Confession #128: They laughed at him…an orphan…


Written by: Tanya Pirtle 

We are trying to teach our young men to be independent, so while on my last trip to Haiti, when he asked me if Jonathan could go with him to the hospital to retrieve his medical test results, I said, “No, you need to learn to do this on your own, you can do it. Go first thing in the morning and bring me the results when you get home.”

I arrived at Emmaus House late that morning expecting to see him. I didn’t. About 6:00 that evening, he hunted me down so we could talk. He explained that they said he had an allergy. “What took you so long?” I said. He got quiet and explained to me how he woke up at 6:00 AM to be the first one there and he just arrived home an hour ago- almost 12 hours later. They did wait on him first and asked him some questions about a possible allergic reaction he was having.

“Who washes your clothes?”

“Who takes care of you?”

“Who washes your sheets?”

“I do it myself. I live in an orphanage,” he replied. The entire group burst into laughter.

In Haiti, laundry is considered women’s work, something his mother would typically do for him.

They sent him to go sit back down. He was humiliated. He explained to me how this group of professionals sat and talked, ate lunch, talked and laughed some more, helped other patients who came, and placed him on the back burner until they were ready to close at 4:00 at which point they abruptly gave him his paperwork and asked him to leave. Hungry, tired, and ashamed, he finally headed home.

This is why he wanted Jonathan to go with him.

He was, as orphans in Haiti often are, cast aside like garbage that nobody cares about until it becomes a stench and demands to be taken care of.

A fought back tear may sneak by, but it isn’t very often one sees a Haitian man cry. But he cried that day. He was deeply wounded. At almost 20 years old, this experience cut to the heart of this young man’s identity. This is how his culture sees him and the 14 others he lives with at Emmaus House. The battle they fight to see themselves as overcomers rather than as abandoned, thrown away, and bereft is one they will fight every day.

During a seminar I taught on attachment issues in Haiti last month, I relayed this scenario to the participants of orphanage caregivers. Did they see this injustice as a possibility in their culture? They all quietly agreed that this was a very likely scenario as they hung their heads in shame for how their countrymen sometimes treat the ones they are trying to help.

Rejection of the orphan in Haiti is a societal survival tactic in a way. An orphan is seen as a threat to future economic development. They, for the most part, are not educated and grow to become a further burden to a society already in distress. They are not seen as contributing to progress. And why not? Most of the time this is the case. They often lack access to proper medical care and are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Many end up on the streets, increasing crime dramatically. In a culture where so many are simply trying to survive, one is not always afforded the luxury of caring for those in distress. How will the aunt who can barely care for her own children care for her dead sister’s child?

How will these young people make their way in a culture who sees them as nothing more than a burden? The fact that they have inherent value as a creation of God is not enough. At Emmaus House, we are spending a great deal of resources and time on the preparation and education of our youth. We are working to create an identity within them that defies what their culture says they are. We will show Haiti that these young people can and will serve and contribute not only to their country’s economic development and to their churches, but they will break the cycle of creating more orphans. Our standards for our youth at Emmaus House are very high and with good reason. Their culture will not (as America sometimes does) cater to them in any way based on the challenges they face, and their time spent at Emmaus House must prepare them to live in a society unsympathetic to their plight.

As we sat together on that chair and I helplessly watched him hurt, I placed my hand on his arm and we discussed how he is fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator who has a purpose for his life. He has a great deal to overcome and his story is wrought with loss and pain. My prayer is that he will not let those around him choose his identity. I pray he will own his identity as a child of God. As we continued to talk, I remembered that this young man is indeed an “orphan.” I forgot. I’ve known these young people for 5 years, and I forget sometimes that they don’t have a family and that others see them not as typical people, but as orphans. I forget that they are bereft. I forget because I see this young man as one who has a sensitive heart that knows how to serve others. He knows how to love despite his loss. He makes himself vulnerable and knows how to make others feel special. He is truly a remarkable young man who is loved by many. Unlike these hospital workers, I see him through the lens of what he has to offer the world, not what he will take from it.

Tanya Pirtle
Secretary of the Board
Emmaus House

2 Comments on “Confession #128: They laughed at him…an orphan…

  1. Please tell him it took great courage for him to sit all day and be ignored, and it was cowardice and fear that kept him from being serviced like everyone else. I hope he can take a little comfort in that thought. – Kaye


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