Friday, June 03, 2011


This week, I've been thinking about the day job. I guess it stems from meeting new people at work and having their eyes nearly pop out of their head when they discover I've been doing this kind of work, traveling to poor countries and writing about poverty, for more than 17 years.

One country that I frequently travel to is Haiti. Haiti and I have a love/hate relationship. One guy I know said it best. "Haiti's she's a bitch, but you have to love her. "

One of the love aspects is getting to help children who are in dire need. A girl from one of our orphanages recently graduated from college in the US. She's a success story that always makes me smile. Smart kid, I know she will go far.

And then there are the girls who were rescued off the street, and were in desperate need of hope. Merline, featured in these photos, was one of them.

I met Merline on a trip to our girls orphanage in 2002. It was the first year I got published. I remember seeing her expression. As if she'd lost all hope. She was skinny, had suffered from parasites and was starving. The home's administrator told me she'd been found wandering the streets of Cite Soleil, a huge and grim slum.

Cite Soleil is rough, violent and no place for an innocent orphan. Merline was hungry, homeless and afraid. She was unresponsive to questions, to smiles, to coaxing a smile from her. Still, I sat next to her, chatting in English, hoping for some kind of response from this girl who had already, at 7, experienced far too much pain.

I remember how she didn't say anything, didn't react and then all the sudden, she rested against me and slipped her hand into mine.

It broke my heart. Without words, she told me, "I need to know someone cares."

The rest of our visit, I held her in my lap, chatting with her. She never did smile. But I had hope.

Two years later, I was visiting our girls orphanage and asked about Merline. I found her. This time she was dressed in a pretty gingham school uniform. And she was smiling. A big, beautiful smile from a lovely girl who received a chance to start over in life.

The kids in Haiti, they are the ones who always tug at my heart. They are a reason I keep returning to Haiti, hoping that the future will be brighter, and better for them.


Norah Wilson said...

Oh, Bonnie, this was lovely to read. I know you've had a lot of experiences that weren't so nice as this one. We all need to be thanking you for what you do. You are one of my gunine heroes.

Bonnie Vanak said...

Thanks Norah. I have to remember the good times, and the good things that happen. Thanks to the nuns at our orphanage, Merline was on her way to a better life.

Mary Ricksen said...

Oh Bonnie, very few people know how wonderful a person you really are, I think the whole world should know!
You made me cry again, I'd love to go and hug some kids myself. Though it would be hard to leave them there...
You are somethin' else girl!!

Allison Chase said...

Bonnie, Merline's story put tears in my eyes. You are an amazing human being and I can't tell you how much I admire you and the work you do. It must feel wonderful to make a difference in even one child's life.

Bonnie Vanak said...

Thanks Mary and Allison... I just do what I can.