their promises and hopes for the nation. I'd been photographing the kids playing in the driveway, kicking various plastic objects along the ground, running around getting rid of the energy that must have been mounting as they were forced to wait seated behind tables in rows for the delegation to arrive. They must have been busting at the seems. So many of them -- around 2 or 3 years old, at that indelibly impish age where they want to touch and feel and walk and run all over everything.
Their orphanage was not crushed by the earthquake, only cracked. But it's no luxury sweet. The children have only the driveway to play in and an outdoor courtyard. There is not much space for some 70 children to grow up, and the population swelled after the earthquake. Just yesterday morning, a mother dropped off her twins because she was kicked out of the tent she shared with another woman and couldn't care for them under these conditions.
But among her peers, Belinda is virtually the only little girl. She doesn't have long hair...it would probably be too difficult for the caretakers to care for. While the boys would clamor and jump on my legs for attention, she simply peered up, eyes wide and raised her arms.
It was hard to leave her.
After about a week here, constantly working, barely sleeping and trying to maintain my emotions amid a really desperate and unpredictable situation here - even three months after the earthquake - she gave me something I really needed.
Belinda was my first hug in Haiti. And I'll never forget that.
The orphanage is looking for sponsors for these children. They are not registered with the country so they cannot adopt them out, though the founders say they are working to change that. If you'd like to help, or just check them out, you can find them at:
Rosa Mina Orphanage; Ecole & Orphelinat; Routes de Freres, 11 Rue St Louis Jeanty Prolongee; Petition-Ville, Port-au-Prince, HAITI