A personal awakening in Haiti | AspenTimes.com

A personal awakening in Haiti

Kathleen Carlson

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that I was meant to ease other people’s pain. Yet somewhere along the line, I grew up, got a job and forgot.

At the age of 24, I had the good fortune to reawaken to my calling.

I was a staff writer for the Aspen Daily News when my friend and fellow photographer, Stef Deutsch, and I traded the local mud season for a few days in a Third World country. Our mission was to reveal the dismal conditions that Aspen resident Susie Krabacher battles to help the poor and abandoned children of Haiti.

The very first day changed my life.

At the Mercy House Orphanage, which was then home to about 30 handicapped and terminally ill children, I met a young boy named Lee who latched onto me and became my companion for the afternoon.

There are a few split seconds in my life that I’ll never forget, and this was one of them. As we pulled away, I turned around moments before the Mercy House was out of view. I saw little Lee banging his hand on the balcony railing, crying.

Silence permeated the van as we drove away, pondering the suffering we had witnessed. I tilted my hat down, trying to hide tears that I couldn’t hold back.

I scarcely felt like a hard-nosed reporter.

At that point I began to distance myself from my journalistic goals and began a quest for my own life of service. Little did I imagine that I would become a volunteer for the same woman who started with nothing and now has nearly 2,000 Haitian children in her care.

After my first journey to Haiti, I left Aspen searching for similar nonprofit work that the Mercy and Sharing Foundation provides. I didn’t find a vocation as fulfilling or rewarding as my work today with Mercy and Sharing, but I learned an important lesson along the way.

I met a man who espoused the belief that prophecy has nothing to do with predicting the future. He showed me that prophecy for him is a way of life ” of mending the present, healing the wounds, and fostering a future of human connectedness.

His mission had a profound affect on me, and my desires for a life of service shifted. I no longer want giving or sacrifice to be my driving force. I want to work outside myself and somehow help lift people toward peace.

Having experienced life in Haiti, I know I may never attain that goal, but, in trying, I pray I am able to bring people together, offer hope, love and perhaps a little peace.

When I was a child I idolized people whom I respected; I thought they could do no wrong. I was constantly crushed when my idols proved to be mere humans. Only as an adult did I realize that heroes have human flaws. At first it was a bittersweet understanding. Now I use that notion to see heroes in all of us, to recognize the positive in anyone, regardless of the other elements that shape their character.

I believe the greatest heroes are the most compassionate toward others. I see compassion as a great act ” a moment when nothing else matters but the loving connections between people.

During the seven months that I’ve been a volunteer for Mercy and Sharing, I’ve seen compassion in the most unlikely places. I’ve seen an enormous thug hold a tiny bottle in the palm of his hand, tenderly feeding a dying baby. I didn’t think much about his criminal past during that moment. I’ve seen toddlers so emaciated from starvation that, though their bodies may grow long, their thighs never become wider than a coffee cup. Despite their struggle to survive, they bravely flicker their eyes toward me as I hold them.

Haiti is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. People live in devastating conditions. The poverty seems insurmountable and the environmental degradation is shocking.

Despite all that, a woman from Aspen has faced numerous obstacles to brighten the existence of thousands in Haiti. Other organizations feed and clothe the destitute and sick Haitian children, but there are few like Mercy and Sharing that take the holistic approach of raising the child through education, nourishment, and moral and spiritual leadership.

Susie Krabacher doesn’t want to just see these children beat death, she wants to see them flourish and live a fulfilling life, one that hopefully includes giving back to their brothers and sisters, their communities, and restoring their country. So far, she’s quite a success and a true hero.

Kathleen Carlson is the U.S. director of the Mercy and Sharing Foundation.