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 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 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!