Yolmenda (Da Da)
This is the 3rd in our series of blogs about the kids. Hopefully you have already gotten a chance to read about Apolon and Gladine but if not it would be great to go back and get caught up, just click on their name and it will send you to their blog. Our hope is that after reading each of these, you will feel like you know the kids a little bit better….although nothing is as good as coming down and spending time with them!
Today, I want to tell you about Yolmenda. If you have been down here and know the kids at all, you know that to us, she is not “Yolmenda”, she is “Da Da”. This is her preferred nickname and pretty much what everyone calls her. In fact, just last night, she and I were having a conversation that when she is good and sweet she is Da Da but when she is difficult she is Yolmenda. Similar to a lot of us being called by our first and last names by our parents when we got in trouble.
Da Da is 16 years old and beautiful inside and out. She is one of the kids who the more time we spend with her, the more we realize she is not who we thought she was. Let me start by telling you about the Da Da we knew at the old orphanage. The first word that comes to mind is tough. She always had her guard up, could be very hard to get to know, and to be honest was a little intimidating. Showing affection toward us and others did not come easily to her and I had to really gain her trust before she would willingly show affection toward me. It did not take us much time to realize Da Da was essentially raising Malayika and Vageley when they lived at the old place. She was their care-taker in every sense of the word. She kept their belongings safe, got them bathed and dressed for school, made them eat, slept near them, and would protect them at all costs. I am not sure why this job fell to her. I don’t know if someone asked her to do it or if she just saw young children not being taken care of and took the job on herself but I know it was her top priority and based on how long we have known the kids, I know she has been doing this at least since she was 13 years old but probably before that. Another thing that amazed me about Da Da in the old place was her ability to keep her belongings in pristine condition. Because of the living conditions they were in, the rest of the kids constantly lost belongings, had things stolen, and destroyed their belongings because there was no one there to help them. Not Da Da. Before every school year starts, the kids all get a new water bottle. After a couple of months, most kid’s bottles were either lost, disgusting, or broken. Da Da managed to use hers everyday and when we moved here to Hope Rising last April, still had hers, and honestly it was so clean it sparkled. Many of you reading this may know my struggle with keeping spoons at the old orphanage. We were constantly buying new spoons only to have them go missing within a week. We decided to stop expecting the adults there to keep up with the spoons and see if the older kids could do a better job. We got them each a set of spoons for their table of kids and a box to keep them in with threats and rewards if spoons were lost or kept. It was still a struggle but this helped. It was never a struggle for Da Da. She protected those spoons like her life depended on it and even asked me if she could take them to school with her. I will never forget a couple of days after we moved into Hope Rising and Da Da pulling me aside and asking what she should do with her box of spoons. She showed them to me and every spoon was accounted for and still sparkling clean.
That brings us to the Da Da who lives here now. One of her favorite things to do is sit with her Haitian hymnal and sing at the top of her lungs not caring at all who hears her. Once she saw all of the House Moms we had here to help, she pretty much handed over Vageley and Malayika’s belongings and let the House Moms take it from there. It was almost like her saying…”I’ve gotten them this far….now they’re yours”. Da Da loves to dance and play games. She is very athletic and many evenings can be found playing catch or basketball. She has gotten involved in the church here and on any given Sunday can be found being an usher or singing in the youth choir. We even got the amazing privilege to see Da Da get baptized last month. Da Da has a mom who lives in Port au Prince who comes occasionally to visit and a dad who has called us but we have never met. Beyond that, we do not know much about Da Da’s family.
Da Da is now very free with affection. She will hold hands, hug, and often times just likes to lean against us. On the night before school started, Matt went with her to get some headache medicine and I watched them walk back holding hands and just knew her life had changed for the better. Her potential is endless and I so look forward to seeing what she will become in life. She is a natural born leader who the younger kids look up to. You have no idea how hard it is to put into words what these kids are like. I wish that everyone reading this could see them like we do and get to know them like we get to.