The village of Pin De Sucre clings to a mountainside in Haiti some 3,000 feet above sea level. There are no roads leading here, only trails. Running water and electricity are non-existent too.
Most children born here will never leave. Some will get to go to school for a few years if their parents can afford the yearly $7 tuition. But after the sixth grade most of the kids will begin working in their family’s gardens—for the rest of their lives.
When our team reaches Pin De Sucre we stop at a two-room school where 60 students sit quietly shoulder to shoulder on roughhewn benches. Usually there are more than 120 students packed into the school, which looks big enough to hold a Honda Accord.
“Only half the students are here today,” the principal tells us. “The others have fever.”
Illness is nothing new in Haitian villages such as Pin De Sucre. Poverty, diseases transmitted by insects and polluted water ensures that. Today, Kevin Rose, a Convoy of Hope representative who oversees the organization’s work in Haiti, installs a water filter that offers the highest level of bacterial and viral filtration available.
“The filter only costs $55,” Rose says as he prepares the filter and a 5-gallon bucket for installation. “If the children only consume water that goes through this filter, we can eliminate a lot of sickness up here.”
A throng of parents jockey for position at the school’s entrance awaiting bags of rice and beans that Convoy of Hope transported by donkey-train the previous day.
MacKenzon, a 10-year-old boy, receives a bag of school supplies and can’t help but smile.
“I enjoy school,” he says. “I learn to read and write and get knowledge, but I don’t know what to do with all my knowledge yet.”
An hour later, we follow MacKenzon to the one-room house he shares with his brother and grandmother.
“What chores do you have?”
“I get water for my grandmother every day before school starts.”
“I go to the river.”
“How far away is that?”
“I don’t know,” he says sincerely. “It’s so far, I don’t know how long it takes.”
It’s more than two miles from the village to the river. The Convoy of Hope team made the hike earlier in the day.
It was not easy.
The elevation quickly rose to more than 3,000 feet. In places, the treacherous trail was filled with loose rocks and flanked on one side by jagged cliffs.
MacKenzon descends the loose mountain rock in shoes three sizes too big for him, then he hauls at least four gallons of water uphill on the way back. On some days, the caloric burn most surely exceeds his caloric intake—especially on days when his only meal comes at school.
Though it only costs $7 annually for kids like MacKenzon to be in school receiving a meal each day from Convoy of Hope, there remain hundreds of children in the area, according the principal, whose parents cannot afford to send them to school.
“So little can change so much,” says Dan Clark, a Convoy of Hope outreach director who trekked to the village. “It’s overwhelming how much opportunity there is here that can make a life-changing difference.”
As the team hikes back down to the river we come across a tiny boy—no more than 5 years old—with a distended belly and thin limbs. He wears only an unzipped jacket, shorts and sandals. Mucus runs from his nose. His eyes are tired and sickly. We wonder if he, too, has the fever.
“Are you in school?” our interpreter asks.
The boy shakes his head no then shyly reaches out and takes a piece a candy offered by one of the team members.
He doesn’t smile or say thank you. He simply turns and continues up the mountainside.
Jean Jacque, my Haitian guide, carried no water or food. He wore slacks, loafers and was adept at moving up the steep, rocky terrain. To keep pace with him, I tried to match him step for step, which was not easy, but made sense since he consistently found the best footing.
We must have looked peculiar—the Haitian dressed for casual Friday tailed by a six-foot-eight tall white guy outfitted with hiking boots, sweat-wicking pants and shirt, a backpack filled with supplies and two water bottles strapped to his chest.
For more than hour, we hustled up the mountain. With each step we took, I wondered how MacKenzon, the 10-year-old boy I had met the previous September in the village we were headed to, was doing.
I had prepared for the hike by running a couple miles every other morning for the previous two months. The trek I was on was the same one MacKenzon made daily; many times on the one meal per day that Convoy of Hope provides him.
It’s not an easy hike—even without the water. The heat and humidity are stifling. There are few trees offering shade to escape the searing sun and the unforgiving landscape is pitched and littered with loose rocks and slippery stones. It’s no place for a 10-year-old on an empty stomach.
Knowing there are tens of thousands of hungry kids like MacKenzon in Haiti is exactly why Convoy of Hope started feeding children and teaching them basic hygiene practices three years ago. In that time, the number of kids in our program has grown to more than 11,000 schoolchildren.
Right after the earthquake on Jan. 12, Convoy of Hope sprung into disaster relief mode and distributed more than 8.5 million meals along with thousands of hygiene kits and water purification units in Port-au-Prince and in surrounding areas.
Part of our three-year earthquake recovery plan for Haiti is to expand our feeding initiative so that 45,000 schoolchildren will receive a meal each day. We are compelled to do so because we believe one of the best ways to help Haiti move past the tragic earthquake is to care for its children—as they are the future of the country.
Which brings me back to MacKenzon. My hike was not only work-related—it was personal. For work, I was going to his village to see the earthquake damage in the school where we feed. I was also making the hike to deliver a pair of shoes, socks and a yo-yo my three children had helped buy for MacKenzon.
As I descended from the ridgeline toward the village, I saw a little boy running toward me. I realized it was MacKenzon. He ran up and gave me a high five, then led me to his school.
For the next 30 minutes, he listened as I talked to village leaders about the damage and the pressing needs in the area. Seeing that MacKenzon was getting bored, I showed him a picture of my children on my iPhone. He smiled and asked if they were movie stars. I told him they were just normal kids who cared for him and had sent gifts.
He smiled shyly until I unloaded the goods they had sent into his arms. As I did, his smile grew wide.
An hour later I hiked back down the trail MacKenzon traverses every day. As I did, I couldn’t help but believe that whether we are famous movie stars or middle-class kids from the suburbs or somewhere in between, we can all fight poverty and hunger—if we’re willing to trek out to those in need.
To find out how you can help RELEVANT and Convoy of Hope rebuild three schools in Haiti, visit our Haiti School Project site.
Kirk Noonan is the communications director for Convoy of Hope, which was founded in 1994 and exists to feed millions of people in need in the United States and around the world through children’s nutrition initiatives, citywide outreaches and disaster response.