Letters To Haiti Provide A Different Kind Of Help To show support for schoolchildren devastated by the earthquake, fifth-graders in Northridge, Calif., sent the kids letters that included poems, comic strips and stickers. The students in California and those in Haiti say they'd like to be pen pals for life.
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Letters To Haiti Provide A Different Kind Of Help

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Letters To Haiti Provide A Different Kind Of Help

Letters To Haiti Provide A Different Kind Of Help

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When President Obama met with the president of Haiti yesterday, they talked of rebuilding, and there is so much to do. Mr. Obama reached for ways to put the damage in perspective by asking Americans to imagine that if an earthquake like this had happened here, eight million people would have died and a third of the country would have been without homes.

In Haiti, those homeless include thousands of children now living in tents and other makeshift shelters. Lately, some of the children in Haiti have been sharing their experiences with an elementary school class in Los Angeles.

NPR's Mandalit Del Barco brought these two groups of kids together and has this story.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: When they heard I was going to report in Haiti, the fifth-graders in Amylynn Robinson's class asked if I could deliver messages to any children I would meet. Their letters included drawings, small packets of candy and vegetable seeds for planting. And they began simply...

Unidentified Child #1: Hello, Haiti, nice to meet you.

Unidentified Child #2: Dear friend, I have heard about your horrible tragedy.

Unidentified Child #3: Dear Buddy, I wrote this letter to tell you I care about you.

DEL BARCO: The children wrote about their school, Balboa Magnet Elementary, located in a neighborhood north of Los Angeles.

Unidentified Child #4: Specifically Northridge, California. It's really beautiful.

DEL BARCO: In 1994, Northridge was the epicenter of a magnitude 6.7 earthquake. These 10-year-olds were not alive then but many heard stories from their parents and others about the damage in Southern California. Isaac Choi and Matthew Del Castillo said that helped them sympathize with kids in Haiti coping with their earthquake.

Mr. ISAAC CHOI (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): Because they were one of the poorest countries in the Western atmosphere.

Mr. JOON LEE (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): I was like, oh my gosh. Many died, and I feel so sad for them.

DEL BARCO: To try lifting spirits in Haiti, the California kids wrote about their favorite basketball team, the Lakers, and things they learned about space during a field trip, and their hobbies. Here's 10-year-old Liliana Manamino...

Ms. LILIANA MANAMINO (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): My favorite flower is a rose, and I really do believe in a lot of stuff like vampires and fairies.

DEL BARCO: Several girls wrote poems about happiness, and Sam Gorman drew a comic strip.

Mr. SAM GORMAN (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): They might have lost all their toys or possessions in the earthquake. It might have been buried. So I thought this might just cheer them up.

DEL BARCO: Joon Lee, Isela Reyes and Emma Martin wrote to say students from Balboa Elementary pooled their money together to send to the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

Mr. LEE: Many people are pitching in to help people like you.

Ms. ISELA REYES (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): I donated my spare change.

Ms. EMMA MARTIN (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): P.S., our school raised $1,732 and 33 cents just for you.

DEL BARCO: On the streets of Haiti, I found a group of children living in makeshift shelters at a fetid, overcrowded camp in Port-au-Prince. With their schools reduced to piles of rocks and dust, they gather every day outside the devastated College Saint Pierre. Teacher Jeanne Pocius is a trumpet player from Haiti's National Philharmonic Orchestra.

Ms. JEANNE POCIUS (Teacher, Trumpet Player): Some of these kids have lost brothers, sisters, cousins, parents. A lot of them have no possessions at all, other than basically the clothes they have on.

DEL BARCO: As their parents lined up for donated bags of rice, the children read the letters from their new pen pals. And they wrote back with paper and markers sent from California.

Mr. JEAN PIERRE MASON (Student): Bonjour. (French spoken)

DEL BARCO: Eleven-year-old Jean Pierre Mason wrote that he was home from school watching cartoons when the earthquake shook down his house. He says his older brother didn't make it out.

DEL BARCO: What do you miss about him most?

Mr. MASON: (Through translator) When he makes me laugh. He feels traumatized.

DEL BARCO: You feel traumatized?

Mr. MASON: Oui. (French spoken)

DEL BARCO: Nine-year-old Beatrice Guillon wrote she's sad her two sisters died. And 13-year-old Christian Marcus Bucicoo says he's haunted by so many deaths.

Mr. CHRISTIAN MARCUS BUCICOO (Student): (Through translator) I lost my favorite cousin. I cry a lot. I cry a lot these days. But thank you for this letter. Thank you a lot.

DEL BARCO: Some children wrote about being trapped under rubble for days before they were rescued. Others asked for help.

Ms. SERGHINIO DIEQ (Student): (Through translator) My name is Serghinio Dieg. I'm living in the streets. Do something for me, please. Send me a tent if you can or some food. May God bless you and thank you for your support.

DEL BARCO: The Haitian kids also wrote to say they enjoy soccer and American movies. They still have dreams of growing up to be doctors or nurses or engineers. Despite the devastation, they still play with whatever they can. And for their new friends in California, they sent back a handmade toy car created from discarded plastic juice bottles with bottle-caps as wheels.

(Soundbite of child making car sounds)

DEL BARCO: The Haitian children said thanks in many ways.

Ms. JOVELYN BOSSE (Student): Merci beaucoup. (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. SUZE DAZEER (Student): (Through translator) Thank you because you tell us to be strong. We wish that this catastrophe never hurt your country. You're my friend for life. I love you.

DEL BARCO: Stefica Jean Pierre, who is 16, even wrote in English.

Ms. STEFICA JEAN PIERRE (Student): I thank your school for the money sent to my country. I am very happy for the poem. I don't know anything about poems, but I can sing for you.

(Singing) I'm so glad you're here in my life. I'm so glad you came to save us. You came from heaven to earth to show the way...

DEL BARCO: I brought Stefica's song and their letters back to the fifth-graders in California. They seemed impressed with the music, their stories, and the toy car.

Unidentified Child #5: Wow.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, that's nice.

Mr. SYDNEY SETSUI (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): They're very resourceful. They use what they can find.

Mr. GABRIEL MARTINEZ (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): Kids on the U.S., they should be doing exact the same thing, instead of sitting on their butts all day with electronics in their hands.

DEL BARCO: After reading her letter, Carla Villanueva said she was glad her class did more than just give money to the people from Haiti.

Ms. CARLA VILLANUEVA (Student, Balboa Magnet Elementary): I kind of want to encourage other people to send letters to them, because even though help is like giving them like food and stuff, another thing that they really need is like love and care.

DEL BARCO: They were brought together by tragedy. And now these children in California and in Haiti say they hope their bond will last a lifetime.

Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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