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The girls of the fifth grade play the girls of the sixth grade in one of the games inaugurating the new goals of Jesus-Mary School.

“And what will you leave when you go?” It is a question I think we, as missioners, try to fulfill as we go rather than answer verbally. For many of us, overseas mission is a chapter of our lives, not the novel itself. While we will always be connected to the places that embraced and educated us so much, we will not always walk their shores. I believe it to be a mutual offering, part of us will always sit there and part of them will always walk with us. It is the type of chaotic miracle that irrevocably alters a person, and the impact and lessons continue to come, even after we move into the next chapters.

The boys who helped with the project inspect the welding tools and one of the newly set goals.

For myself, the greatest thing I could hope to leave would be the love and the life I got to share with these beautiful humans. It is certainly the most impactful thing I am taking with me. In my final project with the school, we worked to set the soccer goals in place.

Before we began disturbing the land, we discussed the best placement for the goals. The yard itself is not straight, so it would not matter much if the goals did not align perfectly across one another. The real problem was two fold. First, the goal nearest the entrance could not block a path into the school as we occasionally have food deliveries via big trucks. The second, under no circumstances could we hurt either tree near them. Sister Pat, who contains one of the most beautiful and loving hearts I’ve gotten to encounter, was adamant about this. We were happy to oblige.

Similar to how we did the basketball goals, we would use cement, sand, and large rocks to anchor the goals in place in the ground. So, on a comfortable Sunday morning, a merry band of Haitian men, young neighborhood boys and myself worked together to make it happen. It started off with the metal workers welding hooks onto the back frames of the goals to connect nets. The boys and I — under the direction of Claude, our school guardian — collected medium-sized rocks to put near each work site. Next came the transport of the sand, moving it bucket by bucket to prep the cement mix. The men worked to dig deep and narrow holes.

The front frames came first, and once they had sat in the ground for a bit, we moved onto the back supports. Robiency measured, cut, and shaped them on site. He deftly framed the back supports and accounted for the angled hole they’d go into. As it often does here, opinions flew left and right from each of the men as we worked. For the most part, I just worked and listened as they went, knowing they’d resolve themselves to a common solution soon enough.

Robiency, Sony, Claude and Oxius measure for the backstand.

The last hour we raced against an incoming storm and finished the other goal just as fat rain drops came down. As we took shelter under the overhangs of the school building, the boys told me how great it would be to get to use them this week. They challenged each other, taking bets on who could reach the top of the goals. They asked me who I thought could, and I simply said we’d have to see. The rain stopped for a moment, enough for us to head out, but not before they all tried. And learned. None of them could do it yet, but I loved seeing the determination in their eyes. It will only grow and serve them well as they move forward.

Knowing kids will continue to learn, grow and play together because of these goals cannot be overappreciated. Haiti goes through a lot, there is no denying that. My kids have had their rights to education revoked more times than I’d have thought possible. They still show up when they can, they still try to learn as they’re able, and they still find ways to share laughter. There are few people I’ve met with hearts as resolute as theirs. They are certainly more than deserving of this small token of their childhoods and opportunities to play and just be kids.

To combat the rise of COVID here, we ended the school year early on Friday. In the small ways I could, I wanted to send them into the summer on good notes. I asked Annis, who is extraordinary in her maternal love of everyone, to make 450 bags of popcorn. Working her magic she did, and after the final exam, each student got their own bag of popcorn. We also hosted a couple of matches to showcase the talents of our fifth and sixth graders, as well as break in our new goals. It was a lot of fun, there was music, and no shortage of laughter and joy.

In truth, I could not have asked for a better send-off for us all. It was a few hours in which my kids got to be kids, to smile and laugh and play. They were safe and they got to do it together. In the midst of all the madness of our world, the opportunity for their happiness in a safe space is all I can ask for, and I am so blessed that I got to witness it one more time before my contract wraps!

These goals were made possible because of our donors. The impacts of this gift will continue to unfold for years to come, and each of you has my sincerest thanks. Whether by praying for my kids or providing financial support as you are able, you are making a difference. You are empowering them to make differences every day, to learn, to grow, and to have fun together, as every child deserves.

From my students, who are already so excited for the latest addition to our school grounds, my colleagues, and myself, thank you so much! We hope that your days are filled with learning, growth and fun too.

The match between the boys of the fifth and sixth grade.

Abby Belt Abby Belt
Abby Belt serves in two ministries in Gros Morne, Haiti—providing continuing education to teachers at Jesus-Mary School and assisting with a scholarship and empowerment program for young women at Mercy Beyond Borders.