Paper Airplanes

March 2, 2021

Little Lovna bounded across the rooftop, paper plane in hand. At 6 years old, she is the youngest daughter of our friend Monique who keeps our house full of people well-fed with her delicious cooking. Meanwhile, my wife Beth was carrying our 17-month-old son Koa in one arm and a second paper plane in the other. I watched and enjoyed their silly banter, as they competed to see who would throw the airplane the farthest.

Each time one of the airplanes plunged ineffectively to the ground they would laugh and giggle. Even Koa would lean his head back and let out an exaggerated laugh. (Koa was more interested in being a part of the laughter than about anything else.) On the rare occasion that one of the airplanes would travel exceptionally far, everyone would cheer, and Lovna would get a look of wonder in her eyes.

For the next several minutes, I allowed myself to enjoy being lured into the imaginative world of a child, trying to forget about the worries and stresses of the day. I savored the cool evening breeze and looked up at the green mountains that surround Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. To say that Port-au-Prince is a rough place is an understatement. It is known for unemployment, violence, inadequate infrastructure, and poor sanitation, but it’s also full of life. Children run in the streets. Color and sounds are everywhere. I reflected on the contrast between the weariness of struggling parents in the surrounding ghettos and the light frolicking of children such as Lovna.

“I reflected on the contrast between the weariness of adults in the ghettos that surround us and the light frolicking children such as Lovna.”

This childlike sense of wonder and imagination sparks creativity and openness, qualities we need in the adult world with all of its challenges and complications. For some of us, these stresses might amount to making a career change or vying for a promotion. But sometimes the difficulties are more serious in nature. It could be a terminally ill family member, unemployment, or personal health issues. In Haiti, many parents are struggling just to feed their family or send their kids to school.

I see these parents every day, walking the streets with tired, worn-out expressions. The lines on their faces tell stories of struggle, disappointment, and heartache. Life wasn’t meant to be easy; in fact, challenges often enhance our lives, adding meaning and purpose. But this is only true if the challenges are surmountable and hard work at least provides for one’s basic needs. Imagine working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week but still struggling to keep food on the table and never being able to buy nice things for your spouse or your kids. This is the lived experience of so many Haitians.

“Life can beat that childlike sense of wonder and imagination right out of you, but it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Life can beat that childlike sense of wonder and imagination right out of you, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Given the right opportunities and perspective, even as adults, we can tap into our youthful creativity and openness. I suspect that this is one of the keys to tackling problems in Haiti and around the world. This very suspicion guides us at Thrive Ansanm, as we seek to create an open, welcoming environment where students are free to be creative and be themselves.

by Josh Gray

Josh is the director of Thrive Ansanm, and he lives in Haiti with his wife Bethany and their son Koa. Josh and Bethany moved to Haiti full-time in 2019, and they started Thrive Ansanm the following year.

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