I’m not much of a singer, but that doesn’t stop me from singing to our kids whenever I get a chance to run over and say goodnight to them. I remember the first time I heard the song. My cousin would sing it when we were younger. It sounded so funny…”goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Bed bugs, huh? “If they do smack ’em with a shoe until they’re black and blue, black and blue, goodnight, goodnight, goodnight, sleep tight”. There was always something about singing to the tune of bed bugs that didn’t sit well with me before trying to get a good night’s rest. The song was catchy, though, and it stayed with me long enough to pass it on to our children…all I have to start is “goodnight” to that oddly unique song and the rest, they take away in symphony. They were always so excited to sing the song, but I always wondered if they were actually able to sleep tightly each night.
Our children have many blessings here, more than many people here in Haiti, but just because they have something doesn’t mean they don’t deserve better. Perhaps the children did sleep tightly, just knowing how blessed they were compared to others, but the breaking iron rod beds that used to sit in their rooms weren’t exactly a comfort to look forward to before bedtime. Unfortunately, that’s all we could provide for them along with a mattress that wasn’t exactly an excitement to jump into the dream world with. And as we would tuck them into bed, it was almost defeating to see that we weren’t able to give each of them their own bed to sprawl out on as the morning hours called their bodies to stretch awake.
Could you easily turn to your child, tuck them in every night and know that you couldn’t provide for their basic necessities in that moment as you wish you could? The comments of some were almost piercing; “It’s ok, it’s an orphanage. I’m sure the kids are used to having little and broken things.” We don’t want our kids to be used to it. We don’t want them to settle for the least because they’re “used to it”. They are our children, just as many of you have your own. Would it be ok for your children to sleep in those same breaking iron beds and torn mattresses? We saw it similarly. After searching a while for help with this project, it all slowly started to become reality.
About a year ago, I received an email from a family friend at my parish, St. John the Baptist Parish in Pennsylvania. He wanted to know if there was anything we needed or anything he could help with; the bed project came to my mind immediately. I replied in short, “We need someone to share love with our kids and not just take pictures of them to show others how they helped poor children. Our children aren’t just abandoned and poor. We are a family. We need someone to help us show our family how much they deserve. We need new beds and mattresses for them.”
Nine months later, after much energy and dedication, the St. John’s group landed in Port-au-Prince. Widson and I waited as their plane landed and as I saw them walk out of the airport, my breath was momentarily taken away. At that single request for our children, they not only worked together to search for funding, but they also drew up plans and flew themselves down here. It all seemed to naturally fall into place after they arrived. The wood came, they worked and worked, built and assembled and the whole time, with the children alongside of them. Wooden templates, glue, screws and a bunch of blades; I never thought the children would react as they did. Not only did they each get new wooden beds, but they also helped build them with their own hands…together.
They saw how driven Ron, Tom, Doug and Ellen were about helping them and in doing so, the children realized much about themselves and the value of what they do. It’s something we’ve taught them over and over again, but the moments in which they experience the value of themselves and their work are unforgettable.
At one point, in the midst of all of the busyness, I looked up; I saw Ron, the caring father of Becky, whom I looked up to as a young girl in Kindergarten; I saw Tom, one of my passionate elementary school softball coaches who sits with his children and grandchildren each Sunday right in front of mine, always prepared to share his latest Uncle Dennis joke with my dad; I saw Doug, a dedicated community member who takes care of the natural caverns around our area in Pennsylvania; I saw Ellen, a loving mother and wife from one of the most active families in our little town…in the midst of them, our children. Families I grew up with in a small town in Pennsylvania helping the family we are raising in our small corner of Haiti.
The Sleep Tightly Project gave the children more than just a better place to lay their heads, more than just a brand new mattress and beautiful wooden beds. Yes, the children sleep tightly, but not just because of the new mattresses and beds. They sleep tightly on a tangible item that reminds them each time of a goal they helped to accomplish and with a thought of “someone Janey’s” who chose to reach out to them without having met them before.