Today’s Do-Gooder story is one that I penciled in my “Be Good Y’all” notebook the day I bought the notebook, also known as the day I started creating this website. I’ve started writing about his goodness several times only to quit in fear that I’d get it wrong or miss a key point. And I’m sure I will, but when the goodness is so overflowing it’s certain that small acts of kindness may be forgotten. He’s one of the top Do-Gooders that I am lucky enough to know. He’s my grandpa, Ralph Buff.
Papa first went to Haiti in the early 1980’s on a one day stop on a cruise trip. He spent the day talking to people in the surrounding villages, and considering that most do not speak English, it says a lot about his ability to relate to total strangers. He couldn’t get the experience off his mind, so he told my grandmother that he had to go back. Since then, it’s been his top choice for vacation destination and he’s been more than 35 times. Papa was Sean Penn before there was a Sean Penn.
Mention Haiti to him and his face lights up. He’s a natural-born story teller, and many of his best tales were born in Haiti. What keeps him going back every year, even at the age of 82? “No matter how dire their situations or circumstances, they always have a smile on their faces.”
In the decades since his passion for Haiti began, he and my grandmother have funded the construction of 10 churches scattered in villages throughout the countryside. Those tiny churches not only serve as a weekly religious gathering space, they house missionaries who seek shelter who are in town to assist with prenatal care and other medical needs for locals. These are the main (if not only) building in these villages. They are schoolhouses for the children as well. In one town, Tapio, 90 children a day had been receiving their daily school lessons under a tree before the church was built. One year, my grandparents decided that they’d like to take Christmas presents to each of those 90 children. Papa called to confirm that he had the right number and was told that the amount of children had already risen to 400. What’d they do? Well, brought 400 Christmas presents down to Haiti and handed them out to each and every child, of course!
In addition to the churches, they funded and oversaw the construction of a compound in the heart of Port-au-Prince. This compound houses a church, a bible school and a dormitory for up to 38 pastors who travel there to learn at the school. Before this was built, the pastors would study as a group, then find a friendly porch on which to sleep at night. Now they have beds, showers, a kitchen and a dining room as well as offices for the mission. Fortunately, no part of the compound was affected by the earthquake. In fact, some media and medical groups were housed there following the disaster.
It’s not just churches and schoolhouses, but orphanages that tug at his heart. He has supplied electrical systems and electricity converters (a life-saver in a third world country) as well as helped with rent when the landlord comes calling.
Does all this mean that he is rich beyond belief? Nope. It means that he has sacrificed and found a way to get things done in a smart and efficient way. He’s a wise business-minded person who invented the Art of the Deal before there was a Trump. He sets his mind on what would be the most beneficial to the most amount of people while supporting the growth of Christianity. In other words, he’s a softy but no dummy.
Jason and I were fortunate enough to travel with Papa to Port-au-Prince in January 2011, one year after the devastating earthquake that struck the region. It was the first time in our lives that we were in the presence of a true rock star. Soon after we stepped off the plane there seemed to be a ripple in the water…Silence followed by delighted cheer. “Papa!” I’m looking around, thinking “who are they so excited to see?” It was my Papa! No wonder he loves it so much there. I want to find a place where everyone is excited to see me arrive, welcomes me with open arms and treats me like Julia Roberts. And it wasn’t just at the airport. The heavily armed guard at the guest house in which we stayed, the old lady standing on the curb selling beautiful mahogany knick knacks, the caretakers and children at the orphanage. They are his Cheers; the place where they all know his name.
Between handing out toys and school supplies to the children at the orphanage and “shopping” at the craziest outdoor market for charcoal for said orphanage to being driven around the city by one of Papa’s closest pals, Sergo, witnessing the sheer destruction brought by the earthquake, it was easy to see what he meant about the smiles. These people have literally nothing, yet the kids skip down the street singing songs and laughing. The mommas in the markets greet you with a warm hug. The children at the orphanage are excited to share a cup of rice and beans with their new visitors. Smiles in a sea of dust and dirt and crumbling buildings.
It’s my hope that one day I can be like Papa; be a celebrity to dozens if not hundreds of people in a far off land. Not for the adoration that comes along with it, but for the swelling that it causes in the soul. I find that most people have the desire to hear about happy things and to witness goodness. It just takes the right kind of person in the right time of their life to act on it. Trust me, I fully understand that when you’re just starting out in adult life and working your way in the corporate world, or when you start a family and have young kids and busy schedules, that doesn’t seem like the “right” time to do something bold and selfless. But when you get the calling, like Papa did, jump. Act on it. Do something good for others and in turn, for yourself.
Doing good things, like I’ve said before, is just as selfish as it is heroic. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
Papa just left this morning to go back to Haiti for what he calls his “last trip”. He’s been calling it his “last trip” for the last 5 years but his heart just can’t keep him away for long. The trip takes quite a toll on him and it takes a few weeks for him to recover when he gets home, but he quickly forgets the hardships and begins to plan his next visit as soon as that Haiti pit in his stomach returns.