A RETURN TO HAITI WITH TOOLS IN HAND

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – Because they still need us.

Because we still can help.

Because the first time we came, their toilets were holes in the ground, their kitchen was a pot full of bugs and their dorm rooms had been destroyed.

Because the first time we came, the children were bathed with a plastic bucket dumped over their heads.

Because the first time we came, they ate bowls of rice while sitting next to a coughing generator.

Because there was no electricity at night and no light when the flashlights died.

Because the earthquake that hit seven months ago and killed up to 230,000 is still being felt here, in the shaking of children too scared to go inside.

Because despite $1 billion in aid, there still is rubble in the streets, irregular power and water, and countless human beings sleeping in tents or under pieces of tin, their floors a muddy earth.

Because a tragedy doesn’t go away when the TV cameras do.

Because we are Detroiters, and we know something about hard times, and this charity, A Hole in the Roof Foundation, was formed to fight them.

That is why we go back to Haiti. Everyone working together

Because the first time we came, there were three of us, the second time nine of us, and this time 19 – plumbers, electricians, roofers, masons, carpenters, photographers, helping hands – all volunteers, all leaving behind their jobs and their families and their nice cool beds for filthy floor space and sweat-soaked nights.

Because when we arrive at the Caring and Sharing Mission, an orphanage founded by Detroiters, the children grab our hands and our legs.

Because there are maybe 70 kids here without parents or possessions, yet they smile and pray and say the unlikely words “thank you.”

Because a smiling 6-year-old named Appollos offers you his rice whenever you pass.

Because an anxious 8-year-old named Kevin runs to fill your bucket of grout.

Because barefoot teenagers named Sadrac, Edward, Dona and Daniel sweep, paint, mop and push wheelbarrows, from the minute you start to the minute you finish, lest you think they are not willing to help themselves.

Because women begin cooking at noon, on a single burner, to try to cobble together some sort of dinner for us.

Because a putrid septic field can be cemented, walled and roofed over to create a boys bathroom with three toilets, two urinals and two sinks.

Because an empty corner of the mission can be walled, screened and plumbed to create a new kitchen.

Because an empty alley can be cleared, rebuilt and piped to provide three new showers – their first ever.

Because cracking, crumbling dorm rooms can be rebuilt, painted and affixed with ceiling fans to create colorful, welcoming places to sleep.

Because after doing all this work for days without a break, the 19 volunteers – dubbed the Detroit Muscle Crew – form a circle in the darkness to discuss how to do more.

That is why we go back to Haiti. All you need is love

Because when the sun sets, the children, without fail, gather for devotional and sing the sweetest of hymns, sitting in each other’s laps, the words memorized, joyous and grateful in ways rarely seen back home.

Because when a monsoon-like rainstorm hits, those kids drag us outside to play soccer in the splash.

Because someone brings an iPod and speakers, and when a funky song comes on, the kids dance wildly on a just-grouted kitchen floor, and you’re too affected by their happiness to say a word.

Because gifts donated by Somerset Collection, and cookies donated by Grand Traverse Pie and backpacks carried down on a plane donated by Roger Penske are placed into the grateful hands of kids with no place to even store them.

Because you lose track of time, cell phones and e-mails and fill your day watching one life affect another.

Because a sudden tap comes on your shoulder, and a young man named Sam hands you a wooden necklace as a good-bye present.

Because when you board the trucks, the kids hug you and start crying until you find yourself making a promise.

Because I wear a ring, and as I look at it now, I notice, for the first time, that dried concrete has encased it, covering who I am with who they are.

That is why we go back.

Because in the end, beneath the dirt, tears and tragedy, you find the heart of Haiti. And it finds yours.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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