Helping in Haiti
Teddy bears deliver immediate comfort; long-term help planned
Mary Bellofatto, left, and Lulu Carter with their arms full of teddy bears bound for Haiti. EVAN WILLIAMS/ FLORIDA WEEKLY
A small team of psychologists and translators from Naples departed for Haiti recently in a six-seat airplane stuffed as near possible to the rafters with teddy bears. They delivered the symbols of affection and security to about 200 children at an orphanage just outside earthquake-ravaged Portau Prince.
“I don’t know how we’ll get them all on the plane, but if we have to sit on them, we will,” Mary Bellofatto, a therapist, and former clinical director at The Willough addiction center in Naples, said before the trip. Somehow, they managed.
The goals of their five-day mission are both short- and long-term: First, to immediately empower the children at the orphanage and bring joy to their lives, as they will need it facing extreme hardship. And second: Upon their return to Naples, the group plans to establish a system of ongoing help for Haiti by circulating high school and college students from the United States back into the impoverished country. The students will use their varied talents and knowledge to empower more young Haitians.
Mary Bellofatto and Lulu Carter at Ms. Carter’s Outside the Box Studio in Naples EVAN WILLIAMS / FLORIDA WEEKLY
Some reports indicate it could take decades for Haiti to recover from the January earthquake — if it can recover. But the two women leading the mission, Maria Luisa “Lulu” Carter and Ms. Bellofatto, believe that children there — or people anywhere — have it within them to persevere under abominable circumstances.
Known as “Lulu” to her students, Ms. Carter runs Outside The Box Studio, a holistic, eclectic arts school for children and adults. Born in Brazil, she helped poor children in slums there before moving to the United States, where she has been an educator for more than two decades. Through her second business, a travel company called Destination Partners, she plans to help set up the trips back to Haiti for high school and college students in the coming months and years.
“A lot of college students are trained in drama, theatER, musical abilities,” she said. “You can use any of that.”
Students who go have to be serious about helping.
“A lot of people want to go out of curiosity,” Ms. Bellofatto said. “They want to help, but they’ve also never experienced something like that.” She has participated in many missions to impoverished countries, including to Sudan and Uganda. She has found a sense of hopelessness, looking into the faces of people there. She expected to find that same blank gaze on the faces of some Haitian children.
“It’s like there’s no one home,” she said. “You work with them for a few hours and you see that hope come alive in their eyes. When people understand they have these resources within them, that’s news to them.”
Ms. Carter feels her service to Haitian children is selfish, in the best sense of the word. “You’re not (giving) — you’re receiving,” she said. “The love that you receive, the smiles, the eyes, the compassion, is just so overwhelming, which is why I cannot imagine myself not doing it. My work is to bring people from a place of chaos, horror, to that place of peace, compassion, joy.”
Getting them to laugh will be at least one important goal. Also to simply let the children at the orphanage know that their need for help is understood.
“In any kind of trauma there’s ‘Am I safe? Can anybody hear me?’ Ms. Bellofatto said.
A trip to Haiti, or maybe life in general, takes a kind of caring attitude Ms. Carter is trying to teach her students. She looked at a drawing done by a child at Outside The Box Studio. The student had seemed indifferent about what color to use in one small section of the drawing. That bothered Ms. Carter, who pointed adamantly at the little yellow abstraction, roughly the size and shape of a small country on a map.
“It’s very important that people start to care — to care for everything,” she said. “This sense of detachment is not going to lead us into a peaceful world.”
Ms. Carter and Ms. Bellofatto both are members of the American Psychodrama Association, the group through which they met. Along with the planeload of teddy bears, each took her own talents to Haiti; Ms. Bellofatto counseled older children, while Ms. Carter said she felt more adept working with younger ones.
For information about the program to engage high school and college students in helping Haitian children recover from the earthquake trauma, call Ms. Carter at Outside the Box Studio, 272-6512, or e-mail lulu@outsidethebox-studio. com.