Before the journey, Upchurch suggested that there was something missing in his life that could not be attained at home, or even in the states. He came close to finding it while volunteering his time at the H.O.S.T. house in Patterson, but wanted to extend his sphere of influence to a larger audience.
In order to find himself, and the true meaning of being a humanist, he knew he would have to journey far from home.
Upchurch, who journeyed with a few others via Praying Pelicans Missions, decided that the best course of action was to offer his services by repairing a large gate to keep the school children safe at the Good Shepherd School in Haiti, while visiting with the local orphans.
The experience not only enriched his life through Haiti’s cultural means, food and hospitality, but through various forms of everlasting bonds and unlikely friendships.
One child in particular that captivated Upchurch was a young 10-year-old girl by the name of Rose, who acted as a mother to her three-year-old brother and one-year-old sister.
“She really touched me,” said Upchurch, recounting his visit in late October. “She had a glow about her, and she was always concerned about her siblings. Her brother called her Mama.”
Rose’s mother was never in sight, and Rose wasn’t able to revel in her childhood because of her responsibilities to her family. Upchurch asked about Rose’s past, and learned that the baby formula Good Shepherd Orphanage gave to her baby sister was sold by their mother.
Rose made it a top priority to take care of her family, as they were her only basic necessities. In her case, food came next to family — a view that is very foreign to many.
Although company isn’t necessarily a gift in the states, the sole action of interacting with others saved many children from complete destitute in Haiti, said Upchurch. Rose journeyed every day to Good Shepherd for food and friendship.
“Good Shepherd provided one meal a day, and she would always come in to eat their food every day. But she would always feed her siblings first,” said Upchurch. “I’ve come to find out, that was their only meal for the day. That one meal was the difference between life and death.”
Upchurch recounted how the concoction was a rice and bean mix, and how the church only had enough provisions to provide five ounces of mix for each child.
Attaining food was a big prerogative to many orphans, and stealing was not option. All the grocery stores that Upchurch visited were expensive, had armed guards at the doors to prevent theft, and did not have the luxury of carrying many brands.
“Everyone I picked up, you could feel their ribs,” said Upchurch. “Food was considered a luxury, not a necessity.”
One day, Upchurch said that he gave Rose candy as a loving sentiment, but instead of eating it herself, she broke it with her teeth and distributed it to her brother and sister. Upchurch said the simple act of kindness amplified the meaning of humility, and nearly brought tears to his eyes.
“I’ve learned so much through her,” said Upchurch. “She taught me that love can break through the barriers of neglect. I started asking myself questions about what I felt was important in my life.”
Although the children were without basic necessities — including a proper home, clean water, clothing and stable families — they were incredibly happy and grateful for the amount of attention they received. They enjoyed taking pictures, and considered love and affection to be the only measure of worth.
Many of the children found solace in being picked up or played with, and would occasionally fall asleep in the arms of their visitors. The older children, however, had their guard up after experiencing years of neglect, said Upchurch.
“I went there searching for who I wanted to be and to become a better person. After visiting, I started to see the benefits of the little things these kids did in their lives. When they say poverty here, it doesn’t amount to what is happening there. I saw true poverty, and I saw true love. I ended up being changed by a 10-year-old girl. The experience gave me a new perception on life in the states, and the value of showing love and compassion. It reminds us to hold onto our young ones a little tighter.”
Upchurch’s journey not only applies to Thanksgiving principles, but extends past temporal holidays. He feels that the act of showing love can be the defining moment in someone’s life and opens the door for future experiences and hope.
He encourages everyone to rethink the meaning of the holidays, and to give the gift that truly matters, unconditional love. And although kindness cannot be stretched overseas, Upchurch urges everyone to look within their own hometown as well, including the H.O.S.T. house in Patterson.
Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.