Twenty Orphans in Croix-des-Bouquets

Say the words “orphanage” and “Haiti” aloud and take note of your first reaction. I would think for most people it’s a moving combination of words. At the end of that first walk through a tent community, when I discovered that twenty orphaned girls were living on the ground floor of our guest-house in Croix-des-Bouquets, it felt like one more kick in the gut. On a very selfish level, I wasn’t sure at that point how many more sad stories I could take in without falling apart.

But I also felt what anyone else would feel – a surge of compassion and an urge to help. I was looking forward to meeting Tim and Toby Banks, the directors of the orphanage and Mom and Dad to twenty-five children.

Tim and Toby are two remarkable people. Not only do they direct the orphanage, but they also run the health clinic that sits on the same grounds. I watched them work all week long, tirelessly managing one crisis after another. Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, Tim ran a construction business and Toby spent fifteen years as an emergency room nurse before Tim decided to spend a week in Croix-des-Bouquets helping with construction on the clinic. It didn’t take long for Tim to feel a special connection to Haiti. He returned home and told Toby he wanted to pack their things and move. With five children of their own still at home, she wasn’t so easily convinced.

A year later, Toby visited Haiti as well and this time she understood what Tim had felt there. Back in the U.S., they began planning their move to Croix-des-Bouquets, making sure they had everything lined up before they told anyone their surprising news. Four of their children would be going with them. The oldest boy, however, was finishing his last year of high school and would be heading off to college. For Toby, being separated from her oldest son was really the hardest part of the whole move.

The Banks’ intention was to start an orphanage for twenty two-year-old girls. This way, they would be able to provide education for all of the girls at the same time and at the same level. Their plans fell through, however, when they discovered that healthy two-year-old girls were difficult to find. It seems there was profit to be made from the sale of healthy girls that age. The couple quickly realized they would have to adjust their plans.

A local woman led them to their first little girl. When they met her, they were told this small and terribly malnourished child was approximately two years old. Yet after two months of solid nutrition, that two-year-old sprouted upwards and lost all of her baby teeth. Toby figures she was in reality six or seven years old at the time. When I met her, she was tall and elegant and clearly just entering her teen years.

And so it began. Girl by girl, the Banks gathered their new family members around them. One little girl was found under a bush and weighed only three pounds. Twin girls were found with their dead mother. One girl was so sick she needed a blood transfusion. Eventually, they added to their already substantial family twenty Haitian girls of various ages. For Toby, this made their orphanage “much more like a family” than it would have been if the girls had all started out at the same age.

Today, the Banks are six years into their lives as directors of the H.O.P.E. orphanage. Their mission is to raise all twenty of those girls to adulthood in a good home with a solid education. Like I said, they are remarkable people.

On that first night in Haiti, I found a quiet spot alone on the porch outside of my room. I needed to pause – to come to grips with the terrible things I had learned that day and the terrible things I had seen, images that I knew would stay with me forever. I listened to the thunder rumble in the distance and thought about what that coming storm meant for all the people in the tents nearby. To be honest, I was trying hard to cope and to convince myself that I would be able to handle the week that lay ahead.

It was a weak, self-centered moment.

And then, through the windows that opened out onto the garden below, came the loveliest sound: twenty little girls – all of them orphaned, all of them now members of a loving family – were singing Creole lullabies before bed.

That sound was all I needed in order to remember that none of this was about how much I could handle.

And I couldn’t wait to meet those girls.

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  1. Lori (Twixlen)’s avatar

    It’s easy to forget how hard it is in other places, for other people – they are distant, both in space & emotion. You are capturing the heart of that and sharing it with me, with us, at no small cost to yourself.

    I am grateful that you remind me to have compassion, to have hope.

    I look forward to your next installment. *Thank* you.

    Reply

  2. Meredith’s avatar

    i can’t wait to read every post and when you’re ready…listen to you share anything and everything. xo

    Reply

  3. Barbara’s avatar

    Oh Joanne, talk about a swing in emotions . This post just stops you in your tracks. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story. You think about how lucky those twenty little girls are and then your thoughts drift to the many, many little girls there who are not so lucky and you weep…….and then you think, “What can I do?”

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  4. Kate’s avatar

    What a sound. My goodness. I will look at the HOPE website now.

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  5. Barb Lane’s avatar

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to have my 4e english students read your articles and comment on them. I promised them that you would reply back. Anyone else’s responses to their input would be invaluable.

    Thanks again for another riveting piece of writing, my friend.

    Reply

    1. Joanne’s avatar

      Sounds exciting Barb! Do I have to be encouraging or can I give them all the eyebrow? Just kidding. I’d love to have them read….

      Reply

  6. stu & Wanda’s avatar

    Well, you did it. You thought it would be difficult and it sounds as though it was more than one could imagine. You now have stories and insights that , hopefully, can reach the right people that can make a real difference.
    Good luck. Stu & Wanda.

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  7. Omar Garibay’s avatar

    I really admire your work because just few people are real HEROS . Other people wants to help in a situation as Haiti is passing through but they are afraid and I put myself as one of them because even though I want to help I’m afraid and that’s why I admire you really make a big difference. It’s interesting and very true when you say that you felt what anyone else would feel and I agree because when life is happening many “Humans” are busy making plans and I said “Humans” because I don’t really know what we are anymore. I would like to know more about the Orphanage for this twenty two years old girl because is very kind and interesting give education to this girls and make them better persons and give them the chance to have a better future. God bless you all for what you do in this world, I hope people can see that and can start giving a hand to our people in Haiti.

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    1. Joanne’s avatar

      Hi Omar – I want to thank you very much for reading my posts and for your comment. There are some real heroes in this world, well worth your admiration. I appreciate your kindness, but I am not a hero. I was given the opportunity to travel to Haiti to tell these stories and that is what I’m doing. The true heroism rests in the people I met there. They are good and kind and loving as they struggle simply to survive. It is a wonder to me that they have such strength. You are right, of course, about the need to “give a hand to our people in Haiti”. People too often dismiss others because they are from somewhere else – they are different – but your inclusiveness is absolutely the best way to see the world. I think you would agree that we are all just struggling along trying to do our best with what we are given.

      I am planning a way to directly help the people I met in Croix-des-Bouquets and I will be telling everyone about that as soon as I can. By the way, thank-you for reminding me how much I miss teaching teenagers.

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      1. Joanne’s avatar

        Just a quick note to other readers – Barb is the Head of English at an Ontario High School (I know, show off) and she is encouraging students, many of whom have English as their second language, to read these posts about Haiti and submit comments if they wish. I’m really looking forward to hearing from them and I’ve promised Barb I will answer as quickly as I can.

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  8. Omar Garibay’s avatar

    Thank you to write me back I appriciate, and I’m actually a student from St. Catharines Collegiate High School in Ontario and English is actually my second language. My back ground is Mexican and perhaps that’s the reason I see things in the world because I have experienced poverty and as you I have seen things that others can say “impossible” and I thank God for coming here to become a better man and for that reason I think you are a hero because you are helping those girls to become better woman in the future. Thank you for that! Take care Joanne and have a nice day.

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    1. Maythany Boutthiphon’s avatar

      Omar she didn’t even help the young girls, she just wrote about what Tim and Toby did.

      Reply

      1. Omar Garibay’s avatar

        I know that I just didn’t explain myself as I wanted my apologies. when I said HEROS I was talking about Tim and Toby and anyways I think it wasn’t anything wrong with what I wrote was it? my apologies again.

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        1. Joanne’s avatar

          Omar, you didn’t write anything wrong at all. Your comments were thoughtful and kind. Thanks again.

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  9. Maythany Boutthiphon’s avatar

    Hello I have just read your post and it is very fascinating to see the noble work ordinary people such as Tim and Toby are doing. What I found really interesting in this post was that they could not find any healthy two year old girls and improvised instead of giving up and leaving. I myself look up to Tim and Toby because for all that they have done; leave their comfortable lives in the United States and come to Haiti to help malnourished and homeless young girls and bring them together to create a family. Now that you have seen the hardships and the conditions of the Haitian’s lives, I can only imagine how their lives will be after Hurricane Thomas makes its pass through Haiti.

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    1. Joanne’s avatar

      Hi Maythany – you are absolutely right: Tim and Toby are amazing people and I think they would be the first to tell you that they feel like they are the lucky ones to be living the life that they are living. They are very much loved in their family of 25 kids, as you can imagine. I spent much of last week worrying about what that Hurricane was going to do to the people in the tent communities. I know that some villages were hit very hard but that Port-au-Prince, where half the population of Haiti lives, was not hit directly though it was affected by excessive rain. In a place where people are living on dirt floors, rain means mud, lack of sleep, lack of cleanliness, and illness. It’s hard to imagine. On a brighter note – I did hear from my friend Pierre last night who told me that there were no deaths and no loss of tents from the hurricane in Croix-des-Bouquets. He is very thankful, as am I. Thanks so much for your comments.

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  10. Terri Lynne’s avatar

    Thoughtful Response.

    I would like to start off by saying I really respect how honest your being throughout your whole story. What I found most interesting is how Toby had changed her mind after visiting there herself. Most people if you were to ask them what is going on in Haiti, they haven’t got a clue. If you were to ask people who know what’s going on, most of them wouldn’t even think of helping out themselves. “It’s just another thing going wrong in the world” and speaking truthfully, I was one of those people. But reading this made me realize that if I were to go there, I too would probably feel the need to help. It just proves that you never know what you would do in situations, until you are forced to face them. I was just wondering, why are they only helping girls? Is there a specific reason they are not choosing 10 boys, and ten girls? Anyways would really like to thank you for posting this, It makes me hopeful for better days to know that good people are still around. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Sincerely: Terri Lynne

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    1. Joanne’s avatar

      Hi Terri Lynne – Thank-you so much for your comments. I am indeed trying to be as honest as possible in my writing. I think it’s the only way to approach something. I can tell you that I was definitely scared before going to Haiti, mostly because I didn’t know if I could handle what I was going to see and learn. I really believe that just about everybody would respond the way I did – you see people in great need and your focus turns quickly to them instead of to you. Returning home has been harder than being there. At home, I had to begin processing everything that I saw and I will never forget those kids in the tent cities as well as the orphan girls. My plan now is to find a way to help and I sincerely hope that you will continue to read and help me spread the word about what can be done. As for your question, I don’t know why the directors chose girls over boys but part of their decision might have been impacted by the fact that girls often have less of a chance of being well-protected or getting an education in places like Haiti.

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  11. Chris Norris’s avatar

    Joanne, your choosing to work in Haiti to help those kids is a very inspiring and emotional story. I admit, I could never imagine handling all the pressure myself. As people read your story, they begin to realize how much of a difference they could make if they take action now instead of later. Some people might see you as another princess diana, just without the royalty. I can see alot of supporters on their way over to help the people of Haiti, and you’ve made a positive impact on them, to open their eyes to the rest of the world and actually do something about it. You are a stong and noble woman, take care.

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    1. Joanne’s avatar

      Chris – you are very kind. I really feel like I was just handed an amazing opportunity to travel to a place with extraordinary need. I’m endlessly grateful for that chance. My job now is to write about what I learned and find a direct way to help. I’m working on that part now. It’s my hope that people like you will continue to read and help me spread the word about what we can do. I also hope to go back in the spring – if all goes well – and I hope to be able to tell you that things are improving. I can tell you that meeting the Haitian people – who are truly the strong ones in this story – stands as one of the most incredible experiences of my life and one that definitely changed my outlook on the world.

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  12. matthew gabb’s avatar

    I learnt a lot from this post you about what life in Haiti is like and how hard it is to live there. I really like how Toby and Tim are helping those in Haiti who seem to need an endless amount of help. I found it strange that they could not find any girls under the age of two. I was wondering about the part that talks about profit to be made from girls under the age of two were you talking about they would sell their child for food and water? Toby and Tim are truly heroes in my book and I think more people should follow in their footsteps and help out people in need. I have always wanted to help out in countries in need and to get that feeling that you have done something good and possibly saved someone’s life.

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    1. Joanne’s avatar

      Hi Matthew – I agree with you wholeheartedly that helping people who live in impoverished countries is very fulfilling and it is certainly something you should do if it is something you have thought about before. There are lots of great organizations that work in countries all over the world and I think you’ll find that you will learn more in a short time of travelling like this than you would in many other situations. I don’t know the specifics about why girls are sold – I didn’t meet anyone involved – but my understanding is that people in very desperate circumstances – more desperate than we can imagine – would adopt the girls out at a price. Sadly, it is very difficult to protect children from such things but there are organizations on the ground trying to do just that. I hope you continue to learn about Haiti on your own and I’m always glad to have your comments here.

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  13. Hanan Bille’s avatar

    It is very impressive of you and the people who are working with you for giving education to those girls who need. I think that people like you who go to other countries to help are awesome because you are not ignoring the fact that there a people who are suffering. Providing schools and the support for the girls to learn is valuable because everyone needs to have education to end up somewhere in the future. Those girls are the same as others around the world who need education. I would like to know more about your work and how this program will started. I was always interested on helping others who need education So i hope one day I end up doing what you did for those girls. Thank you for taking your time to read this. Have a great day!

    Reply

    1. Joanne’s avatar

      Hi Hanan – Thank-you so much for responding to my post. I want to be clear with you that it is Tim and Toby Banks, the directors of the H.O.P.E. orphanage who are providing these girls with a home, a family, and an education. They are truly amazing people. I was in Haiti specifically as a journalist to study the work of the Haiti Empowerment Project. The HEP is involved in teacher education in Haiti – as well as many other areas – and I am indeed hoping to help them in the near future. I hope you keep reading and if you want to watch a short film about the project, go to the post called “the Haiti Empowerment Project”. There’s an embedded film at the bottom by my friend Jake Housh – an amazing videographer.

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  14. olevia’s avatar

    I would like to start by writing that what you posted about your trip to Haiti was not only emotional, it hit home. I think what Tim and Toby did by opening the orphanage to girls from age two and up was very courageous. I think that Toby and Tim’s actions where different from others who help Haiti because they didn’t only just donate money they opened a orphanage for girls all over Haiti. I believe Tim and toby made an impact on Haiti because they took in a group of girls and raised them as there own.
    I was wondering what Tim and toby are going to do after this girls are grown and are ready to move out on there own? Are they going to take in more orphans, or have they already? Also are they planing to expand so they can take in even more girls?
    Joanne, I feel that your reaction to what happen in Haiti would have been the same as mine. I think that its was great that you went out there and saw what was happening. I respect you from write this piece and tell the truth about everything. I especially love how you wrote about what you where feeling, and what was going though you head at the time . I would like to say thank you again for writing about your trip to Haiti, it really hit home.

    Reply

    1. Joanne’s avatar

      Hi Olevia – Thank-you so much for taking the time to read this and comment. You’re right about Tim and Toby. They are certainly special people. Their plan is to raise each of the twenty girls to adulthood in a good home with a solid education. After this, I’m not sure what they will do or even if they know that themselves. I do know that they are not currently planning on raising more children – they have a really full house as it is! And I want you to know that it makes me very happy to hear from people who are moved by my writing. Thank-you so much for telling me that.

      Reply