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Young Achievers: She pictures shoes for orphanage in Haiti

Covenant Day senior leads donation effort between trips to poverty-stricken country

By Reid Creager
Correspondent

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Inspired by children who frolic in the face of pervasive poverty, Carly Starnes wants to help them. One step at a time.

When Carly, a Covenant Day School senior from Waxhaw, joined a group of students and teachers on their trip to Haiti last year, she was moved by the primitive conditions at an orphanage in the southwestern town of Jeremie. She started a school drive to collect tennis shoes and socks for the children.

Carly still gets emotional when talking about them. “It really moved me, the lack of materials in the country, and I really got something out of how people live with their souls because even without all the things they have, they really focus on life and God. It was incredible.”

She said the children “don’t have real shoes. The shoes that they have are really worn down and absolutely awful. ... If the kids have sandals, the terrain down there is so incredibly rough that they wear down almost instantly.”

Last year, Carly’s traveling group measured the feet of the 200-250 kids at the orphanage, so they’d have exact sizes when they return to deliver the shoes in April. “The kids don’t grow that much, so the shoes will fit most of the kids,” she said, adding they had collected about 50 pairs of usable shoes by early January.

16 to a room

The shoes are just one component of the kids’ difficult existence.

Covenant Day students and staff who travel to Haiti at least once a year in a partnership with El Shaddai Ministries go to the same place each year, Carly said. “Jeremie is very rural. We stay in a compound that’s probably 15 minutes away by bus. We take a really old, not-well-working bus to the orphanage.”

Carly saw a girls’ living quarters “with 16 girls in a room the size of my room at home. There were like, triple bunk beds – not even bunk beds but more like trays with padding.

“And you see the soiled, uncovered mattresses with no blankets. Their heads pretty much touch the bunk above them. They have nothing in their rooms – no windows except for a little one at the top. This is their house ...”

Carly grew close to five children during her trip but has a special fondness for one. “His name is Entoine,” she said. “He’s 5. I was most attached to him and miss him dearly. He was extra tiny compared to the other little boys and really wanted love, even though he rarely spoke a word.”

She sent him a letter after last year’s trip but doesn’t know whether he received it. She’s confident she’ll see him in April: “The orphans don’t leave until they’re 18 unless they get adopted – and the adoption process takes four years.”

Forever changed

Because Covenant Day has been making the trips since 2007 (with the exception of 2010, the year of a devastating earthquake), Carly has wanted to go to Haiti since middle school. She’ll go on the next trip with eight students April 13-20; another group is scheduled to go in June.

She has to save all year for the trip. “We each individually fundraise,” she said. “We send out letters; we collect money from our jobs, collect money from family and friends.”

Her parents say the experience has been priceless for her.

“When she came back last year, she was changed,” said Carly’s mother, Jennifer Starnes. “We just had no idea it would affect her like this. ... I think this will probably be something that affects her the rest of her life.”

Said Carly’s father, Chuck Starnes: “There have been obvious changes ... we’re very proud of her.”

Clifford Chin, Covenant Day Bible teacher and Haiti coordinator who has made the trips with students for several years, said Carly’s experience has pushed her strengths to the forefront.

“She has seen firsthand the reality of poverty, pain and suffering in the world and how blessed we are to live in America,” said Chin, who’s leading an aquaponics and technology project at the school to address hunger in the country. “Carly is a passionate and caring person … and has set her love for (the children) to be revealed in a very practical way: the gift of shoes.

“Carly has this unique and special talent for seeing that which often goes unnoticed, things that the ordinary person misses because of all the distractions of daily life and living. These insights are captured in her photographs. For her, love is more than simply a feeling – it is something that should drive us to action.”

Carly wants her Haiti mission to be a prominent part of her future. She plans to attend Savannah College Art and Design, studying photography.

“Haiti has really opened up opportunities of art and all kinds of different thoughts and perspectives for me,” she said. “Maybe one day I’ll be able to make missionary trips with photography. I want to step outside the box.”

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