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David Welles constructs homes — and human connections — in Haiti

David Welles gives quick football lesson.

David Welles gives a quick football lesson.

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Updated: February 11, 2013 10:07AM

In January of 2013, I was invited by friends to build homes for people in Haiti who’d lost everything in Hurricane Sandy.

This was on top of the devastation Haiti had experienced as a result of its 2010 earthquake. It’d be easy to write about how great and rewarding it was to build homes for people in need; it really was rewarding, and they were so emotionally grateful. However, it was the children we came in contact with who impacted me the most.

Veronica, an elderly lady who’d lost everything in the hurricane, was the first woman we helped. Her home sat next to an empty plot of land where pigs, cows and goats were tied to stumps in the ground. While working to rebuild the house, I noticed three small children (two girls who seemed to be around age 10 and 3, and a young boy around age 7) sitting in chairs in the adjacent lot.

During my break, I walked over in their direction — I could see the excitement in their eyes as I approached. I offered the youngest the remainder of my water bottle, and she drank it all in a matter of seconds. She then began to lick the condensation off of the bottle. She didn’t want any of it to go to waste. I realized then how valuable clean water was to them. I looked around and saw that they actually lived inside the bushes — they had some palm leaves draped over them for shelter, but that was it. No bathroom, no electricity. Certainly no water. My heart sank to my stomach — I knew I had little time and ability to give them what they needed.

My wife, who’s riddled with anxiety and nervous about my narrow-minded eating habits, had snuck a loaf of white bread, peanut butter, pretzels, canned ravioli and granola bars into my suitcase before I left. I quickly grabbed these items and gave each child an equal share.

Words cannot accurately describe the joy that spread across their faces as they each bit into a pretzel. They were jumping up and down screaming in French Creole, “More! More!” I showed them how to spread peanut butter on bread — again, elation, followed by smiles and screams. They gathered all of my remaining American treats, then sat proudly on their chairs and instantly devoured everything. It was a stunning reality, and one I had never experienced. These kids deserved so much more than what little they had.

At the second construction site, there were two boys that, if I could have, I would have stuffed in my suitcase and taken home. Their names were Marco and Fitzgerald. About an hour in, they each grabbed one of my hands and started to pull me away from the house. They noticed that I had been taking iPhone pictures and wanted to see them. I obliged, and for an hour they explored my entire video and picture library. My kids…my dog…even a Coldplay concert.

Later, we brought out a football, and the kids started kicking it like a soccer ball. I cued up a video of a college football game (go Green!) and taught them how to throw it. Another one of my friends brought out a guitar and performed an impromptu jam called “Marco & Fitzgerald.” Both boys loved it.

I thought I’d come home with memories of building houses. But what I came home with was the sense that I needed to keep going on charity missions — not just for the reward of helping others, but for the joy of giving a little bit of happiness to the children who need it most.

David Welles donated his fee for writing this column to Chicagochildrens

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