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 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spring break 2014 at the Foyer NDL

A year ago, 96 children were washing themselves outdoors with cups and buckets; today they take regular showers in bathrooms close to their new dorms. A year ago, they had to take turns eating rice and beans outside (I never dared asked what happened when it rained—where did they go to eat?) cooked on outdoor burners; today they sit at long tables in the comfortable breezy hall and the meals are prepared in the adjoining large kitchen. A year ago, they clustered under the shade of a tent, the well roof, the entryway and a makeshift tarp to hide from the sun while attending elementary school; today six separate classrooms each with a black board and individual desks welcome them every morning.  The efforts of all the organizations and friends that rallied behind Maud Laurent to offer her children better living conditions are paying off.
The new Foyer, is a lovely space and I can already picture in a few years how the mango tree saplings will bring shade and green to the parched ground.

Early voices chatter as everyone prepares for the day and the boys start a soccer game before anything else. No wonder they are so trim and fit!  The girls hustle to the kitchen to prepare morning rice or cornmash for breakfast. It is a nice time of the day, before the heat oppresses and slows all energies.
Maud tells me I have become Haitian because I understand the remaining difficulties and not too much bothers me. There are still issues to be resolved; the stench in the room where I stay right next door to the boys’ bathrooms is overwhelming at times. If I forget to fill my water bucket when the water is turned on early in the morning then I won’t be able to take a shower at night. Any time power is on, I quickly recharge my camera, phone and laptop before it gets interrupted again for who knows how long. Much more importantly the children still don’t have a way to wash their hands easily before meals; most of the time there is no power, and there is no income for staff. Under Maud part time presence and Jo, the children are organized in teams with chores and responsibilities and somehow it works!
 2 year old Alenzi gets prepared for the day

Rony gives Angelo a hair cut

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I had several goals this spring break.  One was to organize the hiring of a Physical Plant Manager that would help Maud with all the logistics of maintenance but also fix such things as the faulty septic system. As the week progresses and we discuss his responsibilities, his position is becoming more complex and will include managing the poultry business. It is crucial for the Foyer to develop sources of revenue.

My other goal of negotiating the contract for the solar panel installation, thanks to the generous grant of Association Terre des Montagnes, is slowly shaping up. What did I think? It could be as simple as going to Home Depot and picking up the material needed? It is Carnaval this week.  However we now know where the panels will go and a technician has been at the site.  The Foyer has received the funds collected by Rendez-vous: Haiti to complete the grant. Now, all I can do is wait for the report and the pictures.
As for boosting creativity?  The boys, in particular, have produced numerous cards, a few beautiful paintings and tons of Zanmi bracelets. This is turning out to be a successful micro-micro enterprise. Haitians find the O-rings, RVH purchases them, the boys delicately lace the bands with artistic wire and what is originally a “black” used by Haitian men to heal their aches turns into a beautiful  bracelet sold in the US to support structural improvements at the Foyer.
Making Zanmi bracelets after chores

SO, it has been a good trip: I got to cuddle with lots of little ones, meet the twelve new children, discover a new painting talent, and reconnect with the teens. Now that the twelve over-eighteen children live away in semi-independence, Maud has accepted twelve new children including a 9 year old with disabilities, because the Foyer will give him a  chance for an education; “there is  no reason  he can’t learn” and have a good life, Maud says.

Currently Maud and Jo are the only two adults supervising the 96 children + 12 adolescents under their care.  Since construction has ended, the Foyer has attracted large organizations’ support such as Food for the Poor, Fondation Espoir, Terre des Hommes, and Hunger Relief International, and they give much needed supplies but of course no salaries for staff, nor for tuition for the teenagers’ schooling or professional training nor for bus fare.  Fostering revenue generating activities is part of current Rendez-vous: Haiti’s challenges.

Alenzi loves to share a moment
with Mamie Maud

Later  in the morning
7 am school starts at the Foyer

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Is sustainability in the future?

The 96 children of the Foyer NDL moved to the new location of the orphanage in September 2013 and they are well adjusted to their new surroundings. Elementary school is held on the premise in six classrooms with nice desks, meals are served at long tables in the large airy multipurpose hall from an indoor kitchen and all the children now sleep on mattresses on the beds occupying the two new dorms built by Food for the Poor.  Is mission accomplished? Can we stop our support?

This progress, while undeniable, hasn’t solved all the logistical problems of offering a home and a future for the orphans, street children, rescued “children in domesticity” and extremely poor children placed there by a single parent unable to feed them. The sinks in the kitchen are neither finished nor hooked up to the water line; dishes are still washed in basins outdoor.  In order to prevent cholera and typhoid, it is crucial that everyone be able to wash their hands regularly, yet buckets and cups are still used for that purpose. Minimum electrical supply has been installed which is only sufficient for the few overhead lights but not powerful enough for a refrigerator.  Every day all these mouths have to be fed, toiletries for basic hygiene has to be available and everyone needs schooling, yet there is no source of income except for donations. So how can we stop now?

The easiest thing to obtain for the poor are used items of clothing, used anything! Is that what they really need? Yes, it is nice to have a “new” outfit and looking good is a matter of pride, but does that solve tomorrow’s problems?

Without the infrastructure to make the facility truly functional, without resources to fund educational pursuits how can the Foyer survive, let alone thrive? How can these children be given the education and skills to become self-sufficient adults? How can the cycle of poverty be broken?

Rendez-vous: Haiti and its friends are trying to help the director of the Foyer, Maud Laurent, establish self-sufficiency by giving the Foyer the means to be self-supporting in the long term.  To achieve that goal, we continue to fund raise not only to finish the existing buildings, install a fully functioning electrical system that can support refrigerator, freezer, washing machines, computers and ovens, but also to create revenue-generating enterprises. Though most people would agree this is a worthwhile endeavor, funds to support its implementation are extremely hard to get. Micro-businesses [such as a bakery, sale of purified water, poultry production] tied to the Foyer are the only reliable way to enable the Foyer to gain autonomy and to make this an independent sustainable home for 96 children and a means to break the cycle of poverty. 
Hand washing before lunch
Doing dishes
Eating supper in the dark

Hand washing laundry for.....96 children

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

" And so this is Christmas"

" Dear Catherine,
I wish you and your family a Blessed Christmas and New Year.
Enclosed is a contribution in my daughter's name ( Tracy Sanna) .She asked for this as a Christmas present.
Love "         Janice Sanna
That is the true meaning of Christmas! Janice, you must be so proud of your daughter.
It is the generous kindness of supporters like you that is making a huge difference in the lives of 96 young Haitians. Thank you both. 100% of this money will go to purchase ingredients so that the volunteer French baker arriving December 28 can start the micro- bakery production!

Tracy admires Samuel's work

Tracy comforts Emma

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Chicken Coop Project: Phase II

In March 2013, a chicken coop project was started at the Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes. Rendez-vous: Haiti fund raised and managed the construction of a chicken coop at the new location and some of the older children learned to care for the twenty-five three days old chicks, nurtured them to maturity, and after six weeks they were sold for their meat. Twenty-five laying hens were purchased and are currently dutifully producing one egg a day.
The foundation of a poultry business was established. Now it is time for Phase II. Significant revenue can only be generated from a larger herd of meat chickens and plans are made to not only increase the size of the production but also for marketing, and distribution. 

The challenges are many: funding for a match grant from La Guilde, France, to finance all aspects of the increased production but also simply finding healthy inexpensive feed (compost is not an option since there is no composting material produced at the Foyer, there are never any leftovers of an organic nature), finding enough chicks to buy and the necessary roosters so that the production can be sustainable. All seem like small challenges in the Western world but in Haiti they are huge problems.
Our faith is that as with every aspect of this venture, one step at a time, we make progress. Three months ago the children were still living in confined spaces, and last week they were still in complete darkness after nightfall. Today at their new home, they sleep in a clean modern space, have a roof over their heads at meal times, attend classes on the premise, have clean drinking water , light after dark

and one egg a day.:)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Short visit in October


I always have mixed feelings when I leave Haiti. On the one hand, I look forward to my regular life, where things are in “semi-order”, where I tentatively control aspects of my day … but… I leave the kids behind… still so much to be done to give them a good future. On my last morning when I went downstairs I was greeted by the loving hug of Kervens, who had just woken up and who rushed into my arms with a big happy grin on his face. How can it not tug at my heart strings?

This was a very short trip and it triggered misgivings… was the flight cost, money well spent? Wouldn’t it be better if I had simply sent Maud the price of the airline ticket? I was asked to join Cecilia Dowd and Keith Orpheus in Haiti to help by telling the stories imbedded in the future documentary. They are the young journalists who are ambitiously devoting countless hours and their own resources to filming the children’s story.  Everyone’s hope is that it will raise the remaining funds needed to finish the construction of the vocational center, truly launch the bakery and fix some loose ends in the large complex.

Of course this couldn’t be the sole focus of my trip.  I also wanted to bring back new samples of the boys painting talents, letters written back to my students and more importantly a plan for the next step towards making the Foyer self-sufficient. The success of the Zanmi bands means that the children needed to produce more of them.   They like earning the cash I give them for their efforts.
Time flew by; Angelo did make one painting, Samuel is still working on another and Gary produced beautiful cards for the first time: he too showed what he could do. The little ones got to make beaded necklaces and bracelets which is always an interesting activity for me as it allows me to discover their various personalities. Some children are so driven: 3 year old Wawa finished before everybody else and didn’t fuss or act out, satisfied with his accomplishment he simply sat there watching his friends complete their own. Then there is Evania who kept fussing about the length of the string I cut for her, and would start crying again and again as she would change her mind about the color of the start-up bead.  It made me wonder about the deep hurts that surface in all those frustrated tears? Could they ever be healed?  It is sometimes hard to remember, when seeing the carefree playfulness of so many of the children that live at the Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes that they have at their young age, such a troubled painful past.

All the children are now housed in the new facility, not all of them have mattresses yet, many still sleep on the floor, but their Canadian friends have recently raised enough to cover the cost of the remaining mattresses. The ground at the new complex is spacious and airy, with future mango trees in the center. The classrooms are neat, well ventilated and the large common room finally enables all the children to be fed at the same time. A new routine has been established of each child doing his own dish: they each have one now, and a spoon and cup as well. 

The biggest struggle currently is the lack of electricity: it gets dark by 7 pm in Haiti and the children have until bedtime, nothing to do in the pitch-black darkness. One has to battle the fierce onslaught of overabundant mosquitoes. The rainstorms of October are turning potholes into sometimes huge puddles and mosquitoes thrive in this warm moist environment. Is malaria or dengue fever hiding in those itchy bites the children can’t escape?