Saturday, January 21, 2012

A day in the life: Helping those in need

I know I took my leave of absence from Cheshire more than a year ago, but our community continues to think of me. This Christmas, several people reached out to me to see how they could help. Among those who contacted me was the Congregational Church.

For all the years I was on the Council, the Church consistently helped Cheshire residents in need. In particular, via the Town, the Church helped fund our local heating assistance program. And make no mistake -- there are Cheshire residents in need of help. As America's middle class gets hit hard and shrinks, so does that of Cheshire. It's wonderful what the Congregational Church does, especially for the Town heating assistance fund.

But along with all the help offered to Cheshire residents by the Church, others are also helped. My organization, the Haitian Health Foundation was recently awarded a grant by the Church. It's intended to help with the education of two young Haitians:

That's me with Pharah in the pink sweater and Alinice in the pink/orange dress. The grant will assist with their education. Keep in mind that there is no public education in Haiti. The lack of public education is a recipe for poverty in perpetuity IMO. But thankfully there are many, such as the Church, who try to end the dreadful cycle.

What makes the situation even worse for Pharah and Alinice is that, as you may be able to see, they are both dwarfs. And discrimination exists here in Haiti just as it exists in the USA. So the hurdles to their dreams of a better life are that much more difficult for them to overcome.Further compounding the challenges faced by Pharah, 19, and Alinice, 12, is that they are both in the second grade. While that may be surprising to some, it's not at all uncommon here in Haiti. Since there is no public education, some kids take years off between grades. If they have no money, then they can't attend school. And the next time they have money is when they return to school. So there are 19 and 20 year olds in elementary school. (To further demonstrate this point... you can literally walk into a classroom and, based on the height of the kids, think it's a 5th grade class... only to learn it's 1st grade.)

However, dwarfs in Haiti do have a blessing in disguise. You can imagine how awful and embarrassing it could be for a full-grown adult to attend a third grade class. Yes, one should be excited about the opportunity and be focused on learning, but people are people.* It can be incredibly difficult to endure primary education as an adult. But being the same height as your classmates is beneficial.

So while it's difficult for a full-grown adult to attend second grade, Pharah's life is a bit easier because she doesn't stick out like a sore thumb in 2nd grade. And when you're born into a life of poverty in one of the poorest countries in the world, every little benefit you do have stands out that much more.

On behalf of Pharah and Alinice, I thank the Church for their help. And I also thank my bosses, Dr. Jerry Lowney (HHFs wonderful founder who lives in Norwich) and Sister Maryann Berard. Both Jerry and Sister Maryann have dedicated the past quarter century of their lives to the poor of Jeremie, Haiti.

Here is Sister Maryann with Pharah and Alinice:Sister Maryann is a saint.

Tim White

* Although I grew up -- and spent most of my life -- in Cheshire, I've also lived in France, Vietnam and Haiti. And one thing I've concluded is that despite cultural differences among peoples, there are many common denominators among us. So consider for a second being an 18 year old in middle school. The taunting could be horrendous. And make no mistake... people of all cultures can be cruel. On a regular basis I endure racism here, particularly from the 13 and 14 year olds in my neighborhood. But I overlook it because of the hardships endured by so many people -- so many good people -- here.

1 comment:

Deb Kelleher said...

Hey Tim,
The kids are so very excited about collecting the soap. I am so happy that we can be a part of your organization's efforts to make a difference.
Can't wait to see you back in Cheshire again!