Saint Aaron

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

Along the way, Jackson tells of his first foray trying to help people. It started when he got a calling when he was 17. It wasn't something as profound as a sign from God, just an overpowering notion to go to the bus station in Destin. "I just went," he recalls. "And I just bought a ticket to anywhere." Anywhere ended up being San Antonio, Texas. There, he found a homeless man who had been shot in the leg. He invited the man to stay the night with him. "After we got there, I thought, 'Who is this guy I just invited back to my hotel room?'" He could've killed me in the middle of the night." The next morning, Jackson bought him medicine, clothes, and food and gave him whatever money he had in his pocket. Afterward, Jackson says, he realized how foolish his idea was. He wanted to continue helping people, but he needed to figure out a better and safer way to do it. "I didn't know what it was going to be," he says, "but I knew after that that I wanted to help people."

Dieubon turns down a dirt road, and a mile into a neighborhood built from tin and cinderblock scraps, he blares his horn at a gate propped up with a tree branch. The gate swings open, and Dieubon takes the van into a courtyard criss-crossed with full clotheslines, despite the downpour all morning. Under a lean-to built from discarded metal and rotting wood, a group of girls washes clothes in a bucket. The younger kids play on the dirt floor nearby. Unlike the children at Jackson's orphanage, these look troubled. Their faces look full of an adult-like worry, perhaps the concern that comes with wondering how they'll find their next meal. Ritchy looks out of place next to the other orphans. Few of them have shoes, and their hair is uncombed and spiraling in knots. Looking a bit afraid to be left behind, Ritchy clings to Jackson's pants leg.

Soon, the orphanage's superintendent, Milhomme Luckner, arrives in a pair of pressed dress pants and a polo shirt. Unlike the gaunt, underweight kids, he has a small potbelly that pokes the front of his white shirt. He looks young for 37, but his bloodshot eyes droop wearily. He orders wooden chairs brought in for the visitors.

Minouche, Steve, and Ritchy all saw their share of tragedy before Jackson and Dieubon took them in.
Eric Alan Barton
Minouche, Steve, and Ritchy all saw their share of tragedy before Jackson and Dieubon took them in.

"How's your food supply?" Jackson asks.

"I have not much food," Luckner says. "You can visit my food store."

"How about soap? Do you have soap?"

"No, no soap," the superintendent admits.

Luckner takes the visitors over to the storeroom, a bleak, unpainted closet in the concrete building that holds the orphanage. There are five 20-pound bags of rice and four bags of lentils. Catholic Charities gives him the bags every three months. With 35 orphans here, it rarely lasts that long. And the constant diet of nothing but beans and rice leaves them malnourished. Many now have hair that looks partly bleached, turning red and blond -- clear signs that their diet is lacking in nutrients.

"They do not give me different things," says Luckner, who has run the orphanage for 15 years under the same conditions. "I have a burden. I have children to feed with only this."

The group walks back under the makeshift shelter where the children stay out of the rain. Ritchy holds Jackson's hand to make sure he's close. "We would like to pass out deworming medicine to your children," Jackson tells the superintendent. "Is that OK?"

Luckner pauses for a second, obviously confused by what's meant by "deworming." But he agrees.

Jackson pulls the medicine from his backpack, which is stuffed with hundreds of aspirin-sized bottles. Buying them in bulk from Presti, the doctor from Pensacola, the 400-milligram chewable Mebendazole pills cost pennies, a fraction of the $40 Haitians pay a hospital for deworming medicine. Jackson brought 10,000 pills with him on that trip in June, doubling his previous contributions. He gives them to orphanages, priests, doctors, and anybody who will distribute them to others. He has passed out enough antidotes to treat 20,000 people, costing him about $1,000. His efforts are much needed in Haiti, where the United Nations estimates that half of the country's 8 million residents live with intestinal parasites. About 40 percent of Haitian children suffer from malnutrition in part because of the worms.

At Luckner's orphanage, the children line up on a wooden bench with their hands cupped in front of them. Jackson hands out the deworming pills like a priest giving Communion.

Before leaving, Dieubon explains to the children in Creole that the worms eat the food before it can be digested. He warns them that they will have a rough night.

"Tonight as you sleep, the worms will crawl out your nose or from your behind. Do not be scared. If you see one in your nose, pull it out."

The kids look terrified, and Luckner looks confused. Nobody told him about worms coming out of their noses before he agreed to this.

"Before you eat your food," Dieubon continues, "make sure there are not any worms on it. Wash your hands before you eat. Pray to God that you will not get any diseases. And pray to God for the problems in our society and pray for a better life for Haiti."

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