PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI – As I finish this, I am in a vehicle about to pull up to our orphanage. I will likely be greeted by a happy rush of children, whom I haven’t seen in a month, jumping and squealing and asking if I brought them anything. It is the best way to arrive in a foreign country.
My departure will not be as joyous. I will be bringing back a bright, polite, 9-year-old girl, whom we lovingly call “Babu,” who has a serious medical issue that requires surgery.
I have been through this before, with a beautiful child named Chika, who came to America in 2015 for treatment of a cancerous brain tumor. She wound up staying two years with my wife and me, in our home and traveling the world, searching for a cure, before ultimately losing her battle.
Babu’s challenge, a urological issue, is thankfully more optimistic. But certain things will be eerily similar. A little girl in a strange hospital, scared, far from home. A prolonged stay for surgery and recovery. Doctors and nurses who will find ways to squeeze her into their workload.
And enormous medical bills.
Children like Babu and Chika have a triple whammy when a medical issue arises. They have no parents to rely on, their own country cannot take care of them, and, because they are foreigners, they are often not eligible for insurance or charitable monies in U.S. hospitals.
This was the reason I started The Chika Fund, to have an emergency reserve in case of illness for our 47 children at the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage. And it is the reason, months ago, that I agreed to host a Charity Book Launch at the Detroit Opera House, Sunday, Oct.14, at 7 p.m., to raise money for the cause.
I didn’t know, at the time, that one of those kids would be living with me.
A book launch with a cause
The event, which will include live onstage guests Anderson Cooper (CNN), Jane Pauley (CBS Sunday Morning), Bob Costas (NBC), Joe Dumars (Pistons Hall of Famer), the stars of “The Detroiters,” Tim Robinson and Sam Washington, actress Sophia Bush (Chicago P.D.), R&B star Kem, and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh (live via video), is built around the theme of how we influence one another, sometimes without knowing how.
That is also the theme of the book being launched, “The Next Person You Meet In Heaven,” a sequel to the first novel I ever wrote called, “The Five People You Meet In Heaven.” Everyone who attends gets a free, signed book with their ticket. And all profits go to The Chika Fund, as well as S.A.Y. Detroit, to help our local kids through literacy programs at the S.A.Y. Play Center at Lipke Park.
You might ask, why a book launch? Aren’t book launches usually soirees in swanky New York restaurants, with congratulatory toasts and photos and media?
Well. Yes. And in the beginning of my career, I was honored with a couple of those. I felt foolish. A lot of money was being spent on a party for a book that no one had read yet. It didn’t make sense. And I don’t live in New York.
So, starting with “The Five People” novel, I began to do book launches as charity events, here in Detroit, to hopefully make better use of the occasion. Over the years, folks from Tony Bennett to Ernie Harwell to Hank Azaria to JK Simmons and Michael Bolton have taken part for various causes.
And they’ve always exceeded my hopes.
Maybe this one will, too.
Here’s how you can help
We’re at an interesting time. We are questioning basic American tenets that haven’t been debated in decades. Recently, a Fox News host even raised the question of whether diversity was really a good thing for America.
I don’t know how you answer that, since, if we wanted to “un-diversify” America, who would we get rid of first? We’re all part of a big mix of races, religions and ethnicities.
All I know is that, in my life, relationships with people who don’t look like me have been as rich as relationships with those who do. Especially children.
And when it comes to geography, I’ve seen how the luck of where a child is born determines such critical things as how much medical care the child will receive. As an American, if I get sick, or my kids gets sick, I know we can be taken care of. If I didn’t have a dime, there would still be avenues for me to get help.
The kids who benefit from The Chika Fund have few such choices. They would likely be left to suffer, or, in some cases, die. It happens all the time.
I don’t want to watch that happen. Maybe you don’t either. And maybe you don’t want to watch a different kind of death, the death of hope, the kind that happens if Detroit kids don’t learn how to read. That simple, basic skill can, in no uncertain terms, save a life.
If we’re going to spend money on a night out, saving lives seems to be a better spend than cocktails and party favors. I hope you will join me Oct. 14. Tickets are only $50, and that includes the signed book. You can get them at ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000.
I’ll be returning from this trip with a heavier load, a young girl. But I have a chance to lighten the load she’s carrying. And to me, that makes all the journeys, including the one we’ll take Oct. 14, incredibly rewarding.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.