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One Year in the Promise House – Part Four

We have been blessed with two little girls in the Promise House, R and H.  R is 5 and came to Children of the Promise (COTP) during my time as a nurse here.  H is 3 and came after I was no longer the nurse.  One of the greatest changes in our house this past year has been the development of R’s laugh.  She smiled before, from time to time, but now her melodic giggle beats just about any other sound in the house.  The triggers that make R laugh are unclear and unpredictable, but what a joy when she surprises us with it!  What might we find if we could get inside her little head when she starts laughing randomly?  Wilson and I got to take R swimming for her birthday in May, a day we were all relaxed and happy.

H, who also went swimming with us for her birthday, had a huge, contagious smile that mysteriously disappeared a few months before we moved in.  I am a list person, and at the top of many lists in the last year I have written “Make H smile.”  You can hold your suggestions for accomplishing this unless they are way outside the box.  We’ve tried it all, from medication changes to essential oils to every tickly, cuddly, and silly thing a person could do to make a child smile.  I’m still determined to see H’s beautiful smile but I’d be lying if I said my optimism wasn’t starting to fade just a little.

As you may know, I always try to write with honesty and transparency.  If I’m being truly honest, I would have to tell you that of all our kids, I have the hardest time connecting with the girls.  I’m not totally sure of the reason, but I think it’s because they just don’t respond as much to interaction and stimulation.  There is no immediate (or foreseeable??) reward for our efforts.  With all the therapy and social interaction we can muster, there is not much more than hints of change.  And isn’t that how Albert Einstein defined insanity?  “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Day after day, week after week, month after month, we just keep at it, working with them, engaging them, trying to make a difference.  Maybe not expecting different results, but certainly hoping for them.  Sure, the details change, but the results don’t seem to change.  And after a while I start to feel discouraged and, well, insane.

Wilson and I read a small section of the Bible together most nights before bed.  We recently read about the Israelites’ time in the desert after being led out of slavery and Egypt before entering the Promised Land.  Oh, they were whiny and insufferable!  God performs a great work for his people and the manna or quail or water pouring from a rock reminds them of his sovereign goodness.  A minute passes and they forget what God has done and complain that they would have been better off enslaved in Egypt.  Again, God provides in a miraculous way and all is well.  Another minute passes and they are worshiping a golden calf.  Now we’ve started into the accounts of the judges and the cycles of turning from God, being oppressed, begging for mercy, being rescued, and experiencing a time of peace.  Rinse and repeat.  I think one could argue that God exhibits some symptoms of insanity.  Despite the inevitable, despite his people turning away to place their trust in themselves or in other lesser gods, God continues to pursue them, to fight for them, to love them.  To love us.  Because are we really any less obnoxious than the Israelites?  I shudder at the thought of someone recording all the little, shameful bits of my life for all the world to see.  But that’s what love does.  Love chooses to pursue again and again, choosing to forgive over and over, hoping it makes a difference but knowing it might not.  That’s what love is.  Love is insanity.

So I choose to love R and H, knowing it may be frustrating, knowing that at times it feels fruitless, knowing it makes me a little insane. Because I choose to love, I cuddle and rock R and H before bed, though they may never cuddle back.  Because I choose to love, I put splints on R’s hands every day, I stretch each arm and leg, I practice tummy time, assisted sitting and standing, though they may never have more purposeful movement.  Because I choose to love, I talk to them, read to them, sing to them, though they may never utter a word.

Looking back over our first year in the Promise House, I see progress in our house and I see improvement in our kids, but there is also personal growth and learning.  God uses kids like R and H to reveal more of him and how we relate to him.  I usually don’t like analogies that equate us with God, yet we are created in his image and are always striving to be better reflections of him to the world.  I want to always have hope and to love like he does, regardless of the outcome.  I will persist and endure what sometimes feels like insanity because I choose to love.  Because he first loved me.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Life in Haiti, Sheila, The Kiddos, Wilson

 

One Year in the Promise House – Part Three

I have told many people about the very first day I met L, when he was brought to Children of the Promise (COTP).  They guessed he was about six years old at the time.  While paperwork was being filled out, I took him to the volunteer house to play Legos and get acquainted.  One second we were playing side by side, building a tower or something, and the next second he had me in a headlock and I was truly afraid.  He was unpredictable, lashing out at those around him, hitting or pushing any kids that got near him.  He had, and still has, a hard time managing his oral secretions and I remember him frequently spitting into his fingers and then wiping them on whoever was closest to him at the time.  I can’t even begin to imagine what he must have been feeling, having been plucked up and dropped into our little world with nothing and no one he knew.

From that time until the time we became his house parents in the Promise House, L made significant progress.  He had an individual nanny to help with behavior control and he got to know the few women who worked with him and began listening to them.  He was no longer such a threat to the other kids, he was spitting into a towel instead of on other people, he could help with simple chores around the house, and he was attending school in the village.  The nannies had much better control of L’s behavior, but there was still something missing.  In school he wasn’t socializing and he didn’t seem to really be learning much either.  At home, between meals and little tasks, he sat in a chair waiting.  His more aggressive behaviors had been reined in, making him more manageable, but as a 9-year-old boy, it was clear there needed to be much more to his life than that.

I could probably fill a book with the things we’ve done with L in the last year, like going to the beach for his birthday and visiting a dentist for the first time, and the ways we’ve seen him begin to really live, to thrive.

Once school let out for summer break, we decided it would be better for me to homeschool L, rather than returning to the village school.  When we started, L was struggling to complete simple wooden peg puzzles, he did not know how to properly hold a pencil, and I could only keep him focused for a few minutes at a time before he would see a leaf or something that he needed to go sweep off the patio.  Other than reciting the Creole vowel sounds, he didn’t know his letters or numbers.  I won’t bore you with the tedious details between then and now, but he never ceases to amaze me.  Anything new is pretty hard for L, but within a short time, he starts to get the hang of it, especially now that he doesn’t get frustrated as easily and has learned some patience and perseverance to begin mastering new skills.  Now, L can write all the capital letters including his name and he can copy some words up to three letters.  He can count in groups up to 10, cut with a scissors, name circles, squares, and triangles, sort by shape and color, and complete interlocking puzzles up to 48 pieces.  L is becoming more creative with his magnetic building tiles, and likes to play with playdough and legos.

Wilson and I attend church in the village a couple times a month.  Most often L comes with us and has done exceptionally well.  He likes to sing and clap to some of the songs, put money in the offering basket, and eat Smarties.  Even when we’re there up to two hours, he usually doesn’t have trouble sitting through the whole service.  He couldn’t go a few minutes without spitting before, but L doesn’t need to bring his handkerchief to church at all anymore.  Eliminating the spit towel is one of the things Wilson wanted to be sure I shared.  L used to saturate several hand towels a day.  To be honest, it was really gross!  My insides cringes if those towels ever touched me.  Okay, maybe my outsides too, sometimes!  I remember pushing him on the swings one day and the spit towel fell on the ground.  His immediate instinct was to try to catch it even at the cost of falling face-first off the swing.  I did catch him, but he was so strongly tethered to those towels for some reason.  The fact that he only spits in the bathroom or in the grass, at considerably reduced frequency, is such real and tangible evidence of how far L has come.

Seeing L socialize more and form healthy attachments has been wonderful.  He and Wilson have a special relationship and wherever Wilson goes, L wants to be there too.  They cook together, watch soccer games, go on moto rides, check on things at the shop, lounge on the couch, whatever it is, they love to be together.  Wilson always says when L leaves, he wants another kid just like him J L has come alive in other relationships as well.  Wilson’s nephew, SonSon, comes over from time to time so they can eat and play together.  We recently hired the first male nanny, Frandy, who taught L to ride a bike and will play ball with him for hours at a time.  L is always looking out for the other kids in our house, too.  This used to manifest itself more roughly and aggressively, but he has gotten quite gentle, especially with little J.  M hates naptime, but if L and M are in the bedroom together, they can make each other laugh for hours.  I have grown quite attached to L myself.  Because of school, more of my time is spent with him than with any of the other kids, and we recently started exercising together, running with the Couch-to-5k program.  The nannies sometimes tease me about the affection I give him, like how I carry him to bed each night after our family Bible reading.  But I don’t know how much or how little affection he got during the first 6 years of his life.  I imagine there is some catching up to do, and I am grateful I get to be part of the process of doing that, that I get to love him and be a witness to a piece of God’s beautiful story written in his life.

One day, when L leaves to join his forever family, I know Wilson and I will shed many tears.  The Promise House will simply not be the same without L and, having experienced similar pain saying goodbye to some very special kids before (read about them here and here), I can only imagine the pain we will feel.  However, I also know that pain will pale in comparison to the great joy of L being united with his Forever Family, the perfect family God chose especially for him, chosen before I met L, before he or I were even born.  We continue to pray that God would use us to prepare L as much as possible for his family.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2017 in Life in Haiti, Sheila, The Kiddos, Wilson

 

Freedom of Speech

So, I started writing the next installment of the One Year in the Promise House series, this time about J and K, and this just came out instead.

J and K came to live at Children of the Promise (COTP) years before I did, when they were still babies, and have been some of the few constants in an ever changing landscape over the last five years.  Before coming to be the nurse at COTP, I had very little experience with kids with special needs, but I quickly grew to love these two boys and their friends.  I learned a lot from them, about God, about myself, about humility, about unconditional love.  And in no small part because of them, I found my voice.  Perhaps related to being a middle child, I definitely had a go-with-the-flow attitude, and would rather be at peace with those I loved and others around me than share my opinion.  To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I had an opinion about many things.  I was already starting to delve into this part of myself before coming to Haiti, but there’s something about being with someone who actually doesn’t have a voice that puts your own vocal discovery on fast forward.  How could I keep quiet when these children I cared so deeply about needed to be heard?  How could I let them stagnate without getting the therapy they needed?  How could I let the rain drip on them through holes in the roof while they tried to sleep night after night?

The verse God has pressed into my heart since the beginning of this journey is Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”  We are free.  Free to have an opinion.  Free to have a voice.  At least in some parts of the world, we have freedom of speech.  But how do we use our freedom?  To shout our opinions from the rooftops, our own needs and desires from the mountaintops?  To shame and slander those who disagree with us or whose needs and desires compete with ours?  Or do we use our freedom to give a voice to the voiceless?  To advocate fiercely for the oppressed, the forgotten, the downtrodden?  To serve one another in love?  To serve one another humbly in love?  An important distinction, that is.  I’m quite certain the passage does not say “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, speak up for others so you look like a good person.”  My boys, J, K have taught me much about truly selfless love.  Not to say I’m always that great at it, but that it is worth striving for, that I will never stop trying to serve them humbly in love.

God has given me a voice, I know this now.  And I know that He has called me to use that voice to speak up for children in Haiti with special needs, to make sure that those considered weaker and less honorable are treated with special honor (1 Corinthians 12:23), to serve J and K and their friends humbly in love.  And now that I know this, I will not waste my freedom, I will not choose another path.

I choose to believe that many of you are already using your freedom to serve others humbly in love.  Please tell us how you’ve been called to use your freedom, who you are giving a voice to, who you are serving humbly in love.  Not to pat yourself on the back, but to set a spark or fan the flame in someone else, to encourage one another, and to give praise to the One who called us to be free.

I also believe that some of you have yet to discover your voice, or have yet to discern how best to use it.  Pray (or meditate or think); who does your heart break for?  Who is oppressed, forgotten, or downtrodden and you simply can’t stand to see things continue as they are?  What are you going to do about it?  How will you use your freedom?

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2017 in Haitian Reflections, Life in Haiti, Prayer, Sheila

 

One Year in the Promise House – Part Two

I’m sure what you all really want to read about are updates on our kids, and I love few things more than sharing about our precious little ones.  I should make a disclaimer that though this month (February 8, to be exact) marks one year for Wilson and I in the Promise House, most of the kids have been in the Promise House for two years.  J is the exception as he moved in a little while after the others.  He turned 5 this year which we celebrated with a fun trip to the pool at a nearby hotel.  As his birthday is in August, it marked the halfway point of our year and was a good checkpoint to see how far we had come.

J was a very late walker, and I believe had only been walking a few months when we moved in.  He had the most adorable waddle and would’ve fit right in with Mr. Popper’s penguins.  Over the last year, his walking has gotten much steadier and he now transitions easily between surfaces and terrains.  He has pretty much mastered climbing the playground ladder and can go down the slide all on his own.  Our oldest, L, likes to try helping him up the small inclined rock wall on the other side of the play structure and while he was quite terrible at this at first, he’s actually looking like he might make it up one of these days.  For his birthday, he got a tricycle, the plastic big wheels kind, and at first could barely keep his balance to even sit on it.  He would usually just find his way to the nearest stable object so he could pull himself up and get off.  But now, he will scoot around on that tricycle for an hour at a time.  He still hasn’t figured out pedaling, but his balancing and steering are on point.  The next skill J needs to master is to stand up without pulling on something.  His much preferred method of standing is to plop his bottom on the ground if he is sitting on something and then scoot to the nearest person or piece of furniture and pull himself up.  Now he is able to stand up when sitting on a low stool and if he’s on all fours, he can get into a bear position and then stand up, we just need to get him from his bottom to his hands and knees and he’ll be all set!

Many of the skills we work on with J and the other kids are meant to foster their independence.  Aside from mobility, eating is one area where we’ve been able to do this with J.  A year ago, J was being fed only pureed food.  He would tilt his head back with his mouth open like a little baby bird waiting for mama bird to drop the food in.  He has progressed to regular bite sized pieces of food and with certain foods, like crackers, he can bite off a piece.  When we first started letting him eat with his own hands, he would just pick up every bite and throw it on the ground.  Eventually he started putting them in his mouth, but if he picked up another while his mouth was still full, he would throw the new piece on the ground.  I can’t say he never throws food on the floor anymore but usually I can put a few bites in front of him and he will eat them one at a time.  We’ve done a bit of hand-over-hand with a spoon, but that’s still pretty challenging for J.  He can now drink from a sippy cup without any help, as long as we offer a little guidance to get the cup back on the table when he’s done drinking instead of throwing or dropping it.

By far, experiencing J’s social and emotional progress has been the most wonderful and rewarding.  I read through one of his updates from before we moved in which said he didn’t make eye contact with others.  What I did see in his eyes was a lack of trust, fear, and frustration.  Kids trust fully in their parents, which is why fun games with your little ones include twirling them around and tossing them up in the air.  These activities petrified and paralyzed little J.  His whole body would tense up and try to curl into a ball while he tightly clutched whatever he could.  We took things slowly, allowing his trust to build, and over time we could see him starting to relax, starting to trust us.  It wasn’t long before he was reaching up his hands asking for more and grinning from ear to ear.  J was also very physically aggressive.  It didn’t seem to come from anger, but perhaps frustration at his inability to communicate or just being unaware of his own strength and actions.  For weeks he was pulling out fistfuls of my hair and hitting me or whoever else he came in contact with really hard.  J still gets excited and isn’t always as gentle as he should be, but we see him interacting with the other kids in the house more and more.  He loves to play chase or kick a ball around with M.  He loves to just be a pesky little brother to L, always coming up to him and touching his arm or something, and L is astoundingly patient with him.  And now he’s my best little cuddlebug, nestling his head in my neck and gently stroking my ponytail.  It no longer feels like a grown-up just meeting the basic needs of a young child.  When I’m with our little Jer-Bear (a nickname taken from another little Jer-Bear I adore!) it feels like true love.  I pinch myself all the time because it just doesn’t feel real that I get to be the one taking care of him.

I simply do not understand how our sweet Jer-Bear doesn’t have a forever family yet.  Maybe it’s because they haven’t heard his delightful giggles, or seen his face light up when someone he loves walks in the room, or felt his tender snuggles.  Maybe they just haven’t heard about him yet, so spread the word.  My heart will break in a thousand pieces when he leaves our home, but what J needs is a family that isn’t trying to meet the needs of so many children with such a high level of need.  He needs a family that will love him unconditionally and do everything possible to help him reach his God-given potential.  What J needs might just be you 😉

Children of the Promise has given explicit permission for the posting of photos on this site.  Photos taken of children in the care of Children of the Promise are not be posted publicly without explicit permission given by Children of the Promise.
 
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Posted by on February 12, 2017 in Life in Haiti, Uncategorized, Wilson

 

One Year in the Promise House – Part One

One Year in the Promise House – Part One

One year ago today, Wilson and I arrived back in Haiti to be house parents of the Promise House at Children of the Promise.  We knew we would be caring for 8 kids with special needs, some of whom we knew quite well, some we had only met briefly, but all of whom we had been praying fervently for and preparing our hearts and minds for throughout the previous year.  We were alive with hope, full of dreams and plans, but also anxious about the difficulties we would face, both expected and unforeseen.  We knew one thing for certain; God had placed a call on our hearts that we simply could not ignore.

I wrote to my mom and sister our first night in the Promise House, which I like to read from time to time.  If we don’t look back to where we started, it’s impossible to see how far we’ve come.

“We knew the physical space was less than ideal, but I was more concerned about the location than anything.  We will take pictures tomorrow, because it’s a bit hard to explain the state of things.  The kitchen sink is falling out of its hole in the counter, the dish rags are disgusting, and there are cockroaches everywhere.  In the sink, on the counter, in every crevice of the only 2 dining room chairs that sit at the table.  There is so little food in the house that we didn’t have anything to cook for dinner, so we got leftovers from the volunteers upstairs.  The couch, the old one from the girl’s apartment, is so dirty and is torn to shreds.  The arm rests are just draped open to the wood and cardboard and foam and whatever else a couch is made of.  I haven’t gone in the kids’ bathrooms yet because Wilson warned me of the stench after he checked inside.  According to the nannies, all the kids and nannies beds have bed bugs and nobody sleeps well at night because of it, the kids wake up with bumps all over them.”

This was before we discovered the two mice nests, one in the couch and one in the oven.  Improving the physical space we live in started almost immediately, but it has definitely been more of a marathon than a sprint.  We did kill all 15 mice in our first 2 weeks, and have only a few stray ones since then, which is to be expected when COTP is surrounded by sugar cane fields.  The cockroaches took a few more months to beat, but we are so grateful to be rid of them as well.  The bed bugs are still an issue, though not for lack of trying.  Attacking that issue is one of our goals for the 2017.

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sit here to snuggle with our kids??

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It took us weeks to get the courage to cook in this kitchen

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It’s difficult to bathe a 9-year-old with CP here!

Ridding the house of pests was just the beginning.  Wilson has worked tirelessly on so many other things in the house.  Doorways are now wheelchair accessible.  The two kids’ bathrooms were completely gutted, one to make a laundry and storage room, the other became a completely accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower and padded changing station.  Each child has a hook for their own loofah instead of sharing communally, with the same for towels.  We switched to cloth wipes and are using only cloth diapers as well.  A special sprayer sink was added to rinse off the diapers before putting them in the washing machine.  Clotheslines were installed on the roof so everything dries in just a few hours.  For rainy days, we have a dryer converted to propane, so we can stay on top of the laundry.

16684453_10100330904341955_2122398730_nAfter some deep cleaning in the bedrooms, mattresses were replaced and open-faced closets were added for the kids’ clothes, shoes, and linens.  The worn and stained clothes were replaced with new and new-to-us items that had been sent down on the bus.  All the kids who needed special braces were fitted for them and now have AFO’s for their feet, and hand/wrist/arm braces as needed.

The kitchen got a new sink with some retiling where needed.   The chest freezer that was acting as a fridge, is actually a freezer again as someone had donated a new refrigerator.  Once we got the stove/oven thoroughly cleaned, the oven didn’t actually work, so we inherited one from another house.  Pantry shelves were built and food storage bins were added.  For those who can sit up, appropriate seating has been added to the kitchen table.  A half-wall now separates the kitchen from the living room for the safety of our kids and their growing curiosities.

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16652826_10100330909391835_689013740_nThe living room got some new paint and a new couch.  A video projector was installed for family movie nights.  All the kids now have appropriate wheelchairs and we also have mats, bean bags, and exercise balls for play and therapy.  Old and broken toys have been replaced by new, engaging toys, and a library of books now sits in our own bedroom so they are protected from busy little hands between story times.  Fans were fixed and dead or missing light bulbs were replaced.

The backyard has been fenced in, adding a door from the laundry room to the yard.  A cement pad was laid for chairs and a new BBQ that Wilson made from an old propane tank.  A hammock rests between palm trees and a new swing set of special needs swings has been donated.  The initial work has been started on replacing the septic system, another project for 2017.

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But a house is not a home without the family who lives in it.  Stay tuned for Part 2 and I’ll tell you all about our kids and the progress they’ve made in the last year!

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2017 in Life in Haiti, Sheila, Wilson

 

Teacher Needed Urgently

Teacher Needed Urgently

The mission of Children of the Promise is to provide excellent physical, spiritual, emotional, educational, and economic care for at-risk children and families in Haiti, empowering the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.  Vulnerable and disadvantaged are certainly two ways to describe the kids we care for in the Promise House (though we do not believe these words define them!). Slowly but surely, we are seeing change here in the Promise House, as we strive to provide excellent care for our kids.  There has been positive change in their physical, spiritual, emotional, and economic care.  However, after almost a year here, the one area that we have not yet been able to affect change is in education.  We are so thankful for the two house parents who have been able to do a few hours of school each week for our kids, but it pulls them from the kids they are caring for and they simply don’t have enough hours to give.  They do a wonderful job with our kids but their expertise is not in special education.  So, in order to allow them to refocus on their own homes and to better meet the educational needs of our kids, COTP has opened a full-time position for a special education teacher here in Haiti.

I am extremely excited and hopeful about this opportunity.  As house parents, our goal within the greater mission of COTP is: We will create a stable, Christ-centered home, where each child is loved, encouraged, and supported as we help them reach their full potential.  We believe that providing high-quality education is an important component of helping our kids reach their full potential.  Providing age-appropriate education empowers our kids, giving them respect and dignity.  So many times I have wished I had the qualifications to provide our kids with more education, but God has made it clear.  My role in their life is to be mom.  Mom for now.  Mom indefinitely.  But it takes a village, right?  And while mom and dad are always important, right now my kids (and a few others here at COTP) need a teacher.  Someone who believes in them, believes in what they can be.  Someone with the knowledge and skills to draw out of them what some doubt is even there.  Someone with patience and resolve.   Someone called to empower the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.  Someone who is not afraid of humidity and a few pesky spiders.  Is something stirring in you?  Or is the face and heart of someone you know coming to mind?

I trust that God will provide.  I trust His will and His timing.  I want things to happen now (or yesterday!), but I choose to trust.

http://childrenofthepromise.org/open-positions/

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2017 in Life in Haiti, Prayer, The Kiddos

 

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas from the Promise House!

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our kids got so many gifts from their generous sponsors

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Haitian Christmas with grilled goat, fried plantains, rice & beans

Children of the Promise has given explicit permission for the posting of photos on this site.  Photos taken of children in the care of Children of the Promise are not be posted publicly without explicit permission given by Children of the Promise.
 
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Posted by on December 28, 2016 in Holidays, Life in Haiti, Sheila, The Kiddos, Wilson