The most inspiring people often are the ones who resist recognition until a nosy reporter comes along and blows their cover.
For example, the more I read about Pope Francis, the more he inspires me. Yet, I’m sure the pope would prefer his deeds go unrecognized. Take his nightly excursions into Rome to visit with homeless men and women. Pope Francis would prefer to be unrecognized. Yet if someone had not reported this news, I’d have one less reason to be inspired by him, one less reason to heed his words.
Perhaps I’d read a tweet by the pope like, “To live charitably means not looking out for our own interests, but carrying the burdens of the weakest and poorest among us,” (tweeted by @Pontifex on Nov. 25) and think, “How cool is it that thepope tweets?” Instead, because I feel connected to the pope through these windows into his character, I read that tweet and think, “Yes! How canI help carry the burdens of the weak and poor?”
When a Grassland resident’s Facebook posts elicit tears of compassion and motivate me to change, it is my duty as your correspondent to share his story with you in the hopes that you too will be motivated and inspired, even if the subject resists recognition.
The theme of those aforementioned Facebook posts is Jeff Ponchillia’s recent trip to southwest Haiti in conjunction with the Nashville-based nonprofit organization Visitation Hospital Foundation. Jeff’s Facebook posts were accompanied by images of beautiful dark-skinned children with brilliant white smiles and big chocolate brown eyes.
One of his posts read, “These last few days have been completely amazing and life-changing. The children of Haiti are so full of love and have a work ethic unmatchable. Kids walk two hours each way to school every day and do it with a smile. Big brothers and sisters carry the younger ones. All the things in our lives that we think are problems amount to nothing compared to the struggles here — wanting to know what your next meal will be, having no power or running water, bathing and washing your clothes in a stream. Everyone should, once in their life, experience this place. It will change you forever. If ever given the opportunity to come here or to donate to something here, please do so. There isn’t a better cause.”
So, Jeff Ponchillia, I’m blowing your cover with the hopes of bringing a little more awareness to these critical needs in Haiti.
You see, Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere and the third-hungriest country in the world. The average Haitian eats only one meal a day, and many do not eat at all. There are only 25 doctors for every 100,000 inhabitants, and hospitals are scarce.
“The few hospitals that exist in Haiti are beyond substandard,” Jeff says. “It’s common to see people lying in the grass on mats outside the understaffed, fly-infested hospital. Words cannot describe the filth.” Instead, people walk hours to visit the VHF medical clinic because they are afraid that if they go to the hospital, they will die.
Jeff took his first trip to Haiti in August. And while the VHF’s medical efforts were his primary focus, as a schoolteacher he gravitated toward the overwhelming needs of the area schools, most of which lacked solid walls, books and basic supplies. Through the support of his mother, Jan Carell, and stepfather, the late Jim Carell, and with the assistance of the VHF medical clinic’s Haitian administrator, Killy Serent, the team has built a new school, made significant repairs to existing ones, and purchased books, uniforms and additional supplies.
The children in Jeff’s photographs are the lucky ones: the ones who have a school to walk to, the ones who get a meal, the ones who have access to VHF’s medical clinic, the ones whose water quality and health education have significantly improved because of VHF’s ongoing efforts to provide care. Yet the needs far outweigh the supplies.
As Jeff said, “there isn’t a better cause.” So, as you do your year-end giving, or consider future giving, I encourage you to consider the needs of these beautiful Haitian people. If you’re looking for a trustworthy place to make donations, Visitation Hospital Foundation is run with utmost integrity. Learn more atwww.visitationhospital.org.
So, whether you’re inspired by a cool pope tweeting or a Facebook friend posting, let’s work together to carry the burdens of the weakest and poorest among us. After all, that’s what Christmas is all about.