Telstar Regional High School sophomore Olguine Lane shows some of the jewelry made by Haitian families that she and her mother are selling. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
A display of jewelry made by Haitian families adorns the desk at the main office at Telstar Regional High School. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti was hit by an intense earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.0 and a death toll of over 200,000. Shortly after, David Lane went home to his wife, Andrea Lane, in Upton, and told her he had something important to say.
He had decided the couple should adopt a girl from Haiti, which was perfect, because that very day, Andrea had been talking to people at work about how she wished she could do that very thing. Both were in their 50s, with grown children and 14 grandchildren and wanted a child in their home again.
So they started the process. They connected with an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, and were sent pictures of the children brought in after the earthquake. The couple looked at the list independently of each other, praying over the pictures.
There was only one they were drawn to, they each said, and it was the same girl.
Her name was Olguine, and she was 9 when the earthquake struck, living in Haiti with her father and seven brothers and sisters. Her mother had died when Olguine was 3.
“It was just like a ridiculous and hideous time, and so sad to see other people’s houses fall down, and to see their kids with blood all over their faces. Even the people who didn’t believe in God started to call out Jesus’s name,” Olguine wrote in her book that tells of her experience, “From Mangoes to Mountains.”
Within a couple of weeks of the earthquake, Olguine’s father said they were going somewhere.
“He was so vague, which scared me,” she said. “We came to a big building. He dropped me off and told me to stay. Then he just left, but he said he was coming back. I remember waiting and waiting, looking out the window, and being so angry.”
Her father came back four months later, to check up on her and explain why he had brought her to an orphanage. He didn’t have enough money to take care of her anymore. When Olguine asked why he hadn’t brought any of her brothers and sisters, he didn’t answer.
It only took a couple of months for the Lanes to find Olguine, and in April, she met her new mother.
“The very first time I saw her, she said, ‘Hi, Mom,’ and I gave her a big hug, and she fell asleep on my lap. She was 75 pounds and it was about 110 degrees, but I didn’t care,” Andrea Lane said.
It seemed meant to be, and was a dream come true for Olguine and her new parents. Unfortunately, their happy ending would have to wait. The Lanes wouldn’t bring their daughter home until June 2014.
“The corruption and inefficiency of the Haitian government was why it took so long,” Andrea Lane said.
In the meantime, the Lanes visited their daughter as often as they could. They sent money for school and clothes, and anything else she needed.
“The process was very tedious and expensive, frustrating and emotional,” Andrea Lane said.
It was especially emotional for Olguine, who had to remain in the orphanage while her parents flew back to the states.
“It was terrible in the orphanage,” Olguine said. “They would hit you, and the ladies would try to make you do their work. They’d promise to pay you but then they never did. When my parents came, I felt free and protected. But when they left, I would feel a crack in my heart.”
Olguine was shamed for crying, told she was stupid for crying over white people, and that she would be mistreated, just to be given away again when she was 18. But Olguine had no doubts in her heart.
“When I first saw my parents, I knew they were just the people I needed,” she said.
She is now a sophomore at Telstar High School in Bethel, grateful for even the simplest things.
“In America, you have the prerogative of choosing what you want to do,” she said. “If you want three meals a day, and what to have for breakfast. You have parents that take care of you.”
Even something as simple as sitting down at a table to eat a meal with her family is pure bliss.
“We have such meaningful moments. It’s really precious,” she said.
Her parents share that bliss.
“She gets laughing so hard at the table, and talks!” Andrea Lane said. “It takes her an hour to finish a meal. It’s not what people usually choose to do in their retirement, but it’s been great for us!”
Now Olguine and her mother are giving back, through the Apparent Project, which hires people in Haiti, pays a living wage, and provides child care and education. They are selling jewelry at Telstar High School made by Haitian families employed by the Apparent Project. Half of the profits go back to the families, and half benefits Olguine’s field hockey team. The bracelets and necklaces are made from clay and cereal boxes.
The future is bright for Olguine, who has a passion for languages. She already knows five: Creole, French, English, Spanish and American Sign Language, and wants to learn as many as she can.
“No matter what the reason is for what you are going through, have hope it’s going to get better. Just believe and it will come true,” she said.