Getting off the plane in Haiti was, for me, connection. Connection to the smells I’d long heard described. Connection to the pictures of vibrant homes swarming the hillsides. Connection to the stories of brilliant people washing their faces with water carried from a mile away. Connection to countless smiling faces, unwilling to give up. And of course, connection to the leaders I’d talked to via email, but never hugged, laughed with, or in essence, that I’d never “met”. It’s strange that it took shaking his hand to “know” that Gaetan was really… him. I’d heard about a man with a contagious smile, a big heart, and a drive that would rival any CEO’s. But, shaking his hand made everything “real”. See, I’d seen pictures of his home cracked by the earthquake, I’d seen pictures of the area of land that would become the boys home, or the girls home. I’d heard how the open space beside his house would become a beautiful playground… and I’d seen a satellite image of the hillside that would be torn down to make Williamson Adrien Academy; but I’d never looked into the eyes of the man that made each of those things possible. Then, as I shook his hand for the first time, I understood. Calloused, hard, and ultimately uncomfortable, he had the hand of a dreamer, a visionary, a worker, a man looking after his children in the only way he knew how, the only way that made sense. When I started at Help One Now two and a half years ago, all I knew of Gaetan was that he had rescued 26 children directly after the earthquake. That he stayed outside huddled under tarps and makeshift shelters at night to keep those children safe. That every month he would push Chris to make Yahve Shamma… better. The longer I stayed at Help One Now, the more I realized Gaetan embodied everything that Help One Now stood for. He works, hard. Really hard. Adequate just doesn’t cut it, projects have to be great. He knows that children deserve opportunity to learn, love, and enjoy. And above all, he BELIEVES in his country, and his people. Chris will tell you it only took moments to know Gaetan was the type of leader Help One Now was looking for, I’ll tell you it was instantaneous. His hand shake, his eyes, and his smile said it all… “I’m here to make a lasting difference”. So while the rest of my stay involved conversations with Gaetan via translators, that first hand shake said enough for me to know he’s more than just stories. He’s the real deal, the whole kit and caboodle. Yahve Shamma continues to grow and change. And it’s all because we trust the voice and heart of Gaetan. His kids are loved, they are cared for, and they have a man fighting to make their lives as special as possible. He means the world to them, and he means the world to us. Without him Yahve Shamma would look the same, hundreds of kids would be without schooling, and 26 kids wouldn’t know what it meant to be sheltered by a (albeit human) guardian angel.