Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dear Manese: A Letter I Won't Send to my Sponsored Child

Dear Manese,

I got my first letter from you the other day--scrawling cursive Haitian Creole (helpfully translated by a someone else into English at the bottom). I couldn't tell, reading it, whether you'd written it before or after getting your first letter from me.  It wasn't dated.  It was a lovely letter, though.  You thanked me for helping you stay in school.  You wrote "God bless you," and I noticed that the Creole word for God, Bondye, actually comes from the French bon Dieu, which translates not as "God" but as "good God."

I thought of what I would write to you next.  I also thought of the things I could never say.  Such as: we're going to Hawaii over spring break.  Or, I need to lose a few pounds.  Or, we've been so busy this winter we haven't had time to visit our mountain house at all. 

I ate fresh blueberries on my breakfast cereal today, even though it isn't blueberry season.  It's too cold to ride my horse.  Yesterday I watched my daughter play her second match for her high school tennis team; the coach surprised them by handing out long-sleeved shirts, in the team colors, embroidered with 'Viking Tennis,' beforehand.  To go with the two short-sleeved shirts, two skorts, tennis dress, and warmups she'd already received.   When I wondered out loud why the county schools didn't have stronger tennis teams, my son said, casually, "Tennis is a rich kid's sport."  I'd truly never thought of it that way.

Manese, you are exactly my daughter's age.   I know.  It's one of the reasons I chose you out of the children awaiting sponsorship at Help One Now.  I also liked your photograph, the way you stood with one hand on your hip, chin lifted, unsmiling, as though really, you had more important things to do.  My daughter might have posed the same way, felt the same awkwardness I imagined you were feeling at the time.

I know that you go to school at the orphanage at Drouin, but are not yourself an orphan.  I know that Help One Now started out only sponsoring the orphans there, but that one day, when a Help One Now staffer was visiting the school, a small child fainted in one of the classrooms.  Why?  Because her parents were only able to feed her every other day.  And that the teacher told the HON staffer that the girl would probably become an orphan in a month or two--not because her parents would die, but because, in desperation, they would abandon her at the orphanage so that she might eat every day.  Good God.  The staff member walked out into the fields and sobbed, and later flew back to the United States and rewrote the sponsorship program so that children could get schooling and meals and still stay with their families.

I know that Haitians are supposed to get free education but fewer than 10% actually do.  I know that most Haitian teachers themselves have not gotten through high school, and that the standards of education there are woefully inadequate.  I know that education is a way out of poverty.

Manese, I have such hope for you.  You are strong and tough.  My daughter, too, is strong and tough.  I see parallels between you that neither of you might ever see:  a black Haitian girl and a white Tennessean.  For starters, you both are loved equally by a very good God.

That, and you both have terrible handwriting.