PORT-au-PRINCE, Haiti − I am standing in the sink. Well. Where the sink is supposed to go one day.
“We need to put in drainage lines,” the construction man says.
“Uh-huh,” I say.
I move over a few feet. Now I am standing in the refrigerator. Well. Where the refrigerator is supposed to go one day.
“We need to put in 220 current,” the man says.
“Uh-huh,” I answer.
I slide over and stand in the oven. Another step and I’m in the propane burners. A few inches more and I’m inside the freezer.
There is no floor yet. Orange dirt soils my sneakers. There is only one wall and half of another. I step to a corner between chunks of concrete and metal rebar.
“What goes here?” I say.
“Mop sink,” the man says.
“Uh-huh,” I say.
I am building a kitchen. For 100 people. I have no idea how it is done, but it has to be done. We have 60 orphaned children and 40 staff members in a country so torn apart by poverty, corruption and gang violence, that nobody even goes outside anymore. It’s become so dangerous that earlier this year we uprooted everybody from the place we had been for years and moved up the hillside to a more secure facility.
Without a kitchen.
And now it’s Thanksgiving week, when kitchens are front and center.
So I’m standing in the sink, asking for help.
Can you even imagine?
Some of you already know of my history, founding the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage in 2010, after the devastating earthquake that killed nearly 3% of Haiti’s population. I come here every month. Our incredible children are amongst the greatest joys of my life — and of many who come to visit, work or volunteer with us.
As I sit writing this, I hear the kids singing outside the window. They are marching up and down a path. Their spirit, curiosity, faith and endless gratitude — while living in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — astounds me every day.
But food is always an issue in Haiti. A recent report showed nearly half the population does not have enough to eat. Half the population?
Could you imagine if every other person in America was going hungry? I can’t. Because I didn’t grow up under such dire conditions. But I see those conditions here every day. Bony bodies. Emaciated children. We recently took in a baby who, we were told, had nothing to eat but sugar water for the first six months of her life. She was barely alive.
Even our longtime kids, who get to eat three times a day, often attack the food when it is given. They woof it down and are always ready for more. Once you have been hungry, you never stop wondering if the food will run out. It is a terrible shadow for a child to bear.
So a kitchen is not just a necessity here, it is a symbol of hope. The fact that you might have enough food to utilize a kitchen sends a critical message: We are going to eat today.
Here’s how you can help
I think back to the kitchens of my Thanksgivings. The further back I go, the smaller they were. Our dinner table was in the kitchen of my childhood home, you could push your chair out and hit the stove.
When we moved, my parents created a dining room, so we didn’t eat right next to the oven. Later, when I purchased my own home, I saw my dream of an “open” kitchen, where everyone could talk and cook and eat at the same time. That blessed setup will, this week, be the backdrop for the 30th consecutive Thanksgiving we will celebrate in that house.
So my blessings are beyond abundant. But others’ are not. And I believe in a simple obligation: those who have must try and care for those who don’t.
So we have kicked off a campaign called “A Year of Thanks & Giving” at our orphanage to try and turn our new facility into a home. Each month, we are focusing on a different need. For November, it’s the kitchen, because, well, November is the month for kitchens. I’d love our kids to create their own Thanksgiving one day in the middle of what is now a mound of dirt, pipes and cinder block.
If you would like to help us, you can do so at havefaithhaiti.org, or by sending contributions to Have Faith Haiti Support Trust, c/o A Hole in the Roof Foundation, 29836 Telegraph Road, Southfield, Michigan, 48034.
I am standing in the mop sink, but one day we’ll be draining mops there. I am standing in the freezer, but one day there will be food inside it.
I am standing at the crossroads of hunger and childhood, and I see no alternative but to bridge a kitchen between them. On a week when our own kitchens are brimming with abundance, how can we not?
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.