I realized families are like pieces of art: They can be made from many materials. Sometimes they are from birth, sometimes they are melded, sometimes they are forcibly constructed, and sometimes they are merely the confluence and time and circumstance, mixing together, like eggs being scrambled in a Michigan kitchen.
But they are all real. Chika was a daughter to a number of people. And for the last two years, she was ours, gloriously ours…
We did not lose a child. We were given one.
— Mitch Albom, “Chika’s Story” in the Detroit Free Press
Chika Jeune was born three days before the devastating earthquake that decimated Haiti in 2010. She spent her infancy in a landscape of extreme poverty, and when her mother died giving birth to a baby brother, Chika was brought to the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage that Albom operates in Port-au-Prince.
With no children of their own, the forty-plus children who live, play, and go to school at the orphanage have become family to Mitch and his wife, Janine. Chika’s arrival makes a quick impression. Brave and self-assured, even as a three-year-old, she delights the other kids and teachers. But at age five, Chika is suddenly diagnosed with something a doctor there says, “No one in Haiti can help you with.”
Mitch and Janine bring Chika to Detroit, hopeful that they can get the medical help needed to return her to a healthy life in Haiti. Instead, Chika becomes a permanent part of their household, and their lives, as they embark on a two-year, around-the-world journey to find a cure for an inoperable brain tumor. As Chika’s boundless optimism and humor teach Mitch the joys a child brings to their lives, he learns that a relationship built on love, no matter what blows it takes, can never be lost.
Told in hindsight, and through illuminating conversations with Chika herself, this is Albom at his most poignant and vulnerable. Chika is a celebration of a girl, her guardians, and the incredible bond they formed—a devastatingly beautiful portrait of what it means to be a family, regardless of how it is made.
The Chika Fund covers life-saving medical costs and health care, including inoculations, nutrition, regular doctor checkups, medical tests and if-needed hospitalizations at Have Faith Haiti.