Speaker paints grim picture of life in Haiti

by Briana Sutherland
Contributing writer

Mike Curtis along with three other team members are spending eight days in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, visiting 14 different orphanages with over 700 children, bringing them hundreds of soccer balls, yo-yo’s and jump ropes.

Robert Harris and Wyatt Sowdey left messages on the soccer balls.

Curtis is part of the organization called the Haitian Initiative. After the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the Galaxy Foundation and the Sanneh Foundation partnered to form the Haitian Initiative. The Haitian Initiative is a joint project dedicated to providing aid, equipment and soccer-based youth programming to the children of Haiti while their country is being rebuilt.

This past May, Curtis participated in a trip to help rebuild an orphanage housing 50 children. He spent six days experiencing what poverty and destruction looked like, smelled like and felt like and knew he had to return.

Eva Valentine decorated a section of a soccer ball that a Haitian child will receive.

After months of planning and fundraising, Curtis put together a presentation about what his team is going to do and why to Otsego Elementary students on Dec. 12. Many students raised their hands when asked if they knew about the earthquake that happened almost two years ago in Haiti.

“Imagine all of you living together under a building about to collapse,” said Curtis to the groups of students. “Imagine none of you having any toys to play with.”

Approximately 70 percent of children in Haiti have the opportunity to attend school, with about 30 percent of those students making it to the sixth grade. Typically after the fifth grade children aren’t able to attend school due to financial reasons or the need to get a job.

Haiti is about the size of Massachusetts and home to 10 million people. It’s also one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.

Curtis brought photos from his previous trip and shared what life was like for the children of the orphanage. He explained their difficulties rebuilding buildings, cooking, washing laundry and even having clean water to drink.

“How come we don’t ask the kids in the orphanage to come to America?” asked one student.

Mike Curtis gave a presentation to Otsego Elementary students about what his team is going to do in Haiti.

Students had many questions for Curtis, ranging on how long it takes to build a house, the amount of money a typical family has, how does a person rebuild an orphanage, if there are cars in Haiti, what happens to people inside buildings that collapse and whether or not people have televisions and refrigerators.

“You don’t have to leave the country to help kids, there are kids in America that need help too,” said Curtis.

The soccer balls that are making their way to the children in Haiti came with Curtis so that students would have the opportunity to write a message or draw a picture to send to the children. Students excitedly scrambled to sign their name and draw pictures such as Christmas trees and smiley faces in permanent marker on the soccer balls.

“This is an amazing opportunity to educate kids about Haiti. I really feel like we don’t talk about it enough,” said Curtis. “Our goal is to help rebuild communities; we don’t realize just how much help they still need to stabilize themselves.”