As the sun rises

Justin Crann
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A Times-Herald reporter spent two weeks volunteering in Haiti. Here is her story.

Katie Brickman doesn't think of herself as a kid person, but when she talks about the kids she met in Haiti, you wouldn't know it.

Brickman, a sports reporter for the Moose Jaw Times-Herald, spent two weeks in Haiti from March 8 to 22. While there, she volunteered at an orphanage and hospital and toured several schools and had the opportunity to meet dozens of Haitian children.

From her account, the trip “created a lot of chaos,” but the kids she met had a blast. It quickly became evident that in many ways, she did too.

As she talked about one occasion where she and members of her family distributed balloons to a class full of children, Brickman’s face lit up. It was evident the memory made her happy.

“To see the joy in a five-year-old’s face their first time whacking a balloon and seeing where it goes … to see them embrace that moment and the joy they’re feeling, that warms your heart,” Brickman said. “It’s such a little moment, and it was my air — air from my lungs — that made them so happy.”

Balloons weren’t the only thing Brickman and her family gave to the children — they also handed out shoes, skipping ropes and dinky cars, “but they call (dinky cars) machines.”

“They love their machines,” she added.

Visits like those, touring the seven schools that their guide — a Catholic priest named Father Charles — oversees, comprised just the first week of Brickman’s visit to the Caribbean nation.

She said that first week was relatively easy.

Meeting children, handing out shoes, candies and toys, and adjusting to the “simpler way of life” — rising with the sun and sleeping at sunset — were easy challenges to overcome, and even the language barrier wasn’t particularly tricky.

“There were quite a few people in Haiti who spoke English to us, and I know a little bit of French, but definitely there was a language barrier,” said Brickman. “Honestly, though, once you show kids that you care, language doesn’t matter as much to them and you can get by with little or no French at all just by hugging them, taking them for a walk or playing games.”

For the second week, she spent time at a hospital and an orphanage called Kai Mira. It was during this time that she came face to face with the harder parts of Haitian life.

Particularly challenging for Brickman was learning about the lives of the kids at the orphanage.

“You find out what their backgrounds are and, for some of them, their pasts are terribly sad,” said Brickman.

She mentions two children in particular: Jessica and Nicodem.

Jessica, a young girl, “wouldn’t let go of me,” she said.

“She came in last year and she was malnourished,” Brickman said. “Now, she is actually obese because she eats a lot.”

But it was Nicodem — Brickman calls him Nico — who “stole my heart,” she added.

“I wish I could bring him back to Canada. When he was in the womb, the nerve endings on his colon didn’t attach and so his belly is protruding,” said Brickman.

Because of the birth defect, she said, Nico can’t pass faeces. As a result, it collects on the side of his abdomen where the colon rests.

“I’m afraid Nico is going to die in Kai Mira,” Brickman said. “In Canada or the U.S., he wouldn’t have been allowed to leave the hospital until he had the surgery (he needs). … (and) he can’t get an emergency Visa to go to Canada or the Dominican to get the surgery.

“I hope they can get a surgeon down there to help him,” she added.

Even if Nico does get the surgery he needs, Brickman said, he likely won’t make a full recovery.

“He doesn’t get nutrients. His arms and legs are so thin,” she explained. “He will probably have a learning disability.”

Those problems — the problems that stem from poverty and just not having the services and education that residents of first world countries take for granted — were the ones Brickman said she found most frustrating.

“As beautiful as Haiti is, covered in mountains with the Caribbean sun and oceans all around it, when you look closely … it just needs so much help,” she said. “It’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and that’s sad.”

Still, Brickman noted, there was something admirable about Haiti and its people.

“In Haiti, no matter how little a family had, they were so proud of it. … Some of them don’t even have shoes, but they’re still laughing and giggling. They’re happy to be alive, to have food, to have clean water,” she said.

“In 2010, they went through an earthquake. In 2011, cholera broke out. They lost family members, but they kept on going,” said Brickman.

The problems aren’t all in the past, but they aren’t stopping the Haitian people, she said.

“The northeastern area of Haiti is going through a drought right now, but the Haitians are still carrying on,” said Brickman.

“Life continues, as the sun rises.”

Organizations: Moose Jaw Times-Herald, Visa

Geographic location: Haiti, Caribbean, Canada U.S.

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