Before the sun rose on a small Haitian mountain community, Ismene Alexis got up, took the water jar, and headed to the village pump for water.
Although it was still dark, Ismene had no trouble finding the pump. She’d walked these streets a thousand times. On returning, Ismene found her grandparents awake. Grandma was cooking breakfast.
“Good morning, Ismene,” Grandma said, smiling.
“Good morning, Grandma. Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, although I had an odd dream. You and I were working in the garden. I looked up and saw a man standing at the gate. I greeted him, and he told me he had special news. So I invited him into our house for tea. While we were sitting together, the man started to say something about you, Ismene, but then my dream ended,” said Grandma.
“That is an odd dream,” said Ismene. “What do you think he was going to say?”
Grandma shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Pondering her grandmother’s dream, Ismene swept the floor and straightened the blankets on the straw pallets that served as beds. When she came to her sister’s pallet, her sister was still sleeping.
“Get up, Nicole!” Ismene said, pulling her sister’s pillow out from under her.
Thwap! Ismene thwapped Nicole over the head before Nicole jumped up and grabbed the pillow from her. Giggling, the two girls wrestled for the pillow until Grandma told them to finish their chores.
Nicole went outside to feed the animals with Grandpa while Ismene finished making the beds. Grandma set breakfast on the table and the family gathered around to pray. After thanking God for the meal, Ismene and Nicole gathered their schoolbooks and left for school.
The sun was rising now, spreading golden light on the huts and houses. Nicole and Ismene chased each other between the houses until they arrived, breathless, at their school. After catching their breath, they went inside and sat down.
Ismene loved school. She loved learning how to work math problems. She loved learning how to combine letters together to make words. She had been so excited the day she read her first sentence.
But Ismene was worried. Her grandparents might not make enough money to buy food and keep her in school. Then either Nicole or Ismene would have to quit school.
I’ll enjoy school as long as I can, Ismene thought, then banished the thought of having to leave school. The girls sat down on the floor just as the teacher, Miss Lillian, entered. Then the rest of the students arrived and took their places. Miss Lillian prayed to God for a good school day, and class began.
When the sun was high in the sky and boiling hot, Ismene and Nicole trudged home from school. When they arrived home, they found Grandma working in the garden. Nicole took Ismene’s books inside while Ismene knelt and helped Grandma with weeding.
“How was school?” asked Grandma.
“I loved it,” said Ismene. “I got an A in math.”
“Very good,” said Grandma, tugging at an especially deeply rooted weed.
For a while they pulled weeds in silence. Ismene was about to say something when there was a polite “Ahem!” from the gate. Looking up, she saw a man standing at the garden gate.
“Grandma,” said Ismene.
Grandma had seen the man, yet she wasn’t getting up to greet him. What’s wrong with her? Ismene wondered. Then she realized this was just like Grandma’s dream!
“Grandma!” said Ismene, a little louder. Her grandmother got up and went to the gate.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Is this the home of the Ismene Alexis?” asked the man.
“Yes,” Grandma said. “I am her grandmother. Do you need to speak with her?”
“I have some special news for Ismene.”
“Come in then,” said Grandma, opening the gate. “I’ll make some tea.”
Grandma and the man entered the house, and Ismene followed. All Ismene could think was, Maybe now we’ll know what the man was going to say about me! Ismene went in and found Nicole. When the tea was ready, Grandma, Nicole, and Ismene all sat down at the table.
“Now what’s this news about Ismene?” asked Grandma.
The man, who introduced himself as John, answered, “You know that Ismene is a child of Compassion International, right?”
“A family in the United States wanted to sponsor a Compassion child, and they picked Ismene,” said John.
Ismene jumped up and screamed. Then she started laughing. Grabbing Nicole, Ismene and her sister danced around the room.
“Now I don’t ever have to worry about being taken out of school!”
At last Nicole and Ismene sat down, and John asked Grandma to sign some papers. Then John told them what Compassion would do for Ismene.
Compassion International is a worldwide organization that enables people to sponsor children in poverty-stricken countries. When children are sponsored they can go to school, received healthy food at their child development center, and get medical care if needed.
When the shadows began to lengthen, John said goodbye and left Ismene and her family.
“Oh, I’m so happy for you,” said Grandma to Ismene after John left. Grandma spread her arms and hugged the two girls.
“You’re not jealous, are you?” Ismene whispered to Nicole that night as they lay on their straw pallets. Grandma and Grandpa were already asleep, but Nicole and Ismene were talking about everything that had happened.
“No, of course not,” said Nicole. “I’m not jealous. I’m happy for you, Ismene. Now that Compassion’s paying for you to go to school, Grandma and Grandpa will only have to pay for me. I’ll be able to stay in school too. It works out for both of us.’
“Oh, good,” said Ismene. “Good night.”
“Good night. I love you,” whispered Nicole.
Ismene turned over on her side, said a quick prayer of thanks to God, and fell asleep.
A week after first being sponsored, Ismene received her first letter from her sponsor family. The family’s name was the Dodges. They asked her about how she and her grandparents were, what her day was like, and if she had any siblings. Along with the letter, the Dodges sent a photo of their family. There was a mother, a father without much hair, and two dark-haired girls.
I hope I get to meet them face-to-face one day, Ismene thought.
When Ismene finished reading the letter and inspecting the photo, she got her own paper to write back. The Dodges wrote once a month.
It took a long time for the letters to reach Ismene because they first had to be translated and then delivered all the way to her mountain village. It took a while for her letters to reach her sponsor family too.
When the other families in the village heard that Ismene had been sponsored, they, too, signed their children up for Compassion International. Soon many more children got sponsored.
Two Years Later
Folding up the letter, Ismene took it to the special box where she kept all of her letters from the Dodges. Grandpa had built the box for her and by now it was getting very full. The lid could hardly close.
“How many letters do you have now?” asked Grandma as Ismene returned to the table.
Ismene smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know. Lots and lots,” she said.
“The Lord has been so good,” said Grandpa as he held out his hand to Ismene.
The whole family held hands and bowed their heads while Grandpa thanked God for another letter from Ismene’s sponsors. He prayed that her sponsor family was in good health and that God would watch over them and bless them.
Thanks, God, so much for all your blessings, Ismene prayed silently as Grandpa spoke.
“Amen,” Grandpa finished.
“Amen,” the rest of the family echoed. Grandma got up and went to the stove to start cooking dinner.
“Girls, please collect the chicken eggs,” Grandma said. “I need another egg to make dinner.”
The girls went to the chicken house and gathered the eggs from the nests. As they were starting back to the house, Ismene thought she felt the ground shake. It was a tiny tremble, so Ismene thought she’d imagined it.
“I’ll race you back to the house and we’ll see who’s really the fastest,” said Nicole.
Ismene burst into a run but she’d only taken a few steps when another tremor shook the ground hard enough to make both girls fall.
“What was that?” asked Nicole, picking herself up. “Oh, my eggs broke.”
Ismene stood up and looked around.
“I think it might be…an earthquake,” she said.
“We need to get home then,” said Nicole.
The two girls took off running. Ismene expected another tremor to shake the ground any moment and knock them down again.
“Are you all right?” asked Grandma when they rushed back to the house.
“We’re fine,” said Ismene. But in her hand her own eggs were broken. She’d been so frightened she hadn’t even noticed.
“I’m sorry, Grandma,” she said. “All the eggs cracked.”
“That’s all right. We can make do with one less egg,” said Grandma.
Just as Ismene had finished washing the egg off her hands, another tremor shook the house. Everyone gathered together on a straw pallet. Grandpa started to pray for their safety.
While he was praying, Ismene prayed silently: Please, God. We know that you’re the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Will you watch over us and protect us from this earthquake? Please keep our family — no, our village — safe from harm.
Tremors kept on shaking the ground, great big tremors that knocked things off the shelves. Pots and pans clattered to the ground. The water jar fell on its side and broke. Chairs tipped over. The table shook and Ismene and Nicole’s schoolbooks fell off.
Ismene shut her eyes and tried to calm her fear. She mentally quoted a Bible verse that she had memorized just that day. Psalm 23:4. “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
Gradually the tremors began to decrease in strength and ferocity.
At last Grandpa said, “I think its over.”
The family quietly stood and began to clean up the house. Ismene grabbed her broom and swept up the remains of the water jar. Nicole sat the chairs up. She gathered up their school books and put them back on the table.
Then the family went outside and visited their neighbors to see if they needed help. Over the next few days news trickled in about the earthquake. It turned out that the center of the earthquake’s destruction had been in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.
Whenever Ismene and her family gathered to pray at each meal, they prayed for the people in Port-au-Prince.
As the months passed, the count of those killed by the earthquake rose higher and higher. The death toll was as high as 316,000. The injured and homeless were even more numerous.
Compassion International families who sponsored children in Haiti were all frantically writing letters and sending emails, trying to find out if their children were all right. When the Dodges received a letter from Ismene, they were so relieved to know she was safe.
Although relief workers flooded Port-au-Prince, the healing of Haiti will take a long time. Yet there is much to be thankful for even in the face of this darkness and death. Both families –Ismene’s family and the Dodges — are thankful to God that through Compassion International, Ismene has an opportunity to succeed in life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danielle Dodge is 13 years old and wrote this story when she was 12. Danielle’s semi-fictional story won second place in her local library’s annual writing contest and first place in VisionForum’s webinar, “Mrs. Morecraft’s Ps & Qs of Proper Writing.”
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