Saint Aaron

Page 7 of 9

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.

"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."

Jackson leaves Luckner with two boxes of antibiotics. He explains that they're for infections, but Luckner keeps asking if he can use them to prevent fevers. The group loads into the van and heads back toward central Port-au-Prince.

Sitting in the back of the van, Ritchy looks relieved to have not been left behind.

Jackson's next mission is clearly the most dangerous of his efforts in Haiti.

Guards lean on shotguns at the supermarket where Dieubon and Jackson make their purchases. They fill a shopping cart full of juice boxes and cookies they will use to entice the street kids before handing them deworming medicine.

Ritchy walks along with the grocery cart, clutching the handle. "How are you, Ritchy, OK?" Jackson asks.

"I am OK," he says, one of a few English phrases Jackson has taught him. He smiles but looks nervous.

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Eric Alan Barton
Contact: Eric Alan Barton