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Monday
Feb222010

Finding Purpose in a Glass Bowl




A hard cover edition of Time’s Haiti Tragedy & Hope sits on my desk as I type this, a woman’s silhouette bathed in devastation graces the cover. The tragedy has been covered by more photojournalists than anyone could imagine, the images searing. In Port-au-Prince, a child stands by the hospital bed of a dying father, a young boy stares into his future with a bandage embracing his scalp. A dump truck drives by carrying hundreds of bodies on their way to a mass grave. The captions are not simply descriptions of the images, but also reflections by the photographers themselves. This publication affected me not only as a photographer, but as a mother, wife, and fellow human being, forcing me to reflect upon the enigma that is life's purpose.

This blog is not only about the people of Haiti, but about fourteen children in particular of the Ettienne family. When the first earthquake hit, their house was still standing, but fractured. The parents, each brothers and sisters themselves, decided it was safer for the family to sleep outside on the grass until they could repair the home. It is because of this decision that the children are alive today. You see, when the second earthquake hit, the house collapsed. The children and mothers survived, however each of the men, the breadwinners of the family were at work, and have never been found.

I was introduced to the Ettienne's situation by my friend of twenty years, Dr. Wendy Walsh.

A few weeks ago Wendy went to the supermarket, a woman was bagging her groceries. The same woman who had greeted her for years, but that day there was no smile. She looked down as she bagged, sad and introverted. Wendy, concerned, reached out grabbing an unexpected moment and asked what was wrong. The woman’s name was Jennette Ettienne. She was from Haiti. Those 14 children were her nieces and nephews, and she had just learned that not only were all of the children ages two and up now living in an open park, but that they had not even a tent over their heads.




Within days I received a Facebook invite from Wendy asking her friends to please come to her house that Saturday night for pasta, to meet Jennette and her brother Robert, and to contribute whatever they could to her family. (Both Jennette and Robert moved to the states from Haiti ten years ago, working in Los Angeles at eight dollars an hour and living together in order to send the monies home which support their three siblings, fourteen children, as well as their seventy-five year old mother.




Many responses to the invitation were regretting their inability to attend. I had had a very difficult week myself, as my childhood friend had died a few days prior. My initial response to Wendy’s invitation was also a regret. Then I spoke to Wendy on the phone, and life shifted. Wendy’s passion for the Ettiennes was intoxicating Suddenly, in my own selfish moments of darkness from losing my friend, a match was lit.




My teenage daughter, Macky, and I arrived at Wendy’s home, to a lovely crowd of people, pasta and dishes she'd started preparing at 3:30 that morning, and a glass bowl. In a matter of thirty minutes my daughter turned to me after speaking with Robert, and said her life was changed forever. That night I learned a great deal about Haiti. Prior to the earthquake in Haiti the unemployment rate was 85%. Why is it important to give where there seems to be little hope or future? Why put forth efforts in a region where for decades the government has been operated by individuals who have obsconded with international aid before and purchased mansions, keeping the wealth from the people of Haiti? The industry of agriculture used to be fruitful, however due to poor educational systems and lack of regulations the land of over-processed and soils are now unfit for crops. The industry of tourism which at one time saved many residents by creating jobs, became a wild circus of again unregulated chaos and the cruise ships stopped visiting, Americans became concerned regarding safety and health issues. With tourism, the population in Port-au-Prince exploded from 500,000 to now over 3 million people. Now, 1 million of those people are living in parks. Many of these people do not own even a tent, and the tents that were for sale at $300 a piece in town, are now sold out. The cost of charging a cell phone is $25. In essence, cash is now king in Haiti. The ability to wire fund allows the recipients to purchase most necessities available in Port-au-Prince if you have the means. Yes, there is aid, food and water trucks visit tent camps, but getting to the trucks is a risk of physical and emotional health. Lines are hours long, sometimes a full day to receive  rations needed. Most women are now sole caregivers of children in their care, with no men to assist. Most men had jobs were at work at the time of the quake and have never been recovered.

That night, Wendy's glass-bowl-gathering placed a total of $1000 in that bowl. The Ettiennes could now obtain the tents they needed. The next day, Jennette and Robert purchased the tents and they were shipped. But this was just the beginning…




Last weekend my husband and I were fortunate enough to introduce Wendy, Jennette and Robert, to our friends in our own home.  We copied Wendy and put out pasta and wine, and a glass bowl. We set the glass bowl on the coffee table as our loved ones greeted one another with laughter and hugs, embracing Robert and Jennette and for a moment, hopefully reminding them of some sense of hope. Jennette and Robert shared their family’s story. At the end of the evening the bowl was gifted with $700 and handed directly to the Ettiennes. Their warmth, their humble gratitude, the love experienced at this gathering was more grand than any dinner party or five star evening out. Lives were changed that night, not because we had all met someone famous, or because someone won the lottery. It was simply because we all were grounded in a tangible reality that we were helping specific individuals, friends, who will benefit from our union.




There was another moment that evening which rests in my heart. Prior to the Ettienne’s arrival at our gathering I had a flash, an idea. Wendy texted me the names of the children on their way to our house. We pulled out fourteen tea lights and set them above the fireplace, one for each child. As the evening commenced, each candle was lit as we spoke the children’s names, and these children were forever seared into my heart.




There now lies in the core of my being a longing to meet them, to know them, to truly understand them. I feel a pull to visit Haiti, to photograph, capture the hope left in their eyes, to sleep in the tents we have raised for them, to be cold at night and hot during the day, to be hungry and thirst. Time will tell if I will be able to sit with the Ettienne family in person, but in the meantime there is work to be done, more glass- bowl-gatherings to procure. The next one is coming up and this time Robert is going to prepare a cultural evening with a fully Haitian buffet including Ox Tail…and I will devour every morsel as I listen for the slight reverberation of the glass bowl as it receives another gift.

The question many ask is why should we help this one family, when millions are in the same situation…how can this truly make a difference? We were created as individuals made to connect with others on an individual level

l. When man first set foot on this planet we didn’t have mass communication, television, CNN, newpapers, or book stores. Amazon….that was just a jungle. It’s a time for us to reconnect with the core of our being and remember the importance of connecting with fellow human beings on an intimate and authentic level, beginning one relationship at a time.


This is our chance to make a difference in the lives of fourteen children who we are connected to, who have mothers who love them no less than we love our own. Fourteen children who still see  hope in the world. This is why we should help, because we are meant to, and this is our chance to be a part of helping where there is no opportunity, where there are no jobs, where where they deeply and truly need....us.

It is my belief we are here not to become famous, or be rewarded for magnificent feats. I believe this because anyone I know who has achieved great stature whether it be celebrity or wealth, still carries burdens, many of which were birthed by their perceived blessings. Although I sit here the hypocrite with hopes that someday I too might achieve a certain level of success where I can make a difference in this world on a grander scale, it was simply these children which secured my belief that one's purpose in life need not be something aggrandized by others to have an impact, or have meaning, but can actually begin in one’s living room...with a glass bowl...


If you too would like to donate to the Ettienne family,


kindly make payment to Jennette Ettienne. Mail payments to:

Dr. Wendy Walsh

171 Pier Ave. Suite 393

Santa Monica, California

90405

The Fourteen Ettiennes: Melline, Chrisner, Roodiery, Rosedaline, Chrisson, Claude, Nickenson, Wisly, Wislene, Valencia, Fitho, Joiner, Jouveline, Wilbelline

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