Five years ago Haiti was leveled by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Thousands upon thousands of people died, went missing, became orphans, lost their homes, and lost everything. When my five year old twins heard about it, they declared that we were going to help. We had never done anything like it before.
Our family was catapulted into a new way of thinking with their declaration . We spent our free time making cookies, bread, and Valentine ornaments to try to help a family in Haiti rebuild their home. Our lives looked really different for three weeks – all our playdates, evenings, and weekends were about making and delivering things with our own hands to help people we didn’t know. In the end, friends donated $7678.31 – more than 15x our original goal of $500. Amazing, humbling, and exciting.
But somehow not enough.
The week of the earthquake I happened to be walking into Longfellow Elementary at the same time as the PTA President. I asked her, as I asked everybody those days, “Did you hear about the Earthquake?” She wondered aloud if our school could do something to help. She stopped, looked at me and asked, “Could you do it? Could you figure out something for our school to do?” I blinked, so tired and little scared, shifted Greta on my hip and somehow said “Yes.” She asked me to share the plan with the Principal asap.
I didn’t have a plan. My only plan was cinnamon bread and felt ornaments. I called Haiti Partners again, looking for ideas about how our school could help. I didn’t realize what a perfect fit it would be. Haiti Partners is all about Education and Empowerment. They lost two schools in the earthquake. $1000 could help rebuild a classroom.
After getting the principal’s blessing we got to work on an easy fundraiser. We put shiny aluminum paint cans that said “Longfellow Helping Haiti” in every classroom and the front office. We would collect spare change in the cans, and hoped to raise $1000 in two months. Here is an excerpt from the letter that went home with each student:
In Haiti nearly 50% of school age children don’t go to school. Ninety percent of schools must rely solely on enrollment fees to support their work. Unfortunately, most families – many of whom are part of the more than 50% of Haitians who live on less than a $1 a day – can’t afford to pay much and schools scrape by just to survive. Teachers regularly go unpaid, facilities are dreadfully inadequate, and students lack even basic educational materials. Haiti Partners, the nonprofit organization to whom our funds would be sent, educates 600 students in 4 schools (two of which were destroyed in the earthquake). They focus on building and improving facilities, providing educational materials for students, and training teachers.
The PTA will be placing paint cans with the label “Longfellow Helping Haiti – Haiti Partners” in each classroom and the main office until Spring Break. Students can deposit change, dollars and checks in the cans throughout the week and they will be collected each Friday. Weekly totals and progress toward our goal will be on a poster in the main hallway.
My friend offered to help. Always accept help with these endeavors! We met up at school early and delivered the cans to each classroom.
Much to our surprise, we received $1050.83 in just 5 days! There was so much heavy change in the 15 cans that we needed to use a Rubbermaid bin and a luggage cart to carry it through the school and to the bank. The kids cheered at the teller’s counter, their faces sticky with bank lollypops, when the she announced the total. They shouted, “We did it! $1000 for Haiti!” Everyone around us smiled big.
The principal gave us permission to continue the fundraiser for a couple more weeks. The compassion was contagious. Kids were eager to help. Moms would stop me in the hallway, tearfully telling me stories about their kid’s excitement. Kids emptied piggy banks, turned drawers upside down, and even withdrew money from their saving accounts. A few told me they had never seen their child want to be generous before. Compassion was changing hearts in our little school.
When I would stand on a chair in the main hallway, coloring in another few bars on the totals chart with a stubby red crayon, kids would stop and point, “Hey! More money for Haiti! Cool!” It was glorious.
The grand total received from Longfellow School for Haiti Partners was $2029.44.
I didn’t expect my twins’ desire to help Haiti to grow past our little fundraiser on Facebook. I honestly didn’t think anyone would care. None of us had thought about Haiti’s needs before. We certainly hadn’t talked about it much. But the Earthquake was so tragic, huge and scary. It seemed everyone who heard about it wanted to be a part of doing something to help.
In the midst of all this the head of the children’s ministry at our church ordered some cookies and an ornament that said “Haiti.” When I asked how we should get it to her, she asked me to please stop by her office after we put the kids to bed. She asked how the whole thing started, facts and figures about the earthquake, and my opinions on faith and suffering. It felt like a job interview. I got nervous. I’m not a Sunday School Helper and had no desire to be one.
Much to my surprise she invited Chris and I to help Kingdom Kids do a fundraiser for Haiti at church. It was happening again! It was contagious.
That weekend we did a little presentation to our church’s kids. Chris showed them pictures of the Auguste family and what a house looks like in Haiti. He talked about what life was like in that faraway place. I showed them some of the ornaments Caleb, Zoë and Greta made. They asked questions and were excited to get to do something.
A couple Sundays later the children created 150 totally unique Valentine ornaments. My friend from church helped get all the materials ready and wrote a simply elegant prayer for the children to glue on the back:
The Sunday before Valentine’s Day we set up a couple tables with Valentine Trees and sold the ornaments. Kids fought over who got to man the booth. Our church had never done anything like this before. Many people over-paid for our $5 ornaments and were rewarded by children dancing and saying, “Thanks! Wow! A twenty! Look at this!”
We couldn’t believe the people of Church of the Resurrection gave $893! They encouraged the children of our church and helped people in crisis. It was a great day.
But of course there’s more.
Every year our church does a Good Friday Offering. Before the celebration of Easter, we reflect on what it means for the God of the Universe to become a simple person with a regular body. We think about our poor choices and deliberate sins. We remember that Jesus intentionally chose suffering. We bow low in awe of his unstoppable love for us in dying on the cross. Trying to love like he loves, we try to sacrificially give additional money to those in great need.
The kids’ exuberance at the Valentine Ornament sale helped bring Haiti to mind as a possible recipient of our Good Friday Offering. I may have fanned those flames with some emails to church leaders. I may have done some enthusiastic pestering in the hallways.
We were thrilled when the church chose Haiti to receive the Offering. Half would go to Haiti Partners and half to World Relief. I was asked to research it, set up an information booth, and be available for questions about it. This was new territory for me. A little scared, very tired, with a traveling husband, three intense kids, and a house we were actively trying to sell, I said “Yes” again.
In the weeks that followed we talked a lot with Haiti Partners, made a display for church (only marginally better than your child’s science fair project), stood on stage when the Good Friday Offering was announced, and answered questions about Haiti as best we could. Kent Annan generously gave us copies of his book Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously to share with those looking for more.
Here are some of the amazing pictures we used to better explain the hope and beauty of Haiti:
We saw and heard people talking about Haiti after church each week. We hoped that the desire to love and serve Haiti was still contagious. But we didn’t know what to expect. To our amazement, the people of our church were very generous. They sent Haiti Partners $22,000 to help hundreds of people rebuild their lives! Later that year they sent our church a wonderful Thank You video.
This was a game-changing year for our family. We certainly didn’t plan to do anything for Haiti when 2010 began. Our kids had decided to help other people. It was contagious. Our family, neighborhood, school, church, and Facebook friends donated more than $33,000 to help the people of Haiti that winter. Our goal was $500. Doesn’t that blow your mind?
Why do you think this happened? Why did my kids suddenly decide to help strangers far away? Why did the school want to help? Why did I keep saying Yes? Why was it so contagious? Why did it get so big? These are important, life-altering questions. Tomorrow let’s consider Why in Part 3: Called to Compassion.
You are loved.
Since 2010 my family has voted to do have Compassion Focus projects for Orphans, Clean Water, and Homelessness. This year it’s Haiti again. We are all older, bolder, and more hopeful than we were five years ago. Who knows what might happen?
To learn more about how your family could focus on Compassion this year, check out this simple two page calendar: Family Compassion Focus Calendar
© Aimee Fritz and Family Compassion Focus, 2014-2015