This is Rick from Chicago, temporary pilot of the HATS blog. I arrived yesterday with Liette for my first trip to Haiti, not quite sure what to expect. I had done some research, heard some stories, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw when we hit the ground.

We arrived Port Au Prince around 10 AM, and Karen, Luke Ner, and 2 other staff members retrieved us from the airport. Right away, the feeling that I was in an extraordinarily different place washed through me. The people seemed friendly, but the country is in a desperate situation. Poverty is everywhere, but the folks seem happy despite their challenges. We started out on the 3 hour journey to the HATS Compound immediately from the airport.

airport arrival

The ride to the Compound took us through some very challenged towns, with people selling everything you can think of on the side of the road. The situation is desperate, there is no tourism or industry, and the locals are doing their best to make ends meet.

When we arrived at the Compound, the children were very excited, to see Liette. Karen hadn’t told them that she was coming ahead of time so they’d be completely caught off guard. Clearly they have great love for Liette. They welcomed me with hugs as well, despite the language barrier (I don’t speak Creole, though several of the children speak English). We spent the afternoon playing soccer and getting to know each other. These. Kids. Are. Amazing.

Another family on our walk


Four new helmets arrived for biking and rollerblading


HATS family walk time

Despite being in a very difficult location economically, Karen and the HATS crew have created an amazing place for these children to grow up. They are fed, educated, and generally kept after by HATS – and they are thriving. Each child has a special story, and each radiates optimism. Their smiles, their demeanor, is unbelievable. I’m proud to know these kids, and  to have been invited down. After dinner, I watched their Devotions, where each child sang a song of their choosing, as well as group songs, and their voices were angelic.

Karen, Liette, and I ended the day laying on thin mattresses on the roof, watching the clouds pass across the sky, and the moon peaking through occasionally. Karen shared stories of some of the crazy situations that have played out around the Compound (it’s a fortress, with 12′ concrete walls topped with razor wire). Though this spot, the Compound, is an island of peace and tranquility – the
areas around it don’t offer the same. We’re not talking about routine gunshots or anything like that, but there’s an armed security guard on the premises at all times (and with us when we travel). As a result, Karen (and Liette for the matter, as she’s lived down there too) have had some fascinating experiences.

Today is day 2, and we got some early exercises accomplished (with the larger children, and then on our own), and then went to the market. The market is a crazy place, and a neat experience. After returning, we spent time playing with the kids, and Liette and I installed and painted new doors for the front and back of the house. I convinced some of the kids to sing while we were working, and
….. wow.   Just a really neat place to be in the world.

Jonathan’s first time on mini trampoline


New man on the block time


Play time at HATS


Ti Luc slam dunk the basket ball (with help from Brad)


Water shortage bath


Rick ready to paint the doors

After dinner, two of the older children came to Karen’s house (on the back of the Compound), and Karen, Liette, and I played Uno with one, and then dice with another. And now, the day is winding down so I’ll sign off.

Not allowed to wait for Sandra to return


I’m amazed to be at this place, and to have been fortunate enough to have been asked to be a part of it. Karen, Liette, Luckner, Germaine, Brad, Lois, and the rest of the HATS staff have worked very hard to make the children their top priority, and it shows.