I have never met these girls.
I only know that they have been through a hell that I would never want my daughters to endure.
They live in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, and they live in a Catholic girls’ school that was devastated in the 2010 earthquake.
They lost friends and members of the sisterly order that provided their education.
But I suspect they have never lost hope.
And one reason for that is the teddies.
For the past several years my wife and I have played the tiniest part in a small but dedicated mission of bringing a little joy into the lives of these kids.
By means of teddy bears.
It all started after that 2010 temblor that devastated the island nation that has known devastation, man-made and natural, more than just about anywhere on earth.
After the quake, which all but flattened the school, there was a fundraiser organized by a colleague of my wife, a teacher named Michelle.
Michelle and her husband Patrick are from Haiti.
Patrick’s life story has been like that of his native land.
That is to say far from comfortable.
He and his family survived the horrors of the Duvalier dictatorship, that of both Papa and Baby Doc.
But if a new life in America promised less danger it wasn’t to be.
Patrick survived the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and he survived 9/11.
On that day he carried an injured woman dozens of floors down and out of the North Tower.
Michelle and Patrick have not forgotten their island home.
And I know they sure won’t forget it now after Hurricane Matthew brought fresh suffering to its people this week.
They will be trying to find out about the school, the girls, and their teachers.
All will be needing more than Teddy Bears in the days ahead.
But about the teddies.
It was an idea that followed the fundraiser.
Money was needed, sure.
But how about a bit of joy, the idea of young eyes lighting up at the sight and touch of a teddy bear?
And so, “Operation Teddy.”
It started small as such things usually do.
The first batch were small teddies purchased off the shelf.
But, over time, that would prove a little expensive, so the idea of making the teddies was born.
A small group of parents linked to the Manhattan School - where my wife, Lisa, and Michelle both teach - began knitting teddies.
The circle of knitters grew.
And it grew.
On the basis that young hands can never clutch enough teddies, the number of knitted bears continued to rise.
But how to get them the Haiti?
It’s not a place that many people travel to for business, or for pleasure.
But people involved in humanitarian aid do take regular flights from the U.S. to the island of Hispaniola and its Haitian part, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
Enter Hugh Locke.
Hugh, Canadian by birth, is a neighbor and friend.
He is co-founder and president of an aid organization called Smallholders Farmers Alliance, on the web at www.smallholderfarmersalliance.org
The SFA has a simple mission: grow stuff.
It plants trees in Haiti – by the million.
Haiti is denuded of the once lush vegetation that once covered its almost 11,000 square miles.
SFA works to reverse this while also aiding farmers to grow viable foot crops for a population that exceeds ten million souls.
The Alliance works in tandem with the likes of UNICEF and the Clinton Foundation.
Irish businessman Denis O’Brien has encouraged its work.
It will need all the help and encouragement it can get now because the intensity of Matthew will mean a lot of erosion and runoff in the Haitian hinterland where SFA works.
Haiti still has a long way to go before it is verdant enough again to quickly absorb the amount of rain dumped by a Category 4 Hurricane.
Hugh has been the bagman in Operation Teddy.
When he flies to Port-Au-Prince, or “commutes” as he puts it, he does so with an extra suitcase stuffed with teddies that are deposited in a hotel for pickup.
My wife and I are the link between Michelle and Hugh.
The teddies ride in the back of the car from one side of Westchester County to the other.
It’s a tiny thing to do.
No sweat, no bother.
We’re a mere link in the teddy chain.
It won’t get us to heaven.
But it will make life just that little bit better for a group of kids who deserve a little bit of heaven on earth.
We all hope they are okay.
The teddies too.
To read more stories from the Irish Echo, visit their website here.