Jan Thompson wanted to illustrate to the children at Lincoln Elementary School what it is like for children living in Haiti.
She did that using a cardboard box.
She explained to the children that in Haiti a cardboard box is a treasured thing. Although the children in her orphanage have beds, many children use cardboard boxes to sleep on. If a box is not a bed, it might be used as siding or as part a roof for a house.
Still many houses leak, and the children huddle under a mosquito sheet as the rain pours down upon them.
Fifth-grade students at Lincoln conducted a protein drive to bring together food items for the children at the orphanage. They also were able to coordinate the donation of two air pumps and five soccer balls for the children at Thompson’s No. 1 Hope Street orphanage in Gonaives, Haiti. Thompson visited the school Thursday.
Thompson, who was born and raised in Kansas, has lived in Gonaives for six years. Thirty children live at the orphanage she runs.
“The kids are kids,” she said. “They have some sad stories, but they love to smile, and they love to laugh, and they have friends and get mad at each other just like you.”
The Lincoln students gasped and winced at some of the things Thompson told them about the lives of the children in Haiti.
Thompson and one of the boys who lives in her orphanage were in the market one day.
Thompson was looking at clothes at a market stall, when the woman working the stall started calling the boy ugly.
“I said no, ‘He is beautiful.’ The older people in Haiti don’t treat the children very well,” Thompson said. “She was still saying he was ugly as we walked away.”
Children do not often celebrate birthdays in Haiti, many do not know when they were born.
She said one girl at the orphanage was able to celebrate her birthday for the first time when she was 7. Thompson showed a picture of the girl, wearing a happy birthday T-shirt. She was beaming.
“She got a second-hand mermaid doll for her birthday,” Thompson said. “You would have thought it was brand new from New York. She carried it every where and slept with it at night.”
Some Haitians still use children for slave labor. One child had been taken to family to be their slave. The boy worked hard, carried water and did other chores. The boy was eventually allowed to go to school, as his master was a teacher. One day he did not get his chores done before he went to school.
Page 2 of 2 - The woman of the house brought him home from school and beat him. She then burned his only set of closes in front of him.
The boy ran to a neighbor and eventually was brought to the orphanage.
The boy would not look at the staff members at the orphanage, Thompson said.
“You are looking at me, and I am looking at you,” she told the Lincoln students. “When you are a slave you do not look authority figures in the eyes.”
Haitian children and adults take delight in small things.
Most children do not have toys. A plastic grocery bag might become a kite or a plastic bottle might become a pull car.
Thompson said her No. 1 goal at Hope Street is to let the children at the orphanage be children again.
The children at the orphanage and the staff were delighted to get to go on a trip to a beach near Gonaives. Thompson packed more than 60 people onto a 44-passenger bus.
“In Haiti, there is always room for one more,” she said.
Most of the adults on the trip, some in their 50s, had never been outside of the city before.
“Haitian children do not know what vacations are. They don’t know what amusement parks are. They don’t know what Walmart is. They don’t know what a McDonalds is,” she said. “They don’t know what any kind of a restaurant is. They don’t have those things there.
“To go on a big bus ride and go to beach. It was wow.”
The Lincoln students asked as many questions as they could before Thompson’s time was up.
One child asked Thompson if it was safe in Haiti, and she explained it was not.
Both Thompson’s home and the orphanage are surrounded by tall walls topped with razor wire. The orphanage additionally has to have lights with back-up emergency generators because people were trying to slip over the walls during blackouts despite the razor wire.
Seth Jarvis, a fifth-grader, said he was surprised by what he learned from Thompson.
“It’s a lot harder there,” he said.
Ashley Buster, fifth grader, said the talk was awesome.
“I like to learn about other countries,” she said.
Contact Cristina Janney at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @macsentinel