Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two micro-enterprises for the future.

Blog Dec. 27, 2011
Two micro-enterprises for the future.

We are very excited to welcome on our team three dynamic volunteers who will further Relief Team One’s mission in Haiti of Education for Employment to foster durable Empowerment towards positive change.

Michelle from Pennsylvania is a professional pastry chef who works at Talkeetna Lodge in Alaska during the summer.
Michelle has volunteered to come set up and teach cake making and decorating to 6 of the young adults currently living at the orphanage.  She will develop with them pastries that use ingredients found locally and that appeal to the local market. They will have an inexpensive line of daily offerings and more exclusive cake offerings for special occasions. She has been very busy selling her own confections to raise money for this venture.

Amy is  a professional cook and entrepreneur who will assist the current staff with cooking for the volunteers coming for the first two weeks of January but will also train a young man or woman to be the pastry business manager and help develop a marketing strategy.

In addition, we are delighted to have on board, David, IT expert from Loyola University Maryland who will set up a micro-lab (with lap-tops donated by the university) and will teach our crew and some of the older youngsters’ computer skills at various levels. He will also help the local marketing expert hired by RT1 to develop promotional material for the pastry shop.  This micro-lab will be used as a source of revenue for the orphanage as it provides document making and printing for the neighborhood.

These infrastructures for those two co-ops with adult mentorship will not only develop badly needed regular resources for the Foyer but also teach a trade and therefore give a future to some of the orphans.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The ridge beam is up!

The ridge beam is up on the main building and the men hang around at the end of this long day of work and look up.  They are reluctant to leave, they high five and hug each other; their excitement is palpable says Ray. This is an accomplishment for this crew still learning construction skills. Seeing what they can do, what they have learned and the concrete evidence of their efforts is a high point. They are proud and rightly so. It is a victory against the odds, against the elements, against all the challenges that have led them to work on the construction of the Village Notre Dame de Lourdes. It is a symbol of their power to change things for themselves and for their country.  A seemingly fairly minor undertaking for a western crew becomes a symbol of hope in Haiti.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

We finally have drinking water on the site!

YES!  That water will be clear and pure!

Carrie Emard, Maud Laurent, Stephanie Peterson
 En Francais: la liste des microbes elimines!

A big THANK YOU to Carrie Emard and Stephanie Peterson of the Foundation “For One Another” who brought to us a central water purification system and contributed a water cistern. They also distributed water filters to our crew and taught us how to train people in using the system properly. Their support and contribution means that there is now drinking water on the site of the construction of the Village and that more than 35 families can purify their own water!  What a great gift!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The children of the “Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes”

I am back in the US but their faces and stories haunt me.
Is Emma going to stop crying her heart out, the way she does now because she is not getting the attention she craves? Will Strung ever get filled up: when a child is abandoned by his mother on a trash heap and no one comes for him for two days, does he ever get over it? Will Joseph and his earnest seeking face find the godmother for his communion that would make him feel he is special to someone? And Stevenson: what are the chances he will get the operation to stop his incontinence? At 21 it must be excruciatingly difficult to accept to wear a diaper and it is so unfair what the earthquake did to him: crushed his lower body so he can’t walk anymore and killed his parents.

These are only a few of the stories of the children of the Foyer, Emma was born in the street from a teenage mother who ran away from her life of enslavement and prefers to be free and live of expedients on the streets of Port au Prince.  She delivered her baby on the pavement surrounded by other women in her same situation.  A few months later she brought her to Maud and said she never wanted to see her baby again!  Emma is somewhere between 2 and 3 and she has the brightest most cheerful smile, she runs to foreigners and grabs their heart… yet, often, she cries… not just the normal tears when something doesn’t go your way and you are about 2 years old, but deep sobs coming from way deep inside …what is this sorrow about?

Maud has said her house is full, and we are pushing to get the funds and pursue the construction  of the complex ( dorms, kitchen, elementary school and vocational center) but she is scarred: the last time she refused to accept a small baby , the mother of the child put a plastic bag over her baby’s head….so how can she turn down the baby of the 15 year old who approached her recently because she got raped by her own uncle?


Friday, July 15, 2011

Water in Haiti: a journey!

Drill rig
Tapping so it keeps going
Keeping mud out while digging

Francois, Maud and Fenal with the newly capped well

Witny finished the roof over the well house

Ray installs the pump

Everyone helps feed the pipe into the well.

Sister Denise admires the new water.
“Water is life” that cliché is such a vibrant truth!  To get water is not a simple task and it is a journey that has taken over a year!  Maud had hired a “sourcier” who identified that there was water on her property at a specific spot. A year or so later, RT 1 comes along and with the generous help of Canadian donors gets a rig to drill a hole to 185 feet ( it took two weeks). The engine is an antique worthy of museums and needed prompting with stone tapping to keep going…water was discovered at 25 feet and so there is more than 150 feet of water which in theory means that the children will never run out  of water even during dry spells.   

A house to protect the well and the pump had to be built. Then Ray brought a submersible pump from the US including piping. ( he actually researched the size of the cargo door of the American Airlines flight he was taking back to Haiti and had the pipes folded so that they would fit through….. he won the argument with the AA agent J )and managed to install it in spite of not having the proper welding tool.

Now it was a matter of power to make the pump work and of course the generator we had, wasn’t strong enough. Ever resourceful Maud found a broken one that a technician repaired, then I found an electrician and talked him into dropping his current job to help set up the proper exterior wiring connection.  The next day Maud brought a couple of other technicians and VOILA…water is finally here…. It is clear and abundant…I never thought it could look so beautiful!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Creative Haitian boy

Ricarlens started talking to me across the fence: very shyly he came every day for about a week . Then one day he asked me for a piece of cardboard that was lying around. An hour later, he came back with a little house that he had made.  The next day, I brought him another cardboard box and he asked for my pocket knife. A couple of hours later he came back with my knife AND a beautiful two room house, with a door , window and a portico, all made of cardboard, twigs and wiring from an old broken radio. He also brought me drawings and when I asked if he had learned how to do this in school he said no. My pencil brought a huge smile on his face and when he lost it down a pit; his face expressed the deepest distress. His dream? A knife… so he can have a different tool to work with than the razor blade he currently uses.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What a crew !

The heat is unbearable: 98 F in the shade, yet the men keep at it: it’s grueling work, with picks and shovels, carrying stones and gravel in buckets that keep breaking, because the wheel barrows broke once more. From 7 am to 3. 30 pm with a ½ hour lunch break of rice and beans, they keep plugging away. I wonder what other country could provide such strong, resilient, determined workers.  The equipment bought in Haiti has been imported mostly from China and is of poor quality no matter what price. ( as much as possible Rt 1 equips its men with tools that Ray brings in …yet we know that it isn’t the way to stimulate the local economy…but if we don’t , so much of our limited budget goes into replacing bad tools!

At 3 , the men slowly drift towards the pit where water has been dumped from a truck.  They have been in the process of building the well house but it isn’t quite ready yet. Since sophisticated power tools and expert labor are not available , construction goes at ¼ of the speed it does in the US for instance. We can’t risk installing the water pump until it will be protected by walls, a roof and a steel door. By the time they pack themselves in the back of the pick-up truck, all 25workers  look clean and fresh,  ready to face their families without a trace of the hard hard work they have just accomplished during the entire day.  They do get prestige in their neighborhoods from being hired to work with foreigners on a construction project  but that and their small  salarIes ( small by US standards= $15/day )  seems to be little compensation for the tremendous effort they have been exerting  six days a week since March 15.

I have to remember that our work ( Ray training them, directing the construction, my bi-lingual administration, the gathering of  grants and support) has given these 36 men ( among whom six are orphans from NDL) a way to earn a living as we are building this new home and school for the 90 children of Maud’s Maison Notre Dame de Lourdes. 
What I appreciate the most? Their good humor... their cheerfulness and laughters..

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hope for one boy

The earthquake crippled him.

Stevenson at Work
Stevenson lost both parents and was stuck under rubbles for two days after the earthquake in Port au Prince in January 2010 when his cousin found him and dug him out.  Using a borrowed wheelchair Jakson brought him to the Missionaries of Christ the King who took him to a hospital. He was operated on and a metal plate inserted to replace his shine bone… the operation didn’t go well, his leg keeps getting infected and he can no longer walk. He lives with the other 89 children at the Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes and until recently, he spent his days in bed with nothing to do.  He is 20 years old, he can barely read and write.

 At the site of the future orphanage, there are many rigorous jobs that demand resilience and physical strength but thanks to Maud’ s idea, Stevenson is finding his place among the men.   As of last Monday he has a half time job with Relief Team One participating in the construction; he cuts tie wire for the reinforcement column.  He is helping out and he is out of bed.   His grin is a mile long.

Monday, May 2, 2011


He was so malnourished when he was brought to Maud’s orphanage at his mother’s death that he looked like he was 4 or 6 months old …… yet he had all his teeth!  His gums were blood shot and he was emaciated.  He didn’t have the strength to even sit up and all he did was cry.  Maud said she couldn’t, she wouldn’t keep him. The doctor Maud consulted at the hospital the following morning diagnosed severe malnutrition and told her the baby would die within 24 hours.  Amidst all the discussions concerning his life, somehow , this baby, this little boy,  in the middle of his crying found the words he needed to say and to the utter amazement of all, they heard “Mwen grangou” “ I am hungry”…so they fed him …monitored his intake and brought him back …..No one knows exactly how old he is, and his growth is thwarted by severely bowed legs but Kervin is here to stay and he has won Maud’s heart.
Minutes before the earthquake that dreadful January 12  he had come looking for “mamy Maud” wanting a hug. She had just picked him up when the first tremor sent them both to the floor….the next tremor got her with the little boy still in her arms, back on her feet.  From then on it was total mayhem;  somehow she yelled to all the children to get out of the house….none died and none were hurt in the rubbles. 
Now Kervin is solidly present and one of his joys is to help open the large front gate to the orphanage to let cars in:  “mwen kapab” “I can do it” he says with determination.  This same determination that helped him survive as a severely undernourished baby will certainly serve him well as he makes his way in life. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It rained on her bed.

The director of the hospital Cardinal Leger in Leogane  ( which was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake) called Relief Team One to see if we could repair her roof. The rainy season has started and every night it rains in her bed!  This is in the new building that was constructed to get her staff and herself out of the tents where they have been living since January last year! 
A team of seven of our best students went down and in three days they reconstructed the whole roof structure over the little chapel and the sisters’ bedrooms.  No funding comes for staff housing; foundations are much more interested in financing schools or hospitals. Yet, without staff, there is no functioning hospital….so the logic escapes me…
Any way my room was in the condemned former hospital. I was given a key to lock myself in, and when the rat decided not to enter the front door ahead of me, I was very pleased.  I have never spent the night in a deserted condemned greatly destroyed hospital before;  a  little gecko joined me in the bathroom where a thoughtful person had filled a 5 gallon bucket for my shower.  Ceilings are broken, partly fallen, equipment and supplies are still there, but everything is covered with dust and abandoned… the operating room is spooky  with only a little bit of equipment yet, some supplies still there , seemingly ready but covered with gravel and dust…everything sealed at a moment in time and deserted… creates a strange feeling.. really eerie !
The good news is that under Ray’s creative energy and guidance, the men and he were able to make a brand new roof. They all slept in the same tents the nuns have recently abandoned and had a taste for what their accommodations have been like. Mosquitoes galore, even after the UN ( gun at the ready, not sure why?) came to spray the grounds…
Where do I come in? Well I speak English and French and therefore am the link between builder and hospital staff…kind of fun!

Friday, April 15, 2011

What a class!

Half the class stayed after the hour was done to practice the problem given to them.  Their determination is palpable. They are working on assessing the material needed to build a frame structure in Haiti: something all of them can relate to, a dream that might become their reality:  they can envision building their own house! Jackson, the tailor, rebuilt the house that he lives in with his wife and young baby last spring after the earthquake destroyed it, using the skills that he learned from the program.
 This is the 7 am English for Construction class that runs five days a week every week for 6 weeks and is part of the program to teach construction techniques and construction management with hands on practice in the field.  At the end of this course they get a certificate attesting their competency in the classroom and in the field.  This is drawing a lot of students: 48 attend the class. This comprehensive concept of construction technology is introduced by Ray, the Director/Founder of Relief Team One who is a US General Contractor with a long experience in carpentry and masonry work. This course is his brainchild: class work, with top students helping weaker ones, Haitians helping Haitians. Field work takes place at the new orphanage site, under his watchful eye enforcing a tempo and a quality of work (with anti-seismic and anti-hurricane international standards) that Haitians haven’t encountered before.   In class the concepts are reinforced in English, French and Creole by Ray, Big and Bellegarde( 2 men being trained to be leaders) and I.   I enjoy adapting my experience in the classroom to this local reality: it is super fun to teach a practical application. 
26 men are currently employed by Relief Team One on the site of the orphanage complex we are building.  Ray gives out crisp orders, paces from one group to the other, directing the men to maximize their output.  He speaks no creole and ten words of French: but all listen and all hear his directives.  He has me call the owner who calls the suppliers who deliver the material and all the pieces of the puzzle of the construction come together. No heavy equipment to ease the work.  Men work in small teams on various aspects of a structure, holes and trenches are dug with pick and shovels, and cement is mixed with shovels, and it works!  Progress is evident and at every visit I get to see it.
Those men work harder than I have ever seen anyone work before: the fact that an unpaid foreign volunteer (Ray) with strong leadership skills, expertise and vision, is the drive for providing housing to their fellow countrymen who are orphans AND training and jobs for them is a HUGE motivator.  Most of them don’t have a background in construction; they are tailors, students, managers, musicians, mechanics…. But they come every morning and then work all day under the scorching Haitian sun.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sweet Mickey is New President in Haiti.

The singer Michel Martelly won by a large margin. He has the support of the young and the poor. He wants to unite Haitians to work for Haiti.  His opponent Mme Manigat, stated tonight on TV that the elections had been rigged…. Everything is calm ( very few gun shots were heard on the night after the elections) and the results have been well received…what is she trying to do?  She has the support of the intellectual class and of former president Aristide who has a big following. Is there going to be another page to the election story?  We are all hoping for peace so that the country can continue rebuilding itself.
Speaking of construction:  work at the new orphanage site is progressing.  20 workers are busy lining the septic tank, digging the foundation for the bathroom. It is a lot of fun and very impressive  to see all these men working hard in the brutal sun and making visible changes.  The plumber came and we went over the bathroom plans… it is going to look like a cross between a convent bathroom and the bathroom of  College Brébeuf in Montreal where we take our students every fall!  J
AND,   11 chicks were born ( 2 have already died) and are busy following their Mom /hen as she shows them how to scratch the dirt and fallen bananas trees leaves to find little bugs… Great fun to watch!
By the way , bananas right off the tree taste totally different than Giant Dole bananas: it's like another fruit!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Random tidbits

6 young men (18 to 32 years old students in the English /construction class) dug a 12x 12 pit for the septic tank for the future orphanage , 7 am to 4 pm, with pick and shovel hauling dirt and rocks out in 5 gallon buckets, one at a time all day for a week under the 90 F blasting sun!  Anyone want to try? They are covered with dust but work with heart because they are grateful for the $ 10 /day pay check and the lunch. ( we are trying to give them something to pay for the tap-tap rides to the job $ 1.75 /day)
We are looking into two water purification systems: one bio-sand, the other solar powered.  Interesting stuff!
One of the dogs ate the rooster!!! The chicken is traumatized, no more eggs!  J  Now the dog is gone!!  Choices are made:  dogs are not food.  Everyone sleeps better:  the dog used to bark half the night and the rooster would start to crow at 2 am!
Yesterday lunch was “ragout” !! I had wondered what the goat head,  fore legs, and tail that were soaking in the kitchen sink were going to be used for… now I know!
Enjoy your peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches J

Monday, March 21, 2011

Election day in Haiti

Yesterday was the second round of the elections. Martelly vs Manigat. Most people voted for Martelly according to my students. Port au Prince was like a ghost town. Everyone expected trouble; there had been no sales of alcohol, gasoline , motorbikes and trucks were banned from driving, bars and dancing have also been closed for the past two days.  Extra police force ( 20 000 men) so the process was calm.
We are now anxiously for the official results. Aristide is back and he supports Manigat.....

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Teaching in PaP

I have to kick students out of class…..not because they are disruptive or disrespectful but because too many of them show up!  The young men and women are so eager to learn English they try to sneak in class and crowd me after class to ask for more.  Their interest is touching, all levels are in one class and somehow it works, the more advanced students helping the weaker ones, involvement is general.  No electricity means no technology, the books I brought are inadequate so I make up my own texts and they really like the personalization and pertinence to their lives. There is a lot of laughter and I leave the class charged.
My other delight is my afternoon group of young women novices who take advanced French with me. Today we worked on a book in French for children entitled:  “ Small  hurts, big disasters” , it deals with issues children have with the psychological trauma incurred after natural disasters.  Only one of the novices was raised by her own parents, the others were all placed in other families, sometimes a relative sometimes not.  It seems everyone has a story to share of a lost one.  We talked about how one could help a child deal with those issues. It strikes me that adults can be helped in very much the same way. Finding the strength inside, how what they have already done to get to this point is because of that inner strength.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

8 eggs

How can it be so much fun to go check every morning if the hen has laid another egg?  Well it is.  8 now! I GET A HUGE KICK OUT OF IT!  It made me wonder why, and why I am so happy the skinny cat had three kittens two nights ago and why I enjoy hanging my laundry in the sun to dry (it takes about 1 hour in this heat and sun). Then there are the mango trees, papaya, banana and my favorite a goyave tree. I go watch all these fruits grow and ripen each day during my walk around and around the yard within the confine and safety of the convent walls.  It dawned on me that they and the eggs symbolize life and renewal and that in the face of the abysmal misery , and filth they are symbols of hope J
My eager students were back this am, a little early for their 7 am class, again they had to be stopped after one hour ,then asked if any of them wanted to work in small groups, they stayed another hour gathered in a shack, (our classroom was no longer available) AND they WORKED: reviewing what we had done, some explaining to others, practicing and coming to ask questions!  It was so much fun. THEY ASKED TO HAVE A GRAMMAR CLASS ON SUNDAY  !!!!!!!!!!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Teaching in Haiti

I am finally teaching! And what fun it is ! the Haitians are so eager to learn , so curious about everything and happy to be in class, it is a joy!  This morning English class scheduled for one hour,  lasted two + hours.. and people were standing outside the windows of the classroom, listening in! I had to tell the students to go , they kept wanting more information, more practice and asked precisions about expressions they had learned but were not sure about. It was wonderful….
And then…. This afternoon, same thing but in advanced French.. what a delight!
Less delightful.. next to the unbelievable poverty and filth in the streets of Pap ( there is no organized trash collection, so it just piles up everywhere) I saw pictures of a place called the Indigo hotel, private beach resort with luxuries usually associated with oil producing nations, where the mayor of PaP flies by helicopter to have lunch!!!!!! Do you know the cost of a helicopter ride? Well…I guess he does avoid the nightmarish traffic jams that way!   At the door of the convent, people bang the gates, and ask for a glass of water or a mango from the trees they can see towering in the yard…….

Friday, March 4, 2011

Oasis in Port au Prince

The internet has been down.

Raise your hand if you thought I would ever live in a convent!  AND if you thought I would actually love it! The convent is run by Sister Benoite, Sr Bee for her friends, a tiny Canadian nun that has lived in Haiti for the past twenty some years, always busy making sure the facility runs smoothly and everything is in good repair. The earthquake damaged the square shaped building and RT1 came to repair the condemmed structure with its construction trainees: they reinforced pillars, the roof, and fixed all the cracks until the convent became livable again for the nuns. 
At the suggestion of RT1, Sr Bee has started a guest house which has two long term resident: Pilar, a cheerful Spanish brunette who works for Foi et Joie and yours truly.  We wake up to the lovely voices of the nuns singing the morning prayers in the chapel at 6 am and meet at 6.30 for mass and 7.15 for breakfast.  At  6pm supper last night, around the table were Canadian, Indian, Haitian, Spanish, Italian, French, Burkina Faso, Congolese nuns, priests and lay people and we all speak some kind of French J  The group from Quebec has an intensive week long program to deal with post-traumatic syndrome and offer sessions to Haitians in distress. The intensive format appears to be really helpful.
The convent is shaped around an inside garden filled with trees (mango  J ) and flowery bushes.  Galleries close up the square with all the rooms opening into them; from the outside it looks like a fortress and one would never guess at its simple green peaceful lovely comfort.  The grounds surrounding it will soon have a goat herd and the chicken coop is under construction. When I painted the floor the other day, Louis the guard and “homme à tout faire”= handyman, couldn’t stand it; was it the way I was holding the paintbrush? More like a red pen than a tool? At any rate, he was pretty soon kneeling by my side and we were done in no time. The last time that Sr Bee bought a chicken, hoping for badly needed eggs, she kept waiting for it to do its job: lay an egg! After a while she thought she wasn’t feeding it the right stuff, so she went  searching for egg-laying special chicken feed…..nothing seemed to help……until one morning she heard “cockle doodle do!”
Rt1 ‘s goal of  helping  her with her guest house project, vegetable garden ( we have eaten beets, lettuce, tomatoes and the first carrots) and with building  the fences and outbuilding needed for her goats and chicken mini-farm is coming along nicely (  yesterday   Sr. Bee  was finally able to find and purchase the wire for the fence, not always available).  She is hoping to make the convent self-sufficient and even confided , that at some point in the not so distant future, not only would they not depend on their foreign mother house but their micro-enterprise would help sustain the other convents of their order in Haiti.
Next project: a small gift shop with local arts and crafts that visiting guests attending the retreats  or conferences hosted by the convent will be able to purchase. What fun it will be to help select items to stock the shop!  We are going to go explore an artist coop in the next few days, depending on car availability and driver and….whatever else is going on.
At 6 pm the convent doors close. The rooster is put under a box so he won’t wake us up like all the other roosters of Haiti, around 3 am (they must be on mid-Atlantic time), the large metal gate is padlocked,  and the watch dogs are freed to roam ( and barkL) in the fairly large garden surrounded by the  7 feet walls with barbed wires on top that are doing a good job at keeping us safe for instance from the serious gun fight that kept us awake most of the night a few days ago.
So life in the convent is good, it is very good …and it is a lovely and peaceful oasis.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Thank you !

It is high time that I post the names of all the wonderful people that make my work in Haiti possible.  Needless to say a semester without pay presents many challenges and all of you are helping in all sorts of ways (travel expenses, vaccinations, supplies such as mosquito net, water purification tablets, anti-malaria medication, craft supplies for Jean Bosco, room and board, project site assessment expenses, internet, phone bills  etc etc….)  .
Thank you, Merci, Mesi anpil.

Support under $100: Carol Cooke, Daniel Mc Mahon, Caroline McLaughlin, Nicola McQuiston, Barbara Reilly, Christine Savell, Sarah Sussman

Over $ 100: Ed & Sally Barker , Herve Franceschi , Hugh Hardcastle , Will Kennedy, Paulette Spijkerman, Stephanie Savell, Nathalie Savell (along with Facebook help),

$ 500 and above: Tony & Courtney Bonacuse , Margaret & John Haggstrom, Norman Louden, Mike & Teri Louden, Geoff Savell, Nancy Smit,  George Miller& Campus Ministry Loyola University Maryland, Father Timothy Brown SJ of Loyola University Maryland

Special thanks to Robert Freson the talented photographer who donated 30 original pictures of Haiti for me to make a calendar and cards.

Special thanks to the technology team of Loyola University, (in particular Jason McMahon) for their support and generosity in providing me with camera, phone and a netbook. They all work! J

Et un grand merci à la French Benevolent Society of Baltimore: without your help, I wouldn’t eat J

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Travels in Haiti & What I am up to !

Tap-taps are the main source of public transportation in Port au Prince and they crisscross the roads as they pick up and drop the 16 or so passengers that manage to squeeze on board the benches the owner of the tap tap has judiciously constructed on the back of a small Toyota pick-up flat bed.  Their vibrant colorful displays and religious or profane writings are an endless source of enjoyment for me.  I quote a few from this morning crazy ride through the utter chaos that are on the roads of PaP.( there are no rules of  the road, except that it is the gutsiest driver who wins the right to advance, no traffic lights or very few, no right of ways, few stop signs, and if traffic is too slow in one direction, drivers feel free to drive in the lane where cars come in the opposite direction, so eventually you find yourself facing someone trying to use the same road space as you but going in the opposite direction! Can you even picture that?  The only resource is to laugh…hang in there.. and pray you make it in one piece.
Anyway, tap tap. Because you tap somewhere on the car when you want to get off.
The quotes: Jojo chérie, Les 2 enfants, Vibration, Love is all we need ( in Eng.), Jesus was be there ( in Eng.) Merci Jesus ( thank you Jesus), La fidélité de Dieu ( God’s faithfulness), My God ( in Eng.), Toujours son jeu ( always his game), Patience Zanmi ( patience friends) and Full Power… and thousand more..one out of four car is a tap-tap.

The day before I came back from Hinche in a toy plane (6 seats) piloted by a baby pilot ( he told me he was 26).. well…. We landed with barely a bump, and the flight over the country side was mesmerizing.

By the way, that is what I am up to. Now that the craft center has been started I am putting construction projects together; construction with training, so by the time the workers finish the building they will have been trained to be carpenters, cement repair men or painters and will have learned enough English ( my job too) to work for foreign NGOs . Four young men trained this past spring have already been hired by Heart 911.

On the list , the center for micro-enterprise with the Bishop in Jérémie, the Maternity Center or High Risk center at the hospital St Therese in Hinche, ( good news Global Health Networks, and Engineers without Borders are also on this project for which we are getting funded by a German government agency: Sign of Hope ( in English, Sorry I can’ t reproduce the German).

Today I am in Leogane, the earthquake epicenter location, to assess the possibility of building an addition to a clinic that is the only one treating lepers.  New cases of leprosy are seen every day; the consequence of the abysmal misery people live in that has been exacerbated by the earthquake.


It is Saturday or laundry day, everywhere women are washing laundry and river banks are colorfully displaying the families’ clothing. Since they have to squat to wash in the river or in basins filled with water and then get up to rinse and spread the cloths, local people refer to this uniquely feminine chore as “baissser-lever” or “up and down”. The mystery is how does fabric actually get clean and appears white when the river water is far from being clear!
The road to Hinche brings me back to my childhood in Ethiopia, with cattle randomly crossing the road, donkeys hesitating by the side wondering whether they are actually going to cross right in front of the car or wait, the goats that dart and the dogs that more leisurely move out of the way.  The country side is dry and mountainous.  We drove by Paul Farmer’s clinic in Cange, what a beautiful building overlooking the valley! What an accomplishment in one man’s lifetime. 
Here in Hinche I am trying to assess if RT 1 can build an addition on the existing hospital or build a more ambitious Maternity Center.  I am working with the Virginia Women Center who has a program called Midwife for Haiti and teaches local nurses to become midwives.  We visited the maternity ward yesterday!  The first thing that you have to know is that the hospital doesn’t have running water and has sporadic electricity then let your imagination roam to consider the consequences of that simple situation.  How do you disinfect, clean patient and wash anything? 
Some medication is available but a woman better not need to deliver during the night because the one or two midwives on duty are covering several wards and will not do anything when there is no light.  Sometimes women scream for hours until they finally get the care they need or to have a C-section.  Speaking to the young (and amazing) mid-wives and nurses who volunteer at the hospital, I am discovering a world of ills that I couldn’t have ever fathomed.  Suffice to say that a majority of babies don’t live through the birth process ( 5 -6 die each week)  and there is no provision for the preemies that are born from mothers  touched by various illnesses or conditions. Sadder yet, there is no incentive to have those children live: it would be costly and their care would demand precious resources that wouldn’t guarantee their having normal self-sufficient lives.
And I was going to find stories of hope……

Friday, February 18, 2011

Triple treat day

Triple treat day:  just tonight a priest heated a full bucket of water for my shower, one teapot at a time!  Temperatures are not soaring here in Jérémie, it is quite cool at night ( around 70 F) and that makes cold showers mostly ….unappealing. They are even worse in the am, since 5 am is wake up time at the Bishop’s house. Roosters have been crowing for a couple of hours, the cooks are pounding the manioc and the priests are chanting during mass!  There is no way to sleep in. Breakfast is at 7 am and the Bishop comes and gets me if I don’t hear the bell. We are served something hot like spaghetti or vegetable soup or some gruel of various grains… my alternative is bread with the yummy guava jam that is produced locally  J.
The first grade children worked on making collage with construction paper; a total change from their otherwise austere curriculum and they really seemed to enjoy it. The ages range from 7 to 10years old in that first grade class. As I find out the stories of these children I realize that misery has endless forms. When Father Jean talks about   the children, he refers to them as “ des enfants en difficulté”, children with challenges:  orphans raised by relatives, children in domesticity “restavecs”, children whose parents are mentally disabled or have AIDS and refugees from the earthquake.. the range of trauma and challenges these children have faced and  continue to face is unimaginable.  Speaking of one child’s particular squalor Maitre Mayard ,the Academic director, says that when it rains, he thinks of that particular girl  because her living conditions are so abysmal and he had not seen such extreme poverty before. Registration fee is $ 3, 82 for the year, but most parents can’t afford to pay that. In exchange some of them help clean up at the center.
The center hired Celine who has come several times and I showed her the different craft ideas I have and told her of others. She has a 6th grade education and went to a school to learn how to be a good homemaker. She embroiders wonderfully well and picked up all the ideas with great enthusiasm and ability.  Thanks to the generous support of Campus Ministry at Loyola  and  the students  and friends who sent me money,  I was able to not only bring supplies but also  leave the center with one year salary for the craft instructor.  This was my goal that the personnel of the Centre Saint Jean Bosco take over the project and make it work with their own people.  It feels really good to have been able to make it happen.  I will try to go back in a month to follow-up. The Center still needs support to get electricity, running water, salaries for the teachers mostly.
Sister Helene was happy particularly today:  USAID ‘s delivery ordered last May, promised for November arrived: bags of soy, corn and peas ,  the school will be able to feed the children. Someone managed to steal one of the bags, while she was watching the delivery!  She and Father Jean  are the most devoted administrators I could ever imagine. They are constantly fighting for everything concerning the functioning of the center, to feed the kids, pay the teachers, get supplies. Their relatives have to kick in some money often when they get desperate. I am hoping that the craft center will eventually be a source of income. I brought 60 lbs of supplies.  Sr  Helene 's idea of making the scrungies for communions and weddings is terrific.  A Haitian told me that people here will spend all their money on appearances, clothes and would rather forfeit food!
Third treat? A jazz concert! Aaron Goldberg quartet from the States,  sponsored by the US cultural services in Port au Prince.  I was the guest of the Bishop, so if you were looking at TV Jérémie at the 9 pm news tonight (as I know you probably do every night) you will see me in the front along with the US Ambassador, his wife, the Délégué Departmental representing the President and the Bishop of Jérémie!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Friendship bracelets

Feb. 15.
Today on the way to the Centre Jean Bosco, a little boy was walking down the street, crying his heart out and wailing that his father had just died. 
Cholera cases are way down though, and the health center has not seen any one affected by the disease in the past few days. That is good news.
The Centre Saint Jean Bosco has made great progress since September, benches and desks have been built for the kids, and blackboards and latrines are up. The cafeteria is set up outside so the guard can use the kitchen space for his sleeping quarters and there are two long tables and 16 chairs ( for 160 kids) that we were able to use to create our first craft: friendship bracelets ( again my thanks to the girls in my 201 class that taught me how to make them) .
This is a huge success: the administrator told me the children never get anyone to pay attention to them individually and being able to make individual decisions such as picking their own colors, was an obvious delight. The 32 kids I worked with,  all finished with at least one bracelet or necklace each. Now they will make some for me to take home and offer for sale so as to raise money for their craft center.  Thanks to the generous support of friends, students and family members, I brought 60 lbs of supplies that will stay at the center and be used in the future.
Tomorrow I will work with a person that might follow up when I leave and I will show her the other projects I have planned. The first one will be the recycled fabric hair ties.  Sister Helene, the French Canadian nun , a heart of gold , who has lived in Haiti for over 22 years and is one of the founder of the center as well as a current administrator who keeps immaculate books , is SO thrilled with that project, because she imagines the production of tulle hair ties that will be used for celebrations such as first communion and wedding, so they can be sold locally: WHICH IS ONE OF MY GOALS. So I am thrilled
Tomorrow I will write about the other project I have been working on with Bishop Decoste, that too is exciting!  ……. The other exciting thing is that we have running water tonight AND the big black spider behind my sink seems to have chosen to move elsewhere! Life is good!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Finally...in Haiti

Feb.11, 2011
Yesterday in Port au Prince I saw something I had never seen before anywhere in the world and couldn’t have imagined in my wildest imagination: a man was sleeping on a heap of trash using for shade of the overflowing garbage bin right by a heavily used major road!
At the smaller airport for internal flights this morning,   I started talking to the other obviously foreign people waiting for a flight.  Their names are Peter and Hannah. They work for John whose contact was given to me yesterday by Steven, whose name was passed on by Chester that I met during a dinner in Baltimore last Saturday. Where am I going with this? Last night I received an email from John, he founded an organization called Haiti Partners,  that Relief Team One and I might be able to partner with: they want to teach and create a sustainable model of vocational centers to implement in various parts of Haiti.It is almost noon, and I am writing from the Bishop’s house in Jérémie.  I came in part to follow-up on my previous trip here last September when Dr . David Haddad, RT1 Team Leader, Ray Arana and I had come to consult with Bishop Decoste on setting-up a Catholic Business University. Now I am back for a scaled down version of the project that falls in the line of what Haiti Partners is doing!  But who know how it will turn out and if?
Things seem to happen that way in Haiti: circumstances, chance, luck but for the majority of the Haitians, it might just be daily struggle to stay away from a heaping pile of trash!
February 14, 2011
Valentine’s Day! All the priests at the Bishop’s house jokingly wish each other a happy Valentine’s Day. It is celebrated also here in Haiti, not with cards but with sweets.  I have now been in Haiti for 5 days and time is flying by. After my first night at the Convent of the Sister of Christ King in Port au Prince, where it is totally safe behind high cement walls topped by barb wires with a heavy metal gate, I took the little 18 seater plane to Jérémie.  The flight follows the lovely coast line and the pilot opens his window to let fresh air in J. What could be better?
Bishop Gontrand Decoste SJ is my gracious host. The Bishop is a graduate from the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University Maryland  ( Fr Kevin Gillespie S.J. had given me his name before I came the first time to Haiti last June) and his secretary Fr Janel Bourdeau is the uncle of Mildred Leonidas,  class of 2010.  All the priests of the town live and eat here.  I thought I would start working with the Bishop on Saturday morning, assuming he would be available but when he told me he was going out of town to visit a remote parish he hadn’t visited yet, I asked if I could come.
This was an amazing weekend.  The road, trail is not paved and crosses several rivers, so when the rains are too abundant, there is no way even a four wheel drive car can go there. We averaged 5 miles per hour for quite a while…..and almost got stuck several times…..but what an interesting and beautiful drive. Haiti means, land of mountains, and we were in a tropical forest setting most of the day. People live simple lives, closer to the land and the sea.  The little community of Petite RIvière that was our final destination(just one packed sand street,  small cement block houses lining it right on the beach)  with no cars, reminded me of IIlha Grande in Brazil, except that this isn’t developed at all. No stores to speak of, no restaurant, no hotel,   no official buildings except the pretty little blue and white church.  We were welcomed by a band on foot and walked the last mile or so to the village with them;  from then on, all was organized for the celebration of welcoming the Bishop ( and warned by cell phone J,  a white foreigner was coming too, I was included in all the speeches and treated with equal distinction). Speeches, singing, performance by school children, and fantastic meals  three times  on Saturday, filled our day as we also went to visit a couple of other communities  buried in the forest where the hurricane had destroyed the only solid structure : the church.  People were dressed in their Sunday best and brought gifts of huge yams.  They have a makeshift school and a school teacher that teaches all students, all grades in one classroom but no medical or dental facilities.
On Sunday,  mass started an hour late to allow time for the villagers from far off communities to arrive in Petite Rivière.  Since they come on foot and walk one or two hours, the priest and the Bishop adjusted the time of the service: it had rained a lot during the night and mud makes the walk hazardous and slower.  During the 4 hour mass, I was honored, thanked numerous times for my presence and asked to sit with the clergy by the altar. Little did they know that the pleasure was all mine!
The celebration was wonderfully joyous, people clapping, swaying to the music and a young local musician had composed a song especially for Bishop Decoste expressing how happy the population was to have his visit.  They hosted us with grace, attentive to every detail of our comfort (with no electricity or running water, we still had hot meals and a bucket of warm water for our showers).  In all my travels, it is the first time that no one asked me for anything in return, didn’t try to sell me anything or ask for money. I felt totally safe and accepted with a sweet curiosity and simple delight at having a foreign visitor, the only one there.  Father Prévoit took great care to make sure our visit was flawless and we left with the Toyota land cruiser filled in the back with all the gifts the population had given Monsignor: yams, salted fish ( nice smell all the way back J ), bananas, oranges, and a galette that tasted like spice bread.  We got back to Jérémie after the driver had quickly and efficiently repaired the tire that blew with a loud burst just before night fall.  My eyes and my mind are still filled with the beautiful visions of inland Haiti and its welcoming people.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January 31,2011

….. and I thought I was going to be in Haiti starting on the 3rd! 
One of the many things I am learning on this journey of mine is that nothing ever goes quite as planned!  Cholera epidemic and political violence don’t help.
There is actually a benefit about not being in Haiti right now: I can do more work from my safe house that has lost power only once and only for 24 hours in the past month. The tradeoff: a few hours of electricity in the evening if one is lucky with a very very slow connection to emails. Last time I was in Haiti I timed how long it takes to open a regular email so I can read it: 20 minutes, then you write a quick answer and keep your fingers crossed that it goes, before the internet or power get interrupted!
So for now, I spend even more time behind my computer this semester but …. I have put down my red pen. Instead I am putting together programs in Haiti and I volunteer my time and efforts for a non-profit that was created in response to last year’s earthquake. Relief Team One’s mission is “Across Borders Solidarity in Construction, Reconstruction, Job Skills Training and English Language Instruction to create sustainable positive change”. What an agenda!
My “boss” Ray Arana has been down in Haiti since last march and has trained 40 Haitians in carpentry, cement repair work and sanitation installations. He taught them English as they worked side by side and learned building technology.  Once the cholera broke out, he taught them how to take care of themselves and their family. Needless to say, they think he is a semi-God!

We are working on putting an Emergency Clinic program in an area where people don’t have access to medical care. We have pledges for the construction or reconstruction of a facility and support for staff salaries, medication, lab analyses and administrative costs but no support to start the operation per say. Actively into Plan B or is it F? We are looking to help a clinic that is already established.
Other projects I am involved in?  Of course the Centre Jean Bosco: the school for “restaveks”, those children “in domesticity” that Father Jean and Sister Helene try to give an education to. So far my grant proposals have brought in over $ 13,500 to build the benches, tables, shelves that the new center needs. Another grant I facilitated might bring in plumbing before the end of the year, so there will be running water in the school. Imagine going to school in a place where you can’t even wash your hands!  Look for the Centre Saint Jean Bosco on Facebook!
Restavek children last June in borrowed class space
Below: the new center, a gift from                               
Caritas.That open tank is the water supply!             
New classroom: Pix by Nicola McQuiston'10

Add captionLast September, the children still on vacation come together once a week, they get a lesson and a free meal. Sister Helene Mercier and Director of studies, M. Maynard organize that program

My goal (with generous support from the Loyola University Maryland community) is to set up a workshop so the children can learn craft skills and develop alternative modes of self-reliance. The school asks the children to contribute in $ or labor towards the cost of their education: that is the way to make them vested in their own education. The resources I will take with me next week will help set up the workshop, it will be a start and…..who knows?  I’ll keep you updated!

Other project in the wings: a pilot agriculture project to support the work of the Sisters of Christ the King (goat and chicken micro-farm) and of course the Catholic Business University in Jérémie… that story will be for another day. This blog is long enough as it is!