I think most people have heard the saying that eyes are the window to the soul. At the end of a week-long trip to Rapha House in Haiti conducting an art camp, a long-time volunteer asked how my experience with the program compared to my experiences with orphanage care. The first thing that came to mind was not the clean and safe living conditions or the abundance of food and medical care, but the eyes of the girls. At Rapha House the girls’ eyes were so full of life! When I say “life,” I don’t mean just joy, happiness, and hope, but also sadness, apprehension, and frustration. Whatever the feeling, I could see it shining in their eyes.
What I did not see were empty eyes. In some orphanages or children’s homes, certainly not all, you will find eyes that are void of any life. You gaze into empty eyes and find no sadness, no anger, and certainly no happiness or hope. The child may laugh, but the eyes do not reflect the laughter. The child may cry, but the eyes do not reflect the sadness. There is only emptiness.
So how is it that the girls at Rapha House who have endured horrific trauma can have so much life in their eyes? I believe it all comes down to basic care versus comprehensive rehabilitation. In orphanages where you see children with empty eyes, the child receives care to meet only her basic needs – healing is absent. There is little to no effort to reunify the child with family – hope is broken. There is one well-meaning but overworked caregiver looking after many children – love is scarce. The result is eyes that reflect the emptiness of the soul.
Compare that to Rapha House where the child is immediately put into individual and group counseling - healing begins. A social worker starts the search for family members and equips them to welcome the child into their home when she is ready - hope grows. There is a high staff-to-child ratio to ensure the girl’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs are met - love flourishes. The result is eyes that reflect the fullness of the soul.
My time at Rapha House was a poignant reminder that things do not provide healing, hope and love. People provide healing, hope, and love. While a safe place to live and food to eat are important, it is just as important to have trained people who are dedicated to creating an environment conducive to rehabilitation. At Rapha House, even the cooks, house moms, and security guards receive training on trauma-informed care.
Every single person who works at Rapha House is my hero. Not the kind of hero who swoops in and saves the day in 15 minutes, but the kind of hero who dedicates her life to rehabilitating girls who are victims of child slavery and sexual exploitation; who commutes on TapTaps and Motos for hours, day after day, to show up and do life with these girls; who hears and sees the unimaginable, cries in the bathroom, dries her tears, and keeps moving forward; who looks at these broken girls as beautiful children of God made in His perfect image. It is because of the healing, hope, and love provided by these heroes that LIFE, not emptiness, can be found in the souls and shines in the eyes of the girls at Rapha House.