“Heroes are made by the path they choose, not the powers they are graced with.” The Haitian Heroes Project is all about the Children of Haiti and the enormous potential that lies within them.
Too often they have been referred to as a lost cause ‚Äď without goals, without perspective, without talents or skills worth mentioning. This perception is fundamentally wrong. Many of their stories are proof to the fact that they have grown ‚Äď against all odds ‚Äď to become exceptional little heroes. But to fully tab into their future potential, they will need our help!
Olivier, 9 years old
It‚Äôs the 15th January 2010. Maria Kendarley Lagroue climbs over the rubble of her house desperately calling out her six year old son‚Äôs nickname over and over again. Three days after the devastating earthquake that cost over 300.000 Haitians their lives, Maria‚Äôs son has been pronounced dead ‚Äď buried beneath the concrete blocks and wooden beams of what used to be his home. His mother can and will not accept that she will never see her lively little boy Olivier, her ‚ÄúBabu‚ÄĚ, again. ‚ÄúGod will protect me,‚Äú he had said to her as the earth began to shake. ‚ÄěMom, God will protect me.‚Äú
Only a year ago they had moved into this house together. Olivier went to school; his mother found work with the MEVA project and began to study. Their new home was a step towards a better fu- ture and a lift out of the poverty that had continuously accompanied them since Olivier‚Äôs father had abandoned them after his birth. Olivier is lively, sometimes overexcited suffering from a missing father figure. But he is also sensitive, very perceptive and driven by an infinite love towards his surroundings, the people around him and above all the love towards his mother. The two give each other strength. They are a team – invincible! When finally Maria takes all of her strength to call her son‚Äôs name one last time with tears in her eyes, something she thought impossible happens: she receives an answer! ‚ÄěMom, save me! Mom, I‚Äėm here! I‚Äėm thirsty, Mom! ‚Äě¬†The neighbors heard Oliver’s cries to his mother and immediately jump in to help free him and reunite him with her. With hammers, sticks and bare hands they dig deeper and deeper, moving the rubble stone by stone. Olivier‚Äôs hands, legs and his head are seriously injured. But he is not afraid. He slept very deeply is what he says later on. While under the rumble, what kept Oliver’s spirits alive was his faith and the light he saw even while buried. Oliver’s religion and belief in God, gave him the assurance he needed that he would be ok. Deep down inside he knew he would be found, he knew that he would stay around, if only for one thing, for his mother. After that ordeal, both Oliver’s faith and bravery continued to shine and give him the will to survive. After a short stay in a Haitian hospital, Oliver was moved to a facility in the Dominican Republic that was better equipped to restore his health. ¬†Despite 10 surgeries, with many more to come, Oliver’s charisma and zest for life is ever present–he is driven by his courage and will to survive. In his eyes, his scars and his experiences are proof that he’s made it. He’s proud of them and is happy to speak about them with anyone who wants to learn more. Determined to succeed, determined to will and determined to believe, Oliver is not allowing this earthquake to remove him from his country or people; his goal is to build an earthquake proof house for him and this mother so in his eyes there is no room for sadness, only moving upwards and onwards.
Two years after the earthquake Olivier‚Äôs mother gets offered a scholarship in faraway Spain. The one- year training she will receive is a basic requirement for future potential work with a Haitian government authority. And even though it breaks her heart to leave her son in the care of the MEVA orphanage, she knows that she needs to go. For her own sake, for her son‚Äôs sake and to help turn Haiti into the country where she wants to live in the future. She tearfully tells Olivier of her decision. Olivier does not cry. Instead he meets his mother‚Äôs weakness with an unbelievable strength at the age of only eight. ‚ÄěOkay Mom, you can go. Now that you‚Äėve told me, I understand. Otherwise I could not have let you go. It‚Äės okay Mom, you have to go.‚ÄĚ
Cassandra, 13 years old
“I‚Äôm going to kill you!”
Those are words you would expect to hear from a stranger, not from your mother. But that is where Cassandra‚Äôs story begins. At nine years old she has become the personification of her mother‚Äôs failures, shame and despair.
A battered mattress on the floor, a bed on a raised piece of concrete, a poorly repaired crack in the wall – the room in which Cassandra has lived together with her mother, Maria Elias, since her birth measures approximately eight square meters. As a hemiplegic, Maria Elias, can only move parts of her body and without the financial and physical help of a partner she has no choice but to begin a life of prostitution to make ends meet. The size of their small home forces her little daughter to witness her mother‚Äôs endless physical and emotional exploitation. The moaning and groans of different men every night turn into Cassandra‚Äôs lullaby. At nine years old she starts sexual relationships with boys in their neighborhood. Her desperate search for affection and a male caregiver finally lead her into a relationship with a 25 year old man who repeatedly abuses her physically. When her mother finds out about the relationship she suddenly realizes that history is repeating itself. Her daughter is trapped in the same vicious circle of exploitation she wanted to protect her from so badly. In just a split second all of the anger, frustration, disappointment and despair that have build over the years breakthrough in a storm of violence against her daughter. After countless punches and kicks she finally grabs a knife: ‚ÄúI am going to kill you! You are a disgrace!‚ÄĚ
After escaping and arriving at her aunt‚Äôs house, a day later, Cassandra is barefoot, exhausted and in tears. At just nine years old she looks like a fallen angel ‚Äď marked by exploitation, violence and suffering. A week later she joins the MEVA orphanage, but integrating her into the daily routines is not easy. Cassandra often rebels and is caught stealing several times, but not because she wants to keep it for herself. She takes money from the household budget of the orphanage to buy candies, cookies and chocolates for the other children. She feels obliged to reciprocate the gesture of her friends who often share small candies with her, which they bring from home. Though it is understood why she steals, the staff has worked with her, explaining why stealing is wrong and teaching her other ways to show her affection. Cassandra is a bright light at MEVA‚ÄĒalways happy, smiling and isn‚Äôt easily discouraged. She has taken on the role of big sister to the ‚Äúlittle ones‚ÄĚ in the orphanage, taking care of them and entertaining them with her comedic interludes.
Although daily life can be someone of a struggle, she still dreams big. When she grows up she wants to be a teacher and travel to India wear the traditional Indian robes and jewelry. Though her mother still lives alone Cassandra supports and helps with the housework when she is visiting. The path to a healthy relationship between them will not be an easy one, but they both know it is for the best because they only have each other.