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Haiti's children of hope

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 5:24 p.m.

PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI--At the Oasis Institute, an orphanage in the midst of this city's devastation, there is hope and promise in the bright eyes of the young girls. Some 35 of them, neatly dressed and spruced up for visitors, stare intently at members of the Haiti Support Project (HSP) delegation. What they cannot express in words glows incessantly from their eyes.

Marlene, 7, fixed her gaze on a member of the delegation as if to say, "Why are you here? And is there any chance I might leave with you?"

Miles away in Milot, near Cap Haitian, other young female orphans greet the HSP delegation. A dozen or so of them, again arrayed in sparkling new dresses, line up to receive their scholarships from a local organization. Then each of them, bearing envelopes, approach members of the delegation and extend cards to the visitors.

Jessica Antoine's letter thanked her sponsor for support and extended her blessings. She is a shy little girl of 6 or 7, but her smile is engaging as she tugs at the lace of her blue dress.

In Haiti's Central Plateau, no children were presented to the delegation, but one teenager, among the hostesses, who served the delegation a scrumptious meal, is soon outside leaning on a motorcycle, rubbing a piece of ice on her swollen eye. A piece of rock apparently flew up and hit her in the face while riding on the bike. She is not an orphan, but her parents are very poor and unable to provide the schooling she desires. Her dream is to be a doctor.

This is a small sample of the children of Haiti, many of them facing incredible life challenges, but all of them armed with an uncommon hope to one day overcome the obstacles they face.

"It is their hopes and dreams that keep me going," said Lionel Pressoir, the founder of the Oasis Institute and a tireless translator. An entrepreneur of endless capacity, with his own restaurants and a tourist operation, Pressoir cited some of the basic essentials for the orphanage. "We need a generator for electricity, running water and toilets," he said. "At the moment, we have only a hole in the ground for a toilet and we have to carry our water in."

As daunting as it is to feed, clothe and provide medical care for his girls, Pressoir remains optimistic that things will get better. "I can see it in their eyes each day, and nothing seems to faze them. I guess they've endured far more than any of us have seen."

At Milot, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a member of the delegation and the president of Bennett College in North Carolina, who is visiting Haiti for the first time though she has parental roots in the country, is surrounded by the girls, all of them, through interpretation, asking questions about her school. "They are definitely interested in pursuing their educational dreams," she said. "I will do what I can to make a few of those dreams come true, and this is not my last time here."