Here it is, my final blog post from my second months-long stent living at St. Vincent’s. I am writing this while sitting on a train traveling from New York to D.C., literally and metaphorically miles and miles away from Haiti. I am on a whirlwind of college tours before I am forced to make a decision this week – a somewhat jolting experience both physically and mentally.
I have been dreading writing this post for months now: how can I possibly do justice in paying homage and saying bonswa to the place that has been my home and family for the better part of the past year? But life goes on for everyone in and outside of St. Vincent’s, as does my involvement with that community. Despite being all too familiar with the utter boredom that comes with feeling entirely at home in a place, there were numerous times within the last several weeks when I recognized that there were in fact new, remarkable things happening.
And so, in order to avoid dwelling on my own sadness and feeling of displacement in leaving Haiti, I am going to focus on all of the beginnings I have seen over the course of my final month.
As many of you know, dominoes might as well be the national pastime of Haiti. It often involves physical contact and/or betting, but at St. Vincent’s it is the perfect game – it can be played by the blind and deaf simultaneously. I spent many long Sunday afternoons playing dominoes with various combinations of residents. Fourteen year old deaf student resident Mainey was a constant figure, watching over my shoulder. A few Sundays ago, he finally elbowed his way into a game. After rounds and rounds of losing, two weeks later he won his first game and his surprise and subsequent joy were so apparent that despite not being able to see Mainey’s pride, blind student resident Frenel grinned and reached over to pat him on the back.
Within my kindergarten classroom, there are 9 deaf students – one of whom has been in kindergarten for far more than three years. This student, Benjamin, has many issues interacting with the other students in an appropriate way because of the age difference and thus does not have many friends, but when he finally completed the entire ASL alphabet, the entire class applauded his progress.
Arianne, the charming, beautiful, 5 year old blind resident and kindergarten student who is treated as the baby of St. Vincent’s, finally successfully put on her socks and shoes all on her own! And speaking of socks, 6 year old student and resident Medjina started helping me hand-wash my laundry. She does a better job of cleaning my socks than I do despite not really having arms.
Second grade student Ismael has great difficulty walking. I have carried him on my back numerous times to lunch or chapel or the bus when the wheelchair he normally uses was not available. Monday of last week he was gifted a walker that not only makes it possible for him to walk on his own but enables him to run from place to place – beaming.
It is these and so many other seemingly small victories that are met with enormous smiles and applause at St. Vincent’s. For the rest of my life, when I’m missing the students, teachers, and residents, I’ll remember with fondness that St. Vincent’s is the most inclusive community I have ever had the privilege of considering myself a part of. I have no doubt that this legacy of unconditional support that Sister Joan began in 1945 will continue; it is ingrained in the everyday actions of every member of the truly one of a kind environment that is St. Vincent’s School.