Among them was one small little boy, four-and-a-half years old.
I could hear the other little children calling to him: "Bertho! Bertho!"
I walked over to the little boy and found that on this day he was eating his lunch with a large spoon — on other days he was equally adept at eating with his hands if the appropriate utensil could not be found.
When I approached him, he looked up at me, spoke a brief phrase in Creole and shot an engaging smile of approval — he was enjoying his lunch.
We introduced ourselves to one another. Little did I know that I had made a new friend who has since captivated my heart.
While he spoke not a word of English nor I a word of Creole, together we discovered over the next several weeks a way of communicating our thoughts to one another. Sometimes we used one of the bilingual boys at the orphanage as an interpreter.
I asked him to show me where he lived. He grasped a finger with his small hand and led me to a barren, concrete block building — one of the classrooms at the orphanage — and I peered inside. There on the floor was a large piece of cardboard that the family was using for a mattress, a dirty sheet and a small, dirty pillow. This was the temporary home of young Bertho Dunazard, his mother Nanette and his two younger sisters, one an infant.
Through several translated conversations it was learned that the family lived in a concrete block home somewhere up the hill, not far from the orphanage. The house was partially destroyed in the earthquake and most of what few belongings the family had were at the home.
The family unit remained intact in the wake of the disaster — Nanette, Bertho's mother, stays at the orphanage grounds most of the time while her husband works in the daytime and spends most nights at the family's partially destroyed home nearby.
Bertho speaks in a relatively quiet, gravelly voice. He does not say much but when he does speak, it is apparent that even the older children pay attention to what he says, many times deferring to his judgment.
Upon several occasions I witnessed this child's incredible generosity. One afternoon, he had made a little pull car out of a plastic bottle, four bottle caps and four nails that he pulled with a string. He generously allowed the other little boys to play with his new toy. One evening, I gave him a bag of M&M candies and on another occasion he had a bag of corn curls. After eating a few himself, he shared everything he had with all the other children living around the compound.
On the warm afternoons, he delighted in throwing rocks up into the bread fruit trees in an attempt to knock one of the fruits out of the tree — I could see him from the apartment window.
About the second week of my visit, Bertho acquired a conjunctivitis infection (popularly known as pink eye) in his right eye. I brought him up to the apartment and used an eye wash to clean the eye before administering medicated, over-the-counter eye drops brought to the orphanage by missionary visitors. After using the eye drops for two days, Bertho's infection healed and his eye returned to normal.
About a week later, one evening after church services, I was sitting outside the church tent putting drops into the eyes of two little girls who were infected. Bertho went over into the darkened tent camp and found a six- year-old boy. He brought him by the hand over to have drops put into both of his infected eyes. As if that were not remarkable enough, the child did the same thing again just a few days before I left, with two more children he found with eye infections.
Toward the end of my visit, Pastor Rick Van Hoose brought out some nice clothes for the younger boys in the orphanage. One outfit — a pair of black dress pants, a blue shirt, a pink tie and a gray vest — we left in the apartment as they did not fit any of the other boys in the orphanage. I brought Bertho up to the apartment and had him try on the little outfit. Everything fit perfectly. I snapped a quick picture and took him back over to the school building and showed his new outfit to his mother. She beamed with approval and thanked me several times for the new clothes.
Bertho (pronounced BETU) Dunazard
The next evening, while talking via Skype with a friend in Indiana (the apartment had wireless Internet access) I heard a little knock on the door. It was Bertho, who had brought his mother up to thank me personally for the new clothes and, in one of the most touching experiences of my entire visit, she gave me one of his school pictures to remember him.
Through an interpreter, she told me that Bertho asks very engaging questions about things in which he was interested. It was apparent that she was doing a fabulous job of raising the young boy.
In reflective moments, I thought to myself that I wish I could find a sponsor who could finance a classical education for Bertho — one where he would become fluent in French, English and Creole — at one of the better private schools on the island.
A future leader
With his kind, generous heart, his concern for the welfare of others, intellectual curiosity and the influence he already demonstrates among his fellow children, this remarkable child could one day emerge as a genuine leader on the troubled island of Haiti.
It is for Bertho and the hundreds of thousands of other children — orphans, refugees and those with few opportunities in this devastated country — that some of us find a place in our hearts to support such places as Haiti Christian Orphanage. We do this not only out of a sense of Christian mission, but also because it reveals the "better angels of our nature" about which President Abraham Lincoln spoke in his first inaugural address so many years ago.
David Coker is a resident of Evansville.