Naperville resident Kyle Reschke loves helping others. At the age of 15 he starting working at the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, and even spent a year teaching in the South Pacific country of Samoa.
Five months ago the Naperville Central graduate embarked on a new journey, helping deaf families displaced by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
He recently came back home to spend the holidays with his family and we caught up with him to see how the experience was going.
Reschke works for 410 Bridge, an organization that helps with some of the poorest people in the world obtain full sustainability. In Haiti, the group is working with the deaf to build their own community.
“In Haitian culture, people who are deaf or physically handicapped or anything like that have a lower status in society,” said Reschke. “So the deaf are coming from this place where the medical aid, the food aid from the earthquake, they could be waiting in line for help and someone else can see them speaking in sign language and say ‘you’re deaf,’ and either beat them up and shove them out of line, or make them go to the end, or say all hearing people deserve this first.”
Reschke and the others are busy building 168 new permanent homes for the Haitian deaf. He plans to stay in the community for another three to five years. Eventually the area will have gardens, a church and clean water. Kyle is working on finding funding for something the leaders in the community really want, solar lighting.
“Our first response to that was ‘well ya but 90% of the people in Haiti are on and off with electricity, they don’t have lights, why would you guys be different in that way?’” said Reschke. “They said ‘we’re in sign language, so after dark we can’t communicate.’ So in families in a deaf community, after sundown their communication is done.”
During the project Reschke lives in an orphanage in Cite Soleil, the biggest slum in the Western Hemisphere. He is the only American in the group and taught himself Haitian Sign Language and Creole. But all of the hard work and dangers he faces every day are gone when he rides into the community and works with the people.
“They ask me all the time; this is the sign language for ‘why’ ‘why for us?’” said Reschke. “And it’s wrapping their minds around saying you guys are wonderful, wonderful people and you see their pride in themselves growing and they’re starting to advocate for themselves. Just a great response. And I love it, cause now they’ll say to me ‘wow you didn’t know any sign language when you first came’ and this is the sign for big improvement, and they’ll say ‘now you’re not a white hearing person, you’re like a deaf Haitian.’ That’s like the coolest response you can get. That’s exactly what you’re shooting for.”
Back in Naperville his family is full of support. His parents Sally and Keith sent an email to local schools asking for books and what they received was overwhelming.
“I didn’t hear back from many and I did from others,” said Sally Reschke. “Later I didn’t realize that many had gone ahead and I got email after email, and I said ‘can I fit it in my car?’ and they said ‘no, you’ll need a few trips.’”
“This spring, we’ll have a couple of truckloads of books coming down and we’ll have a brand new library,” said Kyle Reschke. “Which is something that has never been a reality for these people. Since I’ve been there we have a story time twice a week and I sing and play guitar with them. A lot of these children are hearing and their parents are deaf, so they’re learning two languages at the same time. And the parents who are deaf are standing by and they just have tears streaming down their cheeks because they see their kids and they are signing.”
Reschke has had many memorable experiences while down in Haiti. One of the moments that stands out in his eye was when a group of professional photographers came to the area to take portraits of all the families.
“The families came out in probably their one nice outfit they own,” said Reschke. “They would show them the pictures on the camera and these mothers and fathers got the giggles thinking ‘whoa we look pretty good!’ And someone said ‘you made the deaf feel very beautiful this week.’ People are just sitting outside, and still have the photos in their laps, this is days later. What they have is their new prized possession, so it goes to show how people can support in very unique ways.”
On January 27th, 50 families will move into their new permanent houses, and by June, all 168 deaf families will have a new place to call home.
You can follow along with Reschke’s journey on his blog kyleinhaiti.com. He welcomes donations and invites groups to come down and take a mission trip to help out in Haiti.
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