It was my first trip to Haiti as the new liaison. And my most desperate prayer was for direction.
Children of the Nation’s ministry in Haiti was under new local leadership, and they were tasked with laying out a roadmap for the next five years. I was supposed to support them but had no reference points for the way ahead.
We had spent the week walking through different communities, stopping in homes the staff had previously surveyed to see what some of the data points on my Excel spreadsheet looked like in real life.
And they looked rough—no access to clean water, toilets, or school for most children. Many of the parents were unemployed and survived on inconsistent gifts from relatives in the US. Some were still in tarp homes, donated after the earthquake of 2010—eight years before.
It’s hard to say this, but at a certain point, you kind of numb yourself to such overwhelming needs. Sum them up and stick them back on an Excel sheet. Part of it is my way to fight the urge to swoop in and save everyone, which is always my first instinct. It’s also a barrier against the anger and sorrow that floods when I let myself fully see inequity and injustice poured out over the lives of the littlest people. And it shields me from the guilt I feel resting in abundance, when my country’s prosperity has often come at their expense.
It was the last day—and the last community to walk through. My plea for direction felt even more important here. The community of Sou Ray sat against a piece of land Children of the Nations–Haiti had bought several years back—under different leadership—and was in the throes of planning its development.
They had focused their energy on an administrative building. But none of our hearts sat right with establishing ourselves beside such suffering, without also caring for the children right outside the walls we planned to build.
We began our walk and it felt different. Every other community there was a welcoming committee—small children who ran to see the strange group of Haitians and Americans walking side by side through their neighborhood. They trailed behind us at whatever distance they deemed safe, and giggled and posed when we looked at them.
But Sou Ray was quiet. Kids looked away when we passed.
This neighborhood was a mix of people—some had moved here after the earthquake, into new homes built by a nonprofit. They had left families and communities for the promise of stable housing—but found themselves with no jobs, health care, or schools for their kids. The non-governmental organizations left after building the homes. No one seemed to trust each other—or us.
Then someone looked at me. And I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
It was mostly because of her physical deformity—her lower lip was uncomfortably large and hung off her mouth in a way that looked both painful and ostracizing. But it was also the fact that she was sitting—not playing or moving in any way like most other kids, even those with obvious ailments.
And it was the way she locked eyes with us—as no one in that place had yet—and stared with an empty hopelessness that crushed my guarded heart.
When those barriers broke down, I felt everything at once. What can we do for this child? How could she have been left to live like this, for so long, with no one around her seeming to care? How could my two-year-old be home and happy while this toddler suffered? What can we do?
No really, WHAT CAN WE DO??
I couldn’t quite figure out the answer to that last question, so we settled for asking her mother if we could take a picture of her, with a vague promise that we would send it to a doctor and find out what was wrong. Probably not a very helpful gesture, but the mother agreed, and we awkwardly snapped a photo.
That photo has haunted me since.
I think a doctor did get back to us on what it was—and we shared with Haiti staff and found a hospital that could help. But the staff had no involvement or history in that community, a tight budget, and 115 kids in another area with needs too.
The photo sat in my Google album. I’ve rifled through to find specific shots from that day many times in the last four years, but my eyes always stop for a moment on hers. We had prayed with desperate longing that evening for her, channeling our pent-up emotions, but I haven’t prayed much since.
Just looked, and wondered, and grieved.
Four years later, plans that our Haitian board and staff sketched out that day have come to bear fruit.
Fifty new children have just been welcomed into their new Village Partnership Program in Sou Ray. The first day of program I felt sad I couldn’t be there—after so many years of planning—to see it all come together. So they sent me countless videos, and I grinned through each one.
Then, my grin turned to disbelief.
I’d recognize that lip anywhere—and it was on a little girl in the corner, enjoying her first meal with Children of the Nations.
I caught my breath—paused—jumped back a few seconds. Tried to screen shot. I frantically sent the picture back on WhatsApp, then quickly found the photo from 2018. None of our current staff were with us on that day.
“Is this the same child?????” I asked.
Her name is Rose.
Why did I think my one desperate prayer would get swept away in the crowd as quickly as I let it go?
So many things came together to get us to this first day—planning, staffing, funds. When I saw Rose’s face, they all took on new meaning.
A few days later, the nurse sent us reports of her first medical screening—Rose is healthy and smart, but has never been to school because of her deformity. She is six years old. She can’t wait to start.
Rose is one of 50 children who will be receiving assistance with food, medical care, and school fees, all while continuing to live with their families in their community, through our new Village Partnership Program in Sou Ray.
I’d imagine each child has a story, a need, maybe even a prayer, that led them to this day.
Children at the new Village Partnership Program in Sou Ray.
By Cassia Burke
*The name of the child in this story has been changed to protect their privacy.