“Williamson, your mom is outside waiting for you!”
Class was finished and I was chatting with my friends and getting ready for group study with my classmates. I looked at the clock in surprise. My mother never came to get me this early. Every day, no exceptions, all of the students stayed to do our homework until just before 6:00. It was only 3:00 PM.
“What are you doing?” Kinson asked as I started to pack my things. He was one of my best friends at the Sapiens school. We’d been buddies since Kindergarten.
“My mom’s outside waiting for me,” I told him.
“Why? Doesn’t she know you have homework?”
I shrugged. If she was here to get me, she must have a reason. I waved good-bye to my classmates, never suspecting it would be the last time I would see each of their faces, and jogged down the stairs and out the front gate. Alas, for the last time.
“Hi, Mom.” I said, as I opened the door of the red Isuzu Trooper and jumped into the seat next to hers. She smiled at me and took off down the road. “I’m going to take you to the orphanage to work with the children for a while, all right? You can do your homework there.” I nodded and looked out the window at my classmates. Though she didn’t tell me at the time, my mom had been at work, like always, and had kept having a feeling that she needed to come pick me up. So, she did. That’s how Haitian mothers are. They have these feelings about their children,
and they act on those instincts, even if they don’t make sense in their brains. And we, their children, don’t question it. That’s why I didn’t ask my mother about the change in plans. She must have had that feeling.
I loved going to my parents’ orphanage. The children were always so excited to see me. They loved telling me about their school work, their food, who hadn’t showered on any given day, and who had been naughty. There was one boy in particular who was my little shadow. His name was TiBlanc. He was eleven and he followed me everywhere I went. When I walked into the orphanage TiBlanc was right there waiting for me. “Williamson! Hey, Will! You’re here early!”
“Yeah, man. I wanted to spend some time with you guys.” I slapped him on the back, and walked into the room where the other twelve children were playing.
“Williamson!” They all ran to me, some clinging to my legs, others pulling on my shirt, trying to show me pages of artwork, or tell me stories about who had shirked their schoolwork, or who had only gotten a 4 on their exams.
I smiled. It felt good to be someone’s hero. To be a positive role model, and “big brother” to these kids who had no other family in the world. I loved it. I loved them.
We talked and played until I remembered that I needed to fill the water tanks. In Haiti, there are large tanks on top of each house. They hold the water we use for cooking, cleaning, bathing, and flushing the toilet. So, with TiBlanc following me, we gathered buckets and went to the spigot in the front yard, filled the buckets and took them up onto the roof to dump into the tanks.
When we were finished, we put the buckets away and were about to walk back into the schoolroom, when the ground swayed and began to slip from under our feet. TiBlanc looked at me, fear and confusion in his eyes. “What’s happening?” he yelled.
It took me a few seconds to realize what was going on, but when I did, I pulled him in front of my chest and lowered him to the ground, dropping to my elbow and knee.
Right as the building completely collapsed around us.
Pain. I had never felt so much pain ever in my life.
I was on my stomach, face pressed into the dirt, rubble weighing me down. My right wrist was throbbing, layers of cement pinned my left arm and shoulder to the ground, and I could feel blood, sticky and warm, as it trickled down my face.
TiBlanc was under me, crying and yelling. He was alive. My body had taken the brunt of the trauma, but he was hurt, too, folded at a painfully unnatural angle. “Williamson,” he said, his voice trembling and terrified, “are we going to make it out alive?”
“Yes, we’re going to make it,” I said firmly.
“Are we going to die?”
“We’re not going to die.”
In the following twenty eight hours, I would tell him that, over and over, even though, at times, I was far from believing it myself. I was broken, I could literally feel my body coming apart in different places, though I had stopped feeling it in others. I could see my own left hand, but I thought it was someone else’s because I had no sensation. I could feel sharp shards of stone embedded and pressing into my head. How would anyone be able to get me out, let alone put me back together again? I could hear the other twelve children crying and yelling. I knew they were hurt and afraid and I wished I could comfort them. But I couldn’t move. After a while, I started to hear voices. They were faint, but I could hear my father. He was looking for me.
“Williamson!” TiBlanc said, “They’re here. Call them! Call them! Tell them we’re here!”
“Dad, we’re here! I’m here! We’re alive!” I yelled and screamed until my throat was hoarse. But my voice refused to carry through the layers of cement and stone and metal. He couldn’t hear me.
But someone else did.
Even though I was Catholic at the time, I wasn’t very religious and didn’t know much about God. In that moment, trapped under the rubble of a cement building, I felt strongly that I needed to pray. It wasn’t something I had ever done before.
“Jesus,” I said, out loud, “please let me live. Please. Please! Let me live!” I prayed and I begged and soon found myself making a deal with God. “If you let me live, I will serve you for the rest of my life. Please let me live!”
At that moment, I felt the cinder blocks on my back lighten and instead of the cold press of cement, I felt a warm body on my back, comforting me. I felt strengthened. I didn’t know it then, but what I would later find out is that my grandmother, who I had never known, (who my mother had never even known because she’d died when my mother was only three years old), was there to help us that day.
My mother, though alive, had snapped when she found out the orphanage had collapsed. She was sure that I was dead and she didn’t want to be there when they found me. She couldn’t bear it. She was walking aimlessly, crying and screaming for her dead child. She walked far from the orphanage, to a park on the other side of town, and sat down on a bench to sob and mourn. Soon, a lady in a blue dress with a smile and kind eyes approached. Anyone watching might have mistaken them for sisters. She sat next to my mother and said, “Don’t worry. They’re going to get him out. Be patient.”
My dad was there the whole night. I could hear him working, I could hear him asking others to help him. When he was silent, I could imagine him sleeping on the rubble of the building, just for a few moments, so he would have the strength to keep going. That night, one by one, the other children grew silent. I knew what the silence meant. And as they grew silent, the air, struggling to permeate through the rubble, grew cold. Haiti doesn’t get cold.
By morning, only TiBlanc and I were still alive.
Finally, after about 20 hours stuck in the building, my father could hear me. He could hear my voice. He knew I was alive. It took another eight agonizing hours, during which I very nearly let go. I was crazy with thirst, I was in pain, I was hungry, though I’d lost the contents of my stomach, which was smeared on my face. I’d listened as twelve children’s cries and screams faded, and I was in anguish at the thought of those children, all dead. I felt almost detached from my broken body and mind. I felt that at any second I could drift away, to the next life, to the big mystery that is whatever comes after death.
If not for TiBlanc, I wouldn’t be here. Every time my body tried to let go, I remembered the boy trapped underneath me. I needed to stay alive for him. I told him we would live, and so we had to live.
But most importantly, I’d made a promise to God. And I intended to keep that promise.
So, the next time TiBlanc said, “Williamson, are we going to die?” I said, “No, we’re not. We’re going to live.”
Twenty eight hours after the shaking started under our feet. TiBlanc and I emerged from the rubble.
Haiti was devastated by that earthquake in 2010. Over half a million lives were impacted, with deaths numbering in the tens of thousands. My family home was destroyed.
But the worst part for me is that my classmates who had stayed at school finishing their homework had all died. If my mother hadn’t acted on the prompting she received and came to get me from school that day, I would have been killed also.
Even though we were all safe, we still felt that life as we knew it was over. There was no water, no food, no work-- but there was still hope. That was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
I reached out to God to know why he had saved my life, when so many others had died. Three months later, I met a man who taught me about Jesus Christ. He invited me to church and introduced me to two missionaries. When they invited me to read The Book of Mormon. I was so thirsty to know for myself, that I read it in 15 days. I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in July, on my birthday, six months after the earthquake. I thank God every day for the earthquake and the way it changed my life and made me a better person.
The earthquake had changed my whole perspective on life. Why was I the only one from my school who was spared? Why was I one of the only to survive in the orphanage? Why did God spare my life? What was my calling in life that I needed to fulfill? How was I going to keep the promise I made to God when I told him I would serve him if He saved my life?
As I started to travel back to Haiti visiting my grandparents, friends and neighbors, I started to realize that many have gotten stuck in survivalism. Devastating Natural Disasters and tumultuous leaderships have left Haitians depleted of their natural resourcefulness. Under these circumstances many are left dependent on other people, other nations and or governments. Surviving has led many into a non growth mentality, lacking in self-esteem with no expectations or vision for themselves and little hope for their future. This is the environment under which I was raised and grew up. When I came to the US, I saw so many opportunities that allowed my vision to expand and I knew I had to do something to bring the same to Haiti.
One of the biggest issues that I saw was that Haitians don’t celebrate each other’s success. I believe the reason is because they don’t believe success is in themselves_ and that has led them to not recognizing their own potential, their own worth and or capacity. Even the children feel like they’re not worthy of anything.
These realizations were sad to me because I’ve experienced what happened within me when I started to believe that I can achieve great things and that I was born for them.
When you look at how wonderful, resourceful, resilient Haitians are, it’s impossible for a nation like Haiti to not be able to rise itself up.
I believe it’s going to take the younger generation to be able to create concrete change in Haiti, I mean working together, celebrating each other's success, ending corruption, focus on education, belief in themselves and so much more.
We decided to build a mentorship curriculum that focuses on building core values. These core values are embraced by our mentors (local leaders) through our mentoring program which is the foundation of our organization’s unique purpose, goal, and vision, the name is ARISE Project For Humanity. We work with professional mentors, national and international organizations and business owners to help our mentors in the process of becoming certified so they in return can mentor young people in their community.
Utilizing a combination of principles from different industries, the curriculum is built to help young people envision change, expand their mindsets, create their lives and impact their community regardless of their circumstances. Many young Haitians have been orphaned creating victims of opportunistic predators. We mentor victims from sex-trafficking, exploitation and abuse and help them to build themselves back into society with a victor’s mindset.
When you become a member of our monthly giving community, you’ll join nearly a hundred people from all over the world who are stepping up each and every month to provide these life-giving essentials for our mentors on the ground in Haiti. 100% of your donation goes directly to the work on the ground in Haiti.
With your contributions, we can go faster and build more mentoring programs around the country.
We hope you might join us.
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