By Sarah Smith
Walking into Ephraim Orphanage—Project 117’s in-country partner—we were greeted with shy smiles and darting eyes. Our arrival during the Sunday morning church service meant that our first interaction with many of our kids came through sneaky smiles and stolen glances back at us. After the service finished up, personalities came out of the woodwork. Laughter, squeals, and shouts filled the hallways as the kids warmed up to us almost immediately. What caught my eye, though, was a shy set of eyes peeking around the corner of the doorway.
These eyes belonged to Melynda, and everything about her was shy. She hung back and watched as we played with the other kids. She didn’t come running up to us right away. She seemed content in her role as observer. Over the course of the week, she warmed up to us. She’d come find me when she got to school in the morning to give me a better-than-coffee smile and hug. Melynda’s laughter and playful attitude brightened my day each time I saw her.
When I learned a bit more about Melynda, I saw this small, week-long journey fit into a much larger story. In her first year as a student with us, Melynda showed significant developmental delays. This affected her time at school in almost every way: socially, academically, and even physically. In short, she was falling behind.
At Project 117, we’re about “the left behind.” Our whole philosophy is built around coming alongside the left behind and most vulnerable students in Haiti. We believe that every single person has an amazing story that God is writing for them. In other words, we knew we had to take action when we saw Melynda falling behind her classmates.
Our student care advocate began developing a year-long plan to come alongside Melynda. On trips down, she worked extensively with her to develop motor and academic skills. Melynda had a community of people come alongside her to support her: her teacher, her principal, the women at Ephraim, and the curriculum team at Project 117 all gave their time and talent to come alongside this sweet child of God. They all worked to make sure she was no longer left behind.
This year, Melynda’s improving in school. She’s growing and her motor skills are becoming more and more refined. Just like she opened up to me in the week that I knew her, she’s opening up to her teachers and coming alive within her school community. She’s leaning into and living out her Divinely-written story.
These are the kinds of stories that encourage me most about the work that we’re doing at Project 117. Developing an academic plan for a little girl who’s falling behind isn’t exactly glamorous, but it’s this kind of commitment—on such an individual level—to our core values that will empower and equip our students, like Melynda, to bring change, reconciliation, and hope to their communities.