New family, New mission

Pain travels.


Over the treacherous waters of the Caribbean Sea, across the majestic mountains and waves of grain of the United States, sorrow arrives at a small Longview house. That's where Amber Collins sits at the computer, feeling the agony of the street children and young slave boys and girls of Haiti, known in that country as "restaveks." The word is Creole for "stay with."

Most of the time, these rural Haitian youngsters are sent by their families to stay with relatives --- godparents or aunts and uncles --- who live in the large cities. The children's parents hope they will find education and employment there, but instead the children end up working hard for no money or food and are often physically and sexually abused.

The echoes of their anguish stick with Amber, especially when she looks into the eyes of the children born to her and her husband, former Haiti resident Abdias Calixte.

Filled with love and laughter, the Longview children's eyes are so different from those of Haiti's street kids.

Amber and Abdias met on the Internet before the terrorist attacks of 2001. They married in 2002 and combined their families, which include four children from previous relationships and two born to the couple.

They moved to Longview from the Vancouver area, which is where Amber is from, in an effort to find an affordable place to live. Amber is a stay-at-home mom, and Abdias works out of the Millwright Union Local 1707 in Longview and takes welding classes at Lower Columbia College. The couple met when Amber came upon postings Abdias had made on Christian online site, messages giving thanks to God for Abdias's good fortune in his violence-filled homeland.
"I was simply letting people know what I have to say about God," Abdias said. "I am being grateful for who I am, I am grateful for everything that is in my possession."

Abdias was born in Port au Prince, where he worked as a bodyguard.

"There has been so much violence and insecurity for the past 10 years, there needed to be a tremendous increase of armed bodyguards to secure all those businessmen," Abdias said.

Amber contacted Abdias, and soon felt he was a soulmate.

"After a few weeks, I was captivated by his awesome attitude," Amber said. "I didn't want anything to do with Haiti though. I didn't even know where it was."

She discovered that the country is not far from the United States, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Haiti is one-third of the island of Hispaniola, sharing space with the Dominican Republic.

For a girl who had grown up in Battle Ground, Wash., the island seemed exotic and unknown. Yet Abdias' spirit and words touched her. Abdias had already realized that Amber was the woman for him. One day, he announced it.

"He really didn't ask," Amber said. "He just kind of said, 'You're my wife' and waited for me to realize it."

Growing up in Cite Soleil, which translates to Sun City in English, Abdias saw its problems first hand. His mother died when he was young, and he dropped out of school to help support his family.

Despite the poverty, his life was better than that of the street kids and restaveks, since he had family who loved him, Amber said.

She met some of Abdias's relatives when she traveled to Haiti. They married in a hotel room with his family, his father and three sisters, Amber said. "The ceremony was in French, and Abdias translated."

Even though they were wed, Abdias' and his children's passage to America was anything but easy. "It was right after 911, so everything was just a mess with immigration," Amber said. "It took 16 months to get him here."

In the meantime, Amber studied Abdias' homeland and ran across Michael Brewer's Haiti Street Kids, Inc. Web site.

Brewer set it up after he retired from the military and used his savings to start a home for rescued restaveks and homeless kids. On the site, he posts startling, saddening and, often, horrific photos of the children's lives.

"It was captivating at the time, but you know how you forget about things," Amber said.

She was soon caught up in parenting the new blended family, which includes 12-year-old Taylor, 10-year-old Ecclesiaste, 8-year-old Sofia, 6-year-old Marvel, 2-year-old Elvalina and 18-month-old Judah. Amber's children are from a previous marriage, and Abdias' sons were born to a girlfriend in Haiti.

Amber Collins, seated, right, is trying to raise money for street children in Haiti, which is where her husband, Abdias Calixte, left, is from. She and Abdias are shown here with some of their children, clockwise from rear, Ecclesiaste Calixte, Sofia Sanchez, Judah Calixte, Marvel Calixte and Elvalina Calixte.

Amber's son, 9-year-old Tomas, lives with his father, and Abdias' 4-year-old son Salem stayed in Haiti. Amber said her husband's sisters are looking after the youngster while she and Abdias work with immigration to get him to the United States.

Recently, Amber again came upon Brewer's Web site when she participated in a Web forum called www.haitixchange.com

"Someone had posted it, and I was like, 'Oh, I remember that,'" she said. She contacted Brewer and asked what the charity needed.

"He said, 'Funds.' "

Amber offered to run the charity's myspace site, then began brainstorming ways to raise money. The site includes links to the Haitian Street Kids Web pages as well as those for other Haitian groups.

While Abdias supports his wife's efforts, he spends most of his time taking welding classes at Lower Columbia College and working out of the Millwright Union Local 1707 in Longview.

His day starts again at 4:30 a.m. and his shifts are long. When he gets home, it's usually a meal, a little relaxation, and sleep, Amber said.

She has more time to think about the unfortunate children in Abdias's homeland, more time to follow the troubles there on Michael Brewer's Web site.

"I can't imagine someone saying they're going to give my child a better life, one that I can't provide, and then beat them," she said. "And have this child run away and live on the street and I don't know where they are. I can't fathom it."

With just enough income to make ends meet for their own families, the couple cannot afford to contribute to the charity. So Amber decided to hold a "pound-a-thon," with friends offering money per pound or a flat fee.

She's lost more than 11 pounds so far, and she's selling Avon products to raise money for the charity. "You help as much as you can, and then you need to get creative."

By Brenda Blevins McCorkle, The Daily News
Apr 15, 2007 - 12:03:41 am PDT

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