Monday, August 3, 2015

Solidarity in July: almost two years since the children moved to the new location.

Samuel meets new grandma.
What do you do when you are a one-year-old and you want to escape loving teasing from a dozen little hands? You run to the visiting grandma volunteer that will be only too happy to cuddle you and shield you so you can finally get a much needed nap!  Resisting little Samuel’s “Hey?” and pleading eyes is simply impossible. 

After two weeks, leaving the 116 children is tough!  Don’t get me wrong: they can be very annoying. When forty little bodies fight and tug at your arms because they all want a page to color or thread to make a beaded necklace and then pout because it isn’t the right color, while I am profusely sweating in the scorching summer heat of Haiti, I want to pull my hair out. But when evening comes and it is a little cooler and two or three little ones settle on my lap, their calm and loving touch melts my heart.

The children at the Foyer NDL are regular children: they run, tease each other mercilessly, cry, laugh, watch too much TV, and the teenagers only seem to care about their phones and whatever mysterious attractions they possess. They are basically OK.
Yet, I have several great concerns: the food given by Food for the Poor and Hunger Relief International is not quite sufficient and whoever in those administrations decided that confetti frosting was a good spread for the tasteless white bread that is breakfast is a criminal. How can one encourage sugar consumption in a place where the water has no fluoride and there are no dentists around? And how can one possibly qualify this as healthy food?

 Donors like to contribute to “sexy” projects such as providing clean water, education, and electricity, but no one is interested in funding salaries for staff. Aside from the director at the foyer NDL, only one full-time and six part-time staff members take care of 116 children under the age of 23. Of these children, 45 are under the age of 7!  Supervision and individual attention is simply impossible yet so very necessary for their wellbeing.

Napping 8 ft above ground

For Maud Laurent, the Director of the Foyer NDL, developing revenue-generating activities takes time and energy outside of her regular job as one of the Directors of C.O.H.A.N., a Dutch development agency. Hosting the volunteers with all their needs, keeping up with the reports demanded by organizations that try to help, and putting together requests for food and more food are daunting tasks that occupy Maud from 5:30 a.m. to well after 11 p.m. As of now she has no operating budget and has been relying on donations. Feeding three meals a day to roughly 124 people not counting visitors, is a great accomplishment. Funds are also needed to enable the children to go to school, and get vocational training.

Maud with latest child: Samuel, 12 months
So, how can the Foyer NDL develop the resources to be sustainable? Friends are thinking of two solutions: 
1) Finding 100 sponsors who will pay US $40 per month.  The $4,000 revenue these sponsorships would generate would cover a lot of the costs of salaries, supplies, medicines, tuitions and repairs. It would enable the infrastructure to be more solid and without the constant need to look for funds, Maud Laurent, could spend adequate time to promote a new venture: 2) Developing a take-out counter, small restaurant and convenience store as a way not only of instilling life skills and providing jobs for the teenagers, but also to generate revenue by selling the products from the Foyer (cooked chicken meals, peanut butter, and now homemade vinegar). RVH is funding this startup takeout counter/restaurant and retail convenience store and looking for additional funds to get it off to a good start.  We are just in the first phase of this pilot project (cleaning the building) and will begin setting up soon. We’ll see how it goes and will reevaluate, adjust, and adapt in a few months.
Space for takeout /store.

On the whole, the kids are doing well and in fact benefit from a lot of attention: FENDLI and Kid4kid are some of recent and regular visitors. The Foyer has attracted over thirty volunteers since the opening of the guest rooms. A group of 12 Quebecois are running a music, arts and crafts and sports camp this July. Most volunteers understand that even if Maud and her staff are happy to host them and feed them three delicious meals each day, it takes away from funds that would be used for the children’s needs so the contribution between US $ 20 and $ 35 a day according to the length of stay and the capacity to pay is gladly given.

My biggest concern is to have a beautiful structure fall in disrepair as wear and tear of so many energetic youngsters takes its toll on the plumbing, furniture and appliances. There isn’t enough supervision and no salary for additional staff. No one stops the six year old who hits the piano in passing with a large carving knife or tells another that pornographic chalk drawings are not appropriate. The Foyer doesn’t need to expand; it needs to do what it does better. 

We can help by sponsoring a child, volunteering to teach what we know for instance, English (a tool for the children to eventually find jobs) and paying for our stay or writing a tax-deductible check that will be used directly to cover costs of tuition, car repair, propane for the stove, plumbing repairs and staff salary.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring break solidarity in action

Super popular English class
Thanks to Association Terre des Montagnes, 12 volunteers enjoyed new, airy, comfortable rooms and a bathroom reserved for their use. Five of the older boys at the Foyer climbed up the roof, scaffolding and barrels in order to paint the exterior walls; they even gave a fresh coat to the main building. The last touches, interior paint and electricity will be installed in the next few weeks.

The four volunteers -- Dr. Heidi Brown, Dr. Melanie Giraud, Dr. John Hebb and myself -- from Rendez-vous: Haiti (RVH) brought in crucial funding. They also taught English and computer literacy classes, organized bracelet-making sessions, and organized competitions in French essay-writing, coloring, drawing, painting and kite-making. They rewarded top students in each grade, as well as those who exhibited the most responsible behaviors when caring for smaller children, the water, garden, goats, and chickens. In addition, they rewarded those who most helped Tatie Jo, the ever-loving and vigilant caregiver to all.
Dr Melanie Giraud teaching computer literacy
Dr Heidi Brown and
constant companion Wawa
Unmistakable Dr John Hebb enjoying the water,
even more than the kids
Douby' s kite entry in
the competition

Thanks to the efforts of Mike and Danny, Class of 2015 at Loyola University Maryland, RVH purchased a “mamba” making machine and the Foyer produced its first peanut butter under the intrigued eyes of many curious children. This will allow peanut butter to be part of the regular diet and eventually will create a small revenue. 
Emma and little friends
enjoying cookies at the beach
12 year old, Marassa's Field work

Samuel's Day at the beach
Michelene gets peanuts ready

Here is some others photos:

New mamba machine
First jar of  delicious " mamba" 
 Talented Douby's entry
 in the competition
6 year old, Kervens Mesidor proudly displays his math

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Come meet our children". Volunteers are like loving relatives that come for the holidays.

“What can I do?” That’s how Tracy would start her days during her volunteer week in Haiti. At 6: 30 am, it was play soccer with the boys before the sun got too hot, a little later it was help the younger ones get dressed after their morning showers…. the day went on with that question:"what can I do?"and Tracy did whatever she could without speaking a word of creole or French but simply by being willing to watch for opportunities to get involved.
Overthe course of the past three and a half years of my volunteer involvement in Haiti, I can attest that we, volunteers of all nations, do a lot and that it has made the lives of at least ninety six children much more comfortable and stimulating.

The Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes, has seen at least 21 volunteers in 2014 from Canada, France and the US for stays lasting 3 days to 3 months:

  •   They fund raise to enable construction and capacity building, 
  •   They bring clothes, sports equipment, medicine, toys, school supplies, craft-making items and construction tools or technology.
  •   They build, repair, teach, support learning, stimulate original creations, start a vegetable garden, make soccer goals, read and play with the children.
  •   They participate in the life of the Foyer and care for the children.

When they leave, they have contributed as loving relatives do to the growth and development of the child they have touched.

Effective on going activities are possible because the Director of the Foyer, Maud Laurent communicates what the needs are and the continued dialogue with her partners overseas brings a new level of care for her children. Come meet them!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thriving after all!

How can I begin to share the perplexities of Haiti? After more than three years, I am still at times saddened, frustrated or puzzled, and end up laughing at the challenges this country presents.  If the plumbing doesn't function well at the Foyer it is due not only to extremely poor quality material and partly trained plumbers but also because this very plumber hired to fix a problem is sure to leave it functioning poorly so he doesn't run out of a job!

Yet as all the foreigners you meet at the airport on your way out of Haiti will vouch, it is a very endearing country. In their daily struggle, its people are resourceful, resilient, ingenious, kind and joyful. Just witness the roar and jumps of joy when their favorite soccer team scores a goal and you get a sense of the zest for life that keeps it going. 

And then there is the Foyer.  Nine year old new comer Abelardo’ s twisted skinny legs and deformed little face seem to me to be the symbol of the Foyer. To the outsider looking in, the Foyer has a lot of malfunctioning body parts: the water pump is broken, the electricity only supports  one light bulb in each of the occupied rooms, chairs,  toys, tools, covered by the abundant dust brought in by the near constant wind,   all seem to need fixing. Yet, Abelardo very much like the Foyer is full of life. Hearing his throaty laughter for the first time yesterday brought me incomparable joy and still brings tears to my eyes as I write.  His cleft palate leaves his face expressionless but he is fully engaged in the life of his 95 siblings, plays, teases others and stands for himself demanding the attention he needs. 
Abelardo wanted his picture taken too.
Add caption

The Foyer too in all its complexities demands attention. Without the love and care given by Maud, Jo and friends, the Foyer like Abelardo would struggle to survive.  In March 2014 shortly after his arrival he couldn't stand by himself and grunted while raising his arms to be picked up. He needed to be washed and dressed and fed. Now in August he is thriving, dresses himself, eats on his own, and runs on this deformed legs to play with others; in the evening when the chairs have to be placed on the long dining tables so the floor can be swept, he is one of the children who volunteers to stack them up. 
The Foyer too is thriving. Even though the garden is not successful yet, seedlings are growing in pots and a fence has been erected to protect it; given time and the attention it needs, the garden too will thrive. The poultry business is launched but needs to grow in order to provide much needed income.

Jo and a few teens designed a pattern for, and have started making, the shirts that will be part of the girls’ uniforms this year.  She and Maud get help from new staff members and friends.

On Sundays, the choir of eighteen teenagers performs beautifully at the chapel of the nuns in Tabarre. Even this is a challenge; they must walk thirty minutes to take an overcrowded “tap-tap” for another thirty minutes, because Maud’s car broke down and she can no longer load up the 30+ children that get to go to mass every Sunday.

Making Zanmi bracelets
For the competition that I launched during my stay, four girls and one boy baked a cake, two wrote essays, seven presented drawings, and eight made kites that attested to their ingenuity and resourcefulness in finding material (all I contributed were string and trash bags).  The excitement was palpable as all were chattering about the various entries. This was right after a soccer game where the neighborhood team tied with our boys under the wild cheers of supporters and Kompa music blasting.
Marassa looking at the competition

1st place Rosena's fruit cake
Gary won 1st place kite making

On top of the main building four rooms stand unfinished but their roof is on and the solar panels should be installed this week. Work finally started the day before my departure! The twenty panels, inverters and installation costs were donated by Association Terre des Montagnes in France and Rendez-vous: Haiti.
In the dorms, windows and doors are shut at night against the “loup garou” (werewolves). At sunrise, children head to the showers while the older boys and sixteen-year-old Karina, the latest rescued “restavek”, run barefoot while playing a fierce soccer game on the new field with goal posts built by Meg in April. It is summer vacation, and my beads, plastic gimp, o-rings all become bracelets fashioned by eager hands.
The solar panels will sit on top of new rooms
Ed & Sarah Barker gave two goats .
A wedding gift that keeps on giving.

So it isn’t perfect, and the kids can be frustrating when they sweep lego pieces along with the dirt, but they are healthy, they take good care of themselves and each other, they are getting decent results in school, and there is a lot of laughter ringing through the evening gathering in the semi darkness of the large hall.
It has been nearly a year since the children moved to the new location, and even though there are still problems to be fixed, everyone is well. The children are able to be children.

Tomorrow or the next day, the installation of the solar panels will continue, one more step will be taken to provide a reliable source of power to the Foyer, Abelardo will continue to gain strength, all will be fed three meals, the little ones will cool off in the donated plastic pool, and the older ones will kick the new soccer balls as they are cheered by their friends.
Lucky little ones get to cool off.
Emma & Lovely water the garden

Early soccer game. Thankfully Cecilia & Keith
brought cleats just in time for big game

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Foyer" means "home"

« Foyer » means  « home »and home is where families live. The Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes, located in a suburb of Port au Prince, is the home for a family of 96 children under the age of 18.  It is a home with joyous chaos and constant bustling. Dedicated staff-member Tatie Jo wakes up before dawn and this morning, the feast of the Virgin Mary, she is whisking out perfectly ironed elaborate dresses for the 15 little girls and boys wear dress pants and shirts.  They are heading for mass.  Amazingly, all of them wear clothes that fit! The logistics of all this still boggles my mind after three and a half years of witnessing life in the Foyer. All of the children’s clothes have been donated to them and among all the donations are nice outfits.

On this trip, I hope to see the installation of the solar panels that will provide energy for appliances. It has been  months  since we  first contacted a local provider and made plans for the installation that have slowly but steadily been implemented. We had to wait for the large new gate that secures the ground to be completed ( thank you Andy Robinson). The thoughtful and generous gift from Association Terre des Montagnes and Rendez-vous: Haiti ‘s fund raising efforts are being put to good use.  Electricity in our world has become a necessity not a luxury. Even the water pump depends on electrical power.

Monday, May 12, 2014

What two people can do in a week!

·        Meg Young and Andrew Robinson just came back from a week at the Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes and in that one week:
-        They built 4 square foot gardens:, 48 plots and assigned each to a child. This is a major accomplishment which will provide vegetables and also basic knowledge about gardening.
-        Taught lessons on caring for the plants and on composting
-        Cleared and traced the perimeter of soccer field and built goals
-        Bought trash bins and had a cleanup day
-        Set up a barrel for compost and explained the process
-        Bought gardening tools
-        Traced a parking lot inside the compound that will allow grass to grow in other parts.
-        Andrew donated a new TV  to the delight of all and he pledged to finance a new main gate that will secure the premise.


Meg:  “Friday I did an hour long session on gardening with all the kids....I switched back to teacher mode and had them all in line! We talked about compost too and I was there to make sure they stuck to the plan through the weekend. Friday we also went back to MSC and got trash cans, I even drove us there! Saturday was a cleanup day, we filled four buckets full of nails, pieces of tin, glass, and wires- there was a lot of hazardous debris!  hopefully they'll start using the trash cans so that doesn't happen again. Sunday I went to mass, saw S Benoite, and said my goodbyes. Of course I got to play plenty of soccer and do some yoga with the girls over the weekend too. I just posted all the pictures on fbook. It really was a great trip, I enjoyed Andy's company and being more familiar with the foyer the second time around.”

Soccer field