Dear friends of ABF,

On my way back from Haiti, I’m putting on paper my emotions of a further, extraordinary experience, to witness a reality that is gradually getting more and more full of life.

The mid-February mission, was not just an operational mission, linked to the monitoring of ongoing projects. We had, in fact, the joy of involving a group of donors and friends, who visited with us some of the most significant sites related to the presence of ABF in the Caribbean country.

Once again, when (during a flight time) you jump into the fourth world, a change of perspective is highly recommended.  And it is even more stimulating and constructive, being able to look at such a complex reality, with the eyes of your new fellow travelers: together with those who, for the first time are for example facing a street school. Clarifying to them and in first place to yourself – the philosophy standing behind so many choices, behind many decisions conceived in the desire to be useful (but respecting a different culture and a scale of priorities that you learn on the field), is a priceless intellectual training, which strengthens and makes brighter the horizon to point.

While trying to combine everybody’s availability and schedules, by chance, it happened that the chosen date for the visits to some of the main sites in which the Foundation is involved, coincided with my birthday. A small matter at a first glance but greatest for the emotions that gave me. When you turn another page on your personal calendar, you can only hope that this was not in vain, that something good has been done and that you have achieved a bit more of experience. Spending that day in Haiti with so many children was the best gift I could ever hope to receive.

I start from something irrelevant but funny.  The cakes, I think there were at least three. But what elsewhere I would have thought of as something threatening my diet, in Haiti became something even sweeter than its ingredients. And in every place where I was celebrated, that gesture, that tribute made with many difficulties but with love, really touched my heart to the point that I was more than happy to break my diet rules.

The day before, my daughter Virginia, (which was not with me this time), besides preparing me a cheesecake, wanted to personally write all her greetings for the Haitian children whom she has met so many times and who became her friends. It is a small sign, but it gives the idea of how close and personal is the relationship that ABF has established. Today when we hug the children of Haiti, or their teachers, it has got a very different and more intense value. A few years ago, we were perceived as foreigners of a good will who wanted to help. Today, without being rhetorical, the feeling we have in these missions is the one of a family, once again gathered.

For example, an important but complex project like ‘Voices of Haiti’, is not so easily understood in its real dimension of great opportunities for the children involved, and for their families. Compared to the initial phases, this time I have felt a totally different awareness, which has also made its way among the relatives of the young singers. Like that father which, during our visits to the choir rehearsal, told us: ‘In my life I was lucky enough to see a little slice of the world … Yet my son, in his early years, has already seen more than I did. And for this I can only thank you’.

The enthusiasm of the children (and the awareness of their families), allow them to extend their targets, and at this point it is up to us to make this become an opportunity, a concrete possibility. It is a defined engagement, a priority for us, especially because there is nothing worse than a broken dream.

The first stage of my birthday in Haiti was the hug from the Saint Luc Foundation staff.

We watched the rehearsals of the Voices of Haiti Choir: more warm hugs, another birthday cake, and another joy, in touching with hand how these young choristers are nourishing – through studying – their hearts, their future and their hopes.

Then the “Baby House”, was waiting for us: this is a reality that is always complex and not easy to be visited. Because inside this structure – whose realization on Andrea’s will, was taken care before the birth of ABF – children and young people (some with severe disabilities, without relatives taking care of them, some of them orphans of the earthquake), find a new extended family, where able to grow. After cuddling them, after lighting their eyes with some gifts, but above all taking care of them and making them play, it is always a sorrow leaving them behind the gate, having the courage not to look back, when they say goodbye behind the grills. What really helps to offset the discouragement is the thought that are the same “yesterday kids”, grown up in an orphanage, and now become men and women of great human and moral depth, that form the essential part of the local team with whom we collaborate, together, to give back Haiti a better future.

Next step was the Cité Soleil slum, with the Vocational Center: a protected environment (something like the ‘Youth Centers’ of the past), for basic literacy courses, for medical and social assistance and for recreational and orienteering activities…Despite our delay on the scheduled activities, once there, we were welcomed by the unexpected applause of a small ordered group of children. Then another cake followed by the most significant moment, the blessing. At the end, a short show, prepared by the kids for the occasion: a series of skits to tell about the values that their teachers learned them and to describe the opportunities that thanks to the Vocational Center they will be able to have.

It touches and moves indeed, the attention, the love and commitment that these extraordinary children have putted in making the welcome poster with recycled plastic materials.

It was therefore a special and intense day, part of a complete mission which also underlined other projects, like the schools created by ABF in partnership with Saint Luc Foundation, and the Water Truck and Hiv projects. A birthday and a mission to be remembered, also because I am proud and happy I had by my side both my mother Elena Brunelli, and my father, Ivano Berti, at his first experience in Haiti, but from the first moment overwhelmed by the “to do” desire. Being a musician himself, as well as a physicist, he wanted to greet in his own way the children of the Cité Soleil Vocational Center, singing for them an Italian Romanza (‘La strada nel bosco’) leaving the young audience amazed of his powerful baritone voice.

I would like to say a word about my wonderful travel companions. Teresa Huber: I already knew her great heart from other humanitarian causes where she was close to us through Celebrity Fight Night. But it was amazing to have her next to me, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, full of energy and with her blue eyes shining of kindness and humanity. What should I say of Brian Gold? He is a concentrate of joy and positivity, a great entrepreneur, a man who gives joy wherever he goes, a person as sweet as what he produces, someone who has made kids happy, yesterday as today. Since 2014, when we met him, Brian has supported the ABF Water Truck project and thanks to his generosity we have been able to duplicate the project increasing from one to two water trucks!

Even on this occasion, Israel Schachter ‘s contribution was very precious. The first time Andrea and I met him, I remember was in a terrible place: Auschwitz. And in the slum of Haiti, where garbage covers the line between earth and sky we have reflected, together, on the fact that even nowadays, each of us has the possibility to experience hell on earth.

Finally, Paolo Bianchi, a very pleasant discovery: he is the work coordinator of the school that ABF is building – together with Renzo Rosso’s Foundation – in Sarnano, Italy. He expressed his will to come with us to Haiti, putting at our full disposal his engineering skills, and amazing us with his contagious cheerfulness and humanity.

As last time I came back from this trip to Haiti totally voiceless. Happy to have it lost singing and talking to dozens of kids and new and old acquaintances.

And like every time, I return with my heart full of sensations, with my eyes full of images, with my mind full of thoughts, and the constant desire to do more, to focus on the real priorities. Like, for example, time. Time that has an immense value, time that money cannot buy. Time that sometimes worth more than medicines and that each of us can give, beyond our own economic possibilities. Time that we can donate not only in the fourth world but also at home, perhaps to an elderly relative waiting for our visit, perhaps to a poor standing on the sidewalk of our city.

In addition to the consideration of the results, in addition to the evaluation of problems and research of a solution for each of them, in addition to ideas, proposals, collaborations and everything that characterizes each ABF mission, here is in these lines, randomly, what I have brought home, from my recent trip to Haiti.

Veronica Berti Bocelli