Families in this part of Haiti often get bigger than they had anticipated. When the family grows in this area of immense poverty, they often don’t know what to do to survive. There simply isn’t enough food to go around. So what happens? Some families choose the zero child. In other words, they choose one of the children to neglect in order to reduce the family size. Maybe it is the weaker child. Maybe it is one that is just more unwanted. But one child is singled out for neglect when it comes to food, clothes and other kinds of help. This is the zero child.
There are all kinds of orphans in Benjamin. Many of the children have been orphaned because of the cholera epidemic. Others were survivors from the earthquake. There’s AIDS here too. And Alfred Princilma tries to care for them all. And especially the zero children. There seems to be a disproportionate number of orphans in this rural community in the beautiful mountains of Haiti, but they are there nonetheless. And our orphanage is feeding, educating, and given a lot of love to these children. Can you imagine the esteem issues that would come from being left out like a zero child?
As soon as I got to the orphanage, I started meeting the children. I was especially looking for Shenaidine and Jaline. I knew who sponsored them, and I wanted to get a personal message for them. Shenaidine was there dressed in her best. She looked healthy and happy. I was glad because the sponsor’s previous child had died from the cholera there. But I couldn’t find Jaline. It looked like all the kids in the orphanage were there except Jaline. Then I got the news.
On a trip to the market, Jaline disappeared. It was to be a fun trip to Pignon where the children could get some refreshment. No one knows what happened. She was standing by a little stand getting some lemonade. Then she was gone. Jaline had come from the street. Maybe she decided to return. Could someone have taken her? I hope not, but perhaps. And what can you do? There are no police. You can’t write up a missing child report in Benjamin. There are no pictures on milk cartons. There are no milk cartons. I tried the Sherlock Holmes route and questioned people who might know something. But I got no further than the lemonade stand. So you pray.
I remembered the Vacation Bible Story we had taught the children in Cap Hatien the previous day. It was the story of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one. I felt like Jaline was the one. She was not the zero—but the one. I know the Good Shepherd knows where she is and cares. I want to be like the Shepherd who says that He doesn’t want any to perish. Don’t you? I especially want it to be that way when it comes to children. But there are limits to my detective skills. And so you do your best and hope in the Good Shepherd.
No child is a zero.