Photo Documentary: A Haitian Orphanage

Posted on October 15, 2013 by Stephanie Cirillo

Haitian Orphanage- Magdala

Magdala is a ray of Caribbean sunshine.

As a thrill-seeking city girl, I wouldn’t have thought of the Caribbean country of Haiti. But when my close friend Paige invited me to Fonds-Parisien, Haiti to visit her passion project, Wholehearted Orphanage (WHO), I gladly agreed to share my passion, photography, to create a visual story of our journey.

Haitian Orphanage- Paige and Gigi

Paige and Gigi, one of the orphans we visited.

In June 2008, Paige and her mother took their first trip to Haiti with Haiti Christian Mission (HCM) to volunteer at a Haitian orphanage which was home to thirty children. On Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 4:53pm a mega earthquake measuring seven points on the Richter scale hit Haiti. The earthquake’s death toll is a controversial figure but no matter the official number, the quake killed at least ten of thousands of people and destroyed countless homes, businesses and major landmarks.

Haitian Orphanage- presidential palace

The Presidential Palace in Port-a-Prince.

The aftermath of the earthquake-Tent City

The aftermath of the earthquake: Tent City.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption after the earthquake

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in shambles.

I was in New York City celebrating Paige’s birthday when the violent storm and destruction hit the news in the States. Soon after, Paige and her mother made a trip to check on the children of the orphanage. Sadly, it was during this visit that Paige and her mother came to the harsh realization that the people running this orphanage were corrupt– pocketing donations and neglecting to put the money towards the children. This discovery was the catalyst for Paige and her mother to open Wholehearted Orphanage: to ensure that money was going directly to caring for the children.

In August of 2010, WHO was born and became home to eleven orphaned children who I had the pleasure of getting to know. As a typical New Yorker (always in a rush, moving at full speed, over-caffeinated and accustomed to operating very independently), I found myself both excited and slightly anxious about my first visit to Haiti.

All smiles: the children of WHO

All smiles: the children of WHO.

Narline on the monkey bars

Narline on the monkey bars.

Me & baby Esther

Baby Esther in my arms and looking right at the camera!

Being in Haiti was a stark contrast to my everyday city life. Two noticeable differences were the relaxed pace of the Haitian people and their of “we”  than “me”. Each time we traveled the 30 miles to Port-au-Prince, it was a production–we’d pick up as many people as we could fit in the back of our truck to take them with us. I remember thinking, “what a kind thing to do!”. But gestures like sharing a ride are second nature– it’s their way of life.

Beach day with the kids

Beach day – a first for some – with the WHO crew.

Spending time with the Haitian people of HCM and WHO made me really admire both their culture and resilience. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere– ravaged by destructive earthquakes, hurricanes and diseases– and before visiting, I could only think that all hope would be lost for it’s people. But instead I witnessed that Haitians have a zest for life that has allowed them to overcome insurmountable odds. I was beyond inspired to see the people of Haiti fighting daily to overcome poverty with a smile, but are also focused on change for future generations.


Two of the children who now call WHO home.

Haitian Orphanage- Gigii

Gigi posing for the camera.

“Lespwa fe viv” in Creole translates to “Hope gives life”. Haitians hope (and hard work) for a better future has changed my life. I am forever grateful for my trip to Haiti and the children I met there. It was an incredibly humbling and eye opening experience that taught me patience and helped me re-evaluate what’s really important in life. WHO is currently in its first phase of their expansion project, building homes to provide shelter for over 96 orphans in Fonds-Parisien. I’m looking forward to returning to Haiti, visiting the orphans and seeing WHO’s progress. For more information about how you can help, please check out WHO. You might just change more than your own life.

Haitian Orphanage- love

One-on-one time with the children at WHO.

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