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Haiti Day Three – AM – Ban Poison Darts

The words for day three AM are “ban poison darts.”

Day three begins with a formal lesson, a sermon on kindness. At 7 a.m., we join about ten Haitians for a Catholic Mass in an open-air chapel. Rosy light streams through the stained glass windows. The celebrant is Father Richard Frechette: priest, physician, humanitarian. For over 25 years, he has led the organization he founded, the St. Luc Foundation for Haiti. Its mission is to provide healthcare, education, and humanitarian outreach to the least served Haitian citizens. Yesterday’s surgery was performed at the hospital on the St. Luc Foundation’s grounds.

Father Rick, as he's always known, gives his homlily in a mix of Creole and English. He warns our modest congregation to avoid throwing "poison darts." Poison darts are a metaphor for mean-spirited, nasty, or untruthful remarks or actions. He encourages us to cloak ourselves in the daily habits of being kind, thoughtful, and compassionate.

Father Rick is an amazing person, containing multitudes. We had met with him yesterday to discuss the complex challenge of bringing radiation therapy to Haiti. He's pragmatic yet unwavering in his commitment to the people he serves. He's a humble and devout man, yet savvy and confident as a corporate CEO. He's a scholar, weaving quotes from well-known authors and philosophers into our conversation, yet able to speak plainly and in simple truths, like the message of poison darts.

Left to right: Father Rick, Daryl Luginbuhl, Dr. Adam Luginbuhl, Dr. Joseph Curry, Elizabeth Dale, Tom Ladd

Father Rick tells us stories about navigating the confusing, often corrupt political waters in Haiti for more than two decades of charity work. He has seen millions of charitable dollars pumped into the country, however the challenges remain legion. This morass is why, he explains, there is no radiation therapy on Haiti, and why he is a bit skeptical of our ability to form a coalition and bring radiotherapy to Haiti. But Father Rick avoids all poison darts, optimism ever in his heart, and offers to help us however he can.

After the sermon, we visit the orphanage at St. Luc’s. I had been looking forward to seeing the children. While the Jefferson doctors and nurses had brought suitcases stocked with medical equipment, I had two large duffle bags stuffed with kid clothes and cheer, courtesy of my wonderfully generous OIA colleagues and the Philadelphia Eagles and Union.

In Haiti, like many poor countries, kids play soccer wherever and with whatever they can. A tin can, a bundle of rags rolled up, almost anything vaguely round. But rarely if ever with an official ball.

Graciously, the Philadelphia Union provided 35 soccer balls for the kids, and the Eagles supplied an equal number of caps, shirts, and rally towels.

When we arrive, two young boys, maybe about 5 years old, open the gates. It seems empty. Then, as if by magic, about 30 children ranging from 3 to 8 years of age appear. We are suddenly surrounded by a sea of ear-to-ear smiles, kids literally jumping up and down with complete joy.

We distributed the balls, generating a happy pandemonium (video below). As the adult caregivers joined us, we began passing around the Eagles gear. More joy and more smiles. I was unsure how the rally towels, which were about 20 square inches, would be used. As soon as the packages were torn open, adults and children alike were wearing head scarves with the Eagles logo front and center. We then visited the rooms around the courtyard, handing out the rest of the Eagles gear to the disabled children and their caregivers.

As I watched the caregivers interact with their charges, it was clear that caring for the children was far more than a job. I saw a selfless generosity of spirit, a true and deep commitment to provide the children with a home filled with love and joy and happy memories—to give them every opportunity to play and learn like any kids should, no matter where they live or how healthy they are. To create a home for children without families was Father Rick’s vision when he founded St. Luc’s. We saw it actualized.

I realized that this place isn't an orphanage – it's a home.

In less than 72 hours I had seen so much, witnessed all manner of generosity and commitment to help others. I found myself thinking about Father Rick's sermon: be kind, and avoid poison darts. Such a simple and profound concept. Imagine what the political landscape in America would be like if poison darts were prohibited.

At that moment I committed myself to ban poison darts. I will throw none at others, instead adopting the cloth and habits of kindness, as Father Rick said. When I see one being launched, I will do all I can to stop its course. And I will do more to thoughtfully engage with others, so that there might be more understanding and empathy.

Our words and actions affect others. They can be poisonous. But also healing.