You can’t save all of Haiti.
But you can save a part of it.
I learned that in four trips this year. I rode with Detroit volunteers in a bumpy van through mountains of rubble after the horrific earthquake, saw impossible suffering, families in mud-drenched tents, eating cabbage while hogs wandered in filthy water just steps away. The feeling on that ride was total helplessness.
And then we drove into a mission full of orphan children, who raced to the van to grab our hands. And we were flushed with a new sensation.
And so this season, I am flipping my Christmas list, subbing others instead of me, “need” instead of “want” — and asking if you would like to do the same. Generous Detroiters already have built the first-ever toilets and showers at the Caring and Sharing Mission in Port-au-Prince, created an indoor kitchen, rebuilt dormitories, even put lights where there was always darkness.
But I now see the mission needs more than nails and concrete.
It needs life support.
So today we’re taking a big leap, announcing that my charitable foundation, A Hole In the Roof, has assumed operations of this lovely little mission, founded 25 years ago by a Detroit pastor named John Hearn Sr. To avoid confusion, it now will be called the Have Faith Haiti Mission — because people should never lose faith, even in the worst conditions — and it will be even more of a place where children are loved, fed, educated and kept medically sound.
And if you think that’s what all children deserve you are (1) correct and (2) have never been to Haiti.
The norm for these Haitian children has been two meals a day, same thing every day: rice and beans. Recently, when funding ran out, it dropped to just rice.
The norm for these children has been schooling when they can get it, or when someone can pay for it. Since the earthquake in January, kids at the mission too often have sat idly in the heat, month after month, their minds unchallenged.
The norm for these children is no medical care. On my most recent trip, I was told three of the kids might have malaria. When I got there, I saw them lying on the ground.
“Why aren’t they in a hospital?” I demanded.
“No money,” came the shrugging answer.
This has to change. And so, with your help, our plan is to build a school on the mission grounds, so education is never out of reach, and to teach from the start in English and French.
Our plan is three meals a day — not two — nutritionally balanced.
Our plan is regular medical monitoring, biweekly doctor visits, partnering with a hospital.
Our plan is a secure environment, regular electrical service, clean water for drinking and bathing, and the religious and spiritual guidance that always has been a cornerstone.
If we do this for the 100 children we aim to take care of, the result will be simple.
We will have saved 100 lives.
So my hope is that this mission will become your mission, Michigan’s mission, a place folks in our state can visit, adopt and connect to in a way that is sometimes lost in huge relief agency donations. Pastor Hearn always has kept a Detroit link to the place he founded in the 1980s with a dozen children and bare land.
“I prayed that I would live to see this day,” said Hearn, 83, of the new partnership. “These children have suffered so much. This will make a huge difference.”
And while the hunger, illness and poverty is rampant in Haiti, there is a silver lining: Many things do not cost nearly as much as they do in the U.S., particularly services. Our goal, between now and Christmas, is to raise a minimum of $80,000. Believe it or not, with that, we could do basic operations for an entire year.
If you would like to feel a part of this, just call, write or e-mail. Our wish list, beyond money, includes flatbed trucks for transport.
My hope also is to schedule four trips a year to take interested Michiganders to see the mission, get their hands dirty and spirits cleansed. For although we have our own challenges in Detroit, it speaks to our character that we can help the hardest hit far away.
You can’t save all of Haiti. But you can save a part of it — a critical part, the children. What could be better on your Christmas list than that?
HOW TO HELP
Mitch Albom’s goal is to raise $80,000 before Christmas, enough to operate the Have Faith Haiti Mission for a year. He said every dollar would be used to feed, educate or house the children — with no administrative costs.
You can specify what area to aid at the Web site havefaithhaiti.org ; by calling 313-993-4700 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., or by mail at Have Faith Haiti Mission, c/o DRMM, 150 Stimson St., Detroit, Mich. 48201.
In addition, anyone who can donate large items such as a flatbed truck (12 feet or larger), computers, multiple bunk beds or bedding should e-mail the Web site or call the phone number.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.