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Give my help how I can



I received this e-mail last week.

Hi dad I'm ok in the name of god and all the boys at trinity they ok too. we say thanks to god cause he safe all.what u dad everything is ok for u dad love u so much dad

Driving into Port-au-Prince from the airport for the first time, I found myself inside a Hieronymus Bosch painting—random objects being burned; starving animals rooting through trash; sweating United Nations peacekeepers with wary eyes; a wash of phantasmagorical faces and forms. By my second day in Haiti, all I saw was the beauty of the people and their indomitable pride.

This summer, I spent 10 days in Haiti as part of a quartet of Duke employees who were there to live and work in St. Joseph's Home For Boys, demolished last week by a devastating earthquake. Miraculously, none of the children in the three St. Joseph's orphanages were killed.

My trip was sponsored by Duke as research for a play I'm writing about human trafficking. I interviewed four former restavecs (enslaved domestics, usually family members). The situation not only thrust my eyes open to the inherent cruelty of mankind but, more important, to the human ability to alchemize pain into kindness. The people I talked to are injured, but it's clear that the bravery it took them to escape their insane keepers is the same courage that will rebuild the star-crossed nation.

Similarly, my friend Miriam Sauls, director of theater at Duke, invited me to join her in teaching at St. Joseph's, where we designed a loose method of staging the boys' most vivid memories. The work took five days, and the final showing of scenes, written by the boys in a mix of Creole and English, was equal parts stirring and hilarious. Three of the four episodes were so harrowing that we decided to leaven the drama with love poems, an art that Haitian boys master at an early age. (No wonder there are so many teenage pregnancies in Haiti: These kids have girl-sorcery in their verses.)

And so, the e-mail above is from a young friend there who I agreed to let call me "Dad" if I could call him "Son." It's a symbiotic relationship, one in which I have to force myself not to try to steer his life by urging him to come to America, where he could easily become a model or actor. After all, if every person with potential fled this struggling democracy, there would be no one left to write, as Gayly most recently did, "i give my help how i can today but everyone is ok."

From the people texting $10 to the Red Cross to the church members airlifting supplies to Port-au-Prince to the young girl on Ninth Street playing her violin for spare change for Haiti, thanks to everyone who has helped Haiti how they can.

Jay O'Berski is a senior lecturing fellow at Duke University, the artistic director of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and an associate artistic director of Manbites Dog Theater.

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