A view from a roof in Port au Prince


It mattered to this starfish

Ever heard the parable of the starfish? I'm sure most are familiar of this, but as a friendly reminder, here it goes.

One day an old man was walking along the beach. It was low tide and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish. The man started to walk very carefully so as not to step on any of the beautiful creatures. Since the animals still seemed to be alive, he considered picking some of them up and putting them back in the water. The man knew the starfish would die if left on the beach’s dry sand but he reasoned that he could not possibly help them all, so he chose to do nothing and continued walking.
Soon afterward, he came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child “what are you doing?”
The child replied “I am saving starfish.”
“Why waste your time? There are so many you can’t save them all so what does it matter” argued the old man.
Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed the starfish back into the water. “It matters to this one…” the child explained.

Who is the starfish in your life? What challenge are you working on that you know is important, but at times you feel like laying down in the midst of all the starfish, in a surrender to the endless work? As I think of the story of the starfish, I think of one of the most beautiful example of the little starfish I helped toss back into the water... I helped save his life. His name is Jethroson. I met Jethro over two years ago. I was in Haiti with Gretchen. It was our first trip to Haiti without a group. I was 21 years old and Gretchen was 23. We were staying with Jasmine at Operation Love the Children of Haiti orphanage in Leogane. We had both recently read the book, Angels of a Lower Flight by Susan Scott Krabacher. In it she risks her life to experience the worst slum in Haiti, Cite Soleil . Although her stories terrified me, they also motivated me. How could I know Haiti without knowing Cite Soleil? Why should I be spared the horror of what thousands see as their every day life? Gretchen and I both really wanted to see Cite Soleil, but we had a problem- there was not one Haitian that was willing to risk the danger to visit this slum. That gave us an even better idea of what a horrible place we were trying to visit. Yet, it didn't deter us. Jasmine agreed to bring us, under the term that we go with the chief of police in an escorted vehicle. Fine. As long as we could go. As long as we could uncover our eyes and see the worst parts of Haiti.

Cite Soleil is a horrible place. It is hopeless. It is trash upon trash, and then children walking barefoot all over it. It is some type of feces sliding in between my bare heal and flip flops as I walked. It is filthy pigs, naked children, gangs, trash floating in the ocean next to kids taking their "bath", children and no parents, it is abuse, infection, homelessness, despair. That is cite soleil. Cite Soleil is walking down narrow rows of huts, fearful that someone may pull me in and I'll never make it out. It is adults pushing and hitting kids over a piece of candy that we were handing out. It is Jethroson with his burned hand, standing naked and alone, tear drops staining his cheeks.

Jethroson is the starfish I choose to remember today. He is a story of hope. He matters. His life matters. His baby hand matters. We found Jethroson standing in a crowd of people. My eyes were drawn to him immediately. He stood out, even in a crowd. He was very sad, and was holding out his limp, blackened hand. We trudged through the crowd to find out why this boy was naked, alone and crying. His hand was swollen and black- crusted and obviously infected. He looked scared and angry, on top of his sadness. We asked where his mother was. No one knew the answer. There was no one responsible for him. He was only 3 years old. We asked what happened to his hand. The neighbors told us that he was abused. He was misbehaving and his mother burned him. To try cover it up, or perhaps protect the wound, she poured tar over his hand. I don't fully understand the reasoning. I can add it to the list of things I don't understand in Haiti. We told his neighbors that we needed to take him to the orphange and take care of his hand. We promised to bring Jethroson back when his hand was better. No one objected. And so we traveled back to Leogane in the truck, but this time with a naked boy sprawled across me and Gretchen. He was tired and slept most of the 2 hours back to Leogane.On the way back, we stopped at a pharmacy and bought needles, a syringe, and an intramusular antibiotic. We also stopped for ice cream and Jethroson tried this sweet treat for the first time in his life. Still no smiles, but he ate every last bit.

When we arrived back to the orphanage, we bathed Jethro and put him in clean clothes. We soaked his hand and began removing some of the tar. He screamed and cried. Some of his hand had lost feeling, but there was still plenty where he has sensation. We gave him his shot of antibiotic. He was scared of us. He couldn't understand why we were causing him pain. We had to stop. Tylenol wasn't enough to cover the pain he was experiencing. And truth be told, we didn't feel qualified to be taking care of this wound. We covered it in antiobiotic ointment and bandaged it up. Jethroson calmed down and we gave him a big, hot meal for dinner. He ate and ate, and then was ready to sleep. Gretchen and I pulled a mini mattress into our room so that we could closely monitor him. I asked him if he was scared and he said yes. I asked him if he missed his mom and he said yes. I asked him if he wanted to go home, and he said no. A three year pulled away from all he has ever known, and taken by strangers and he didn't want to go home. He knew the life he had that one night- even if it included the painful wound care- was better than anything he had experienced in his short life. We said goodnight and turned off the lights. In his squeaky little voice he babbled something. He sounded very alarmed. Turned out this little 3 year old was telling us " turn on the F-ing lights." Except he was actually swearing at us. It alarmed us, and was actually pretty funny, but how terrible that a 3 year old could even know those words. It shows what environment he had grown up in.

Jethro eventually warmed up. He didn't want to go home. He explained that he wasn't listening to his mom and that is why she burned him. He also had whip marks on his legs and backs. He couldn't go home. It wasn't safe for him. We involved the Haitian police and the orphanage got custody over him. Jethroson had a hard adjustment to the orphanage. He stole and fought and was disobedient. He would take toys and hide them in his bed. He had never had toys and was afraid he would never have them again. He wanted to keep them safe. Can you blame him? His behavior was so unruly, Jasmine was not sure if he would be able to stay at the orphanage. But in due time, Jethro turned around.

Now, Jethro is one of the cutest boys I have ever seen. He is shy and sweet. When I give him a big smile or say his name, he sheepishly smiles and brings his head close to his shoulder. He is strong and healthy and is growing at an unbelievable rate. He plays well with the other boys and he is fun to be around. He still has his squeaky high-pitched voice :) Jethro is my starfish.