Virginians don’t often enjoy a Christmas morning snowfall, but for sisters Spencer and Olivia Gaulding, there was virtually no chance of that this year. They spent this Christmas morning in a Haitian orphanage. In November, their father, a preacher at Rappahannock Church of Christ, was asked by Haitian Pastor Leon D’Orleans to travel to Haiti.
“It was sort of a whirlwind tour,” Walker Gaulding said. “To preach, teach, consult and assess the needs of the churches we support in Port Au Prince. Leon asked me to bring my family so that the girls could sing in the churches and work with the children, and my wife could see first-hand what was being accomplished.”
The family spent most of its time between three churches in Cite Soliel, the poorest village in the Western hemisphere, where a quarter-million people live in a four square mile area in abject poverty.
Most houses are no larger than 12 feet by 12 feet and built of cinderblocks with metal roofs.
There is virtually no running water, and the electricity works sporadically.
Spencer and Olivia sang at the first church at 6 a.m. Services start in Haiti at 5:30 in the morning.
After Walker preached the Christmas message, they were taken to the next church where the process was repeated.
At the third church, damage from the 2010 earthquake was still evident as the congregation held their services in a circus-sized tent in the shadow of their roofless sanctuary.
Tent-cities still abound and the sisters saw one that stretched for seven miles.
Over the next few days the girls were involved in youth-events, concerts and graduations, but the best part of the trip for them was spending Christmas morning with the children in an orphanage. Some of whom were orphaned in the quake with others who lost their parents to the all-to-frequent violence common in third world countries.
The sisters helped pack modest Christmas gifts for the children which included a new dress or outfit, hair bows, a sticker book and a toy of some kind. The Haitian children were very interested in the girls’ hair and skin.
One little girl in the village had never seen a Caucasian before and when Spencer and Olivia rounded a corner and came face-to-face with her, the child ran crying into her house.
“The children at the orphanage just wanted to touch my hair,” Olivia said, “they were really fascinated with it.”
Cite Soliel is known as the poorest village in the western Hemisphere. With over 60 percent in unemployment, the area is known for its dirt roads, open sewage ditches running in front of the dwellings, and burning heaps of garbage.
Despite these miserable conditions, the Haitian people are resilient and hard working.
“We didn’t see many beggars,” Spencer said.“Most of the people were willing to work for any money they could earn.”
The family returned to the states two days after Christmas.
“We left Port Au Prince in the afternoon and it was about 88 degrees,” Walker said. “When we arrived in Newark that evening, we learned that there had been a snowstorm that day, and the temps were below freezing. With no TV or cell phones, we sort of forgot that it was winter.”