Saint Aaron

Living like a pauper himself, a young man from Broward is trying to save Haiti's children

But word of his charity had spread, and he was getting a steady flow of donations. Cononie alone had agreed to give $1,200 a month. A fellow caddy, Scott King, has also been helping Jackson raise money. King got his father, a financial planner, to ask his clients to donate money, and his father agreed to match every dollar donated up to $25,000. King says he was convinced Jackson's efforts were genuine after hearing him constantly speak about the kids of Haiti. "Day in and day out," King says, "he'd talk about some injustice and the plight of children. Most of us were just talking about golf, and all he could think about were those children."

Two years into his work now, Jackson says he may be on the verge of something bigger than he dreamed. He's now part way through building a school in southern Haiti that will serve poor residents near the city of Saint Louis du Sud. In May, a donor gave him a building in the northern city of Cap Haitien that he hopes to convert into a free health clinic. He's partnered with a doctor there to provide work for free. He hopes to hire nurses later this year and begin shipping in medical supplies.

Coming up with the money for his projects is never his concern. Jackson isn't religious, but when asked about it, he always has the same answer. "Divine intervention," he says with a smile cutting through his tangled beard. "That's how I get everything done." So far, he has no funding for the hospital, and while construction has begun on the school, he has no source of money to run it once it opens.

Ruth Accede teaches the kids French to get them ready for their first time in school this fall.
Eric Alan Barton
Ruth Accede teaches the kids French to get them ready for their first time in school this fall.
The pills Jackson gave orphans in Port-au-Prince forced the worms from their stomachs.
Eric Alan Barton
The pills Jackson gave orphans in Port-au-Prince forced the worms from their stomachs.

Jackson began his charity with the vague idea of helping people, he says, but now he wants to move permanently to the orphanage to be closer to the kids he's taken in. There are seven of them, each one with horrific stories of how they've come to be there.

On the front porch of the orphanage, on Jackson's second morning during his visit in June, the kids crowd onto a wooden bench for one of their first French lessons. They sit below a mural of crayon-green trees and a cloudless blue sky. The mural was a project Coffey and Jackson finished on a weeklong trip in May. Jackson sits cross-legged in the corner as the kids get French lessons from Dieubon's girlfriend, Ruth Accede, a 22-year-old in a flowing sundress and clanking baubles around her wrist.

"What is your name?" she asks in French to Ritchy, the group's oldest.

"Je m'appelle Ritchy," he answers carefully. Learning French will be crucial if they hope to leave poverty behind in adulthood. In Haiti, speaking French is a sign of education in a country where only 60 percent of kids go to school. Jackson says his kids will start school for the first time this fall, even though he has no idea where he'll find the $200 yearly tuition per student.

"What is your name?" Accede asks Ritchy's brother.

"Je m'appelle Clarence," he answers quickly.

"What is your mother's name?"

Clarence shifts uncomfortably on the wooden bench before answering. He looks down at his feet dangling off the floor. "My mother is dead," he answers in Creole.

Accede doesn't correct him for speaking in Creole. But she asks again in French, "What was her name?"

Clarence fidgets and then whispers the name of his mother, whom he watched drown just eight months earlier. "Doune."

At the orphanage, it's hard to picture the lives these children had before. Here, they are profoundly happy. They seem to smile constantly, giggling nonstop, and the reason seems as simple as the fact that they have a roof over their heads and three meals a day. When they arrived, Dieubon gave each one matching pairs of black plastic sandals. For many, it was their first pair of shoes. Then they got new shorts and T-shirts for play and dresses and khakis for school, the first time for many that they had more than just the ratty set of clothes on their backs. It was also the first time that they ate hot food regularly and bathed in anything but rainwater.

While sitting in a folding chair with Rico and Clarence fidgeting in his lap, Dieubon tells of how he found the seven kids. The only furniture in the orphanage's living room are folding chairs and some old schoolhouse desks, so Dieubon's voice echoes eerily. He tells the story in English, so the children, who are running around fighting over Jackson's hat, don't know that he is telling of the horrors they lived through before coming here.

Virtually every morning of their lives before they landed at the orphanage, 6-year-old Kerlinda Chrisostome and 3-year-old Stephanie Dad woke up to somebody kicking them off a front porch. Their homeless mother, looking for any dry spot for them to bed down, usually waited to sneak onto the porches until the homeowners went to sleep only to be awakened when their unwitting hosts shooed them off. Like two-thirds of Haiti's population, they had no access to clean water, drinking mostly from puddles. They ate only rare handouts.

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