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?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

From a distance… one baby step at a time.

Over the past three years I have questioned what I could effectively do for my friends in Haiti when I am not with them. Yes, I could fund raise but was that enough? The question has been haunting me, and would keep me awake at night. My level of frustration at feeling that what I do from a distance is meaningless, has been somewhat alleviated by an article from Fr David Hollenbach, S.J. in the Conversations magazine issue of fall 2013. 

The article is about what the Jesuit Refugee Services do, about “Accompaniment, Service and Advocacy” and it struck me…. I can do that from a distance …and I have been doing it, not quite the same way but nevertheless. He writes: “accompaniment means being with the refugees and the poor on the ground, listening to their stories, showing them in action that they are not forgotten. Many refugees say this is the most important help they receive from JRS. It also has a deep impact on those who are listening, stimulating commitment to take action. The analogy in the university is volunteer programs that enable participants to accompany those in need. Such accompaniment leads to service……Such service, in turn, leads to seeing the need for advocacy to change.”
But I am not on the ground all the time...  I come and go to Haiti maybe four or five times a year……so how can I “accompany”? From the US, it is easier to reach out to potential donors and supporters that have funded construction and helped build a structure for the future.  But also, somehow, my talks, my blogs and posting on Facebook have enabled me to bring volunteers down with me and they too participate in the lives of the Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes; they talk to the children, laugh with them, soothe their cries and play with them, watch them sing, draw, write, paint, create bracelets and they hold them when they seek to be held. So I might just be the link between our two worlds, and is that "accompanying"?

In his book, “To repair the world”, Paul Farmer also writes about “accompaniment as an elastic term. It has a basic, everyday meaning. To accompany someone is to go somewhere with him or her, to break bread together, to be present on a journey with a beginning and an end…There is an element of mystery, of openness, of trust in accompaniment. The companion, the accompagnateur, says “I’ll go with you and support you on your journey wherever it leads. I’ll share your fate for a while” and by a while, I don’t mean a little while. Accompaniment is about sticking with a task until it’s deemed completed – not by the accompagnateur, but by the person being accompanied. Accompaniment is different from aid. “Aid” connotes a short term, one way encounter: one person helps and another is helped. Accompaniment seeks to abandon the temporal and directional nature of aid; it implies an open ended commitment to another, a partnership in the deepest sense of the word. Not easy….. This dogged commitment to doing whatever it takes to give the poor a fair shake is the essence of accompaniment.”
Over the past three years as I write, call, and endlessly tell the stories of the people in Haiti that have caught my heart, I have sought to be an “ accompagnateur”.  ([Interesting that it is a French word that is used to define what I strive to do)
Thanks to technology, gmail and skype,  I can  listen to Maud, her stories of struggle, her remedies to new crisis whether it is a sick child or the electrical failure yet again and her quest for more solutions to the lack of resources in  her attempt to care for the 96 now 97 children and I encourage, suggest and brainstorm about solutions or the next step.
When I go, I follow up with long talks on bumpy roads and evenings when all finally quiets down or early morning “ mise au point”. Some of the older children now also are starting to share their concerns and cares with me because they see me come back again and again and I can see whether the little ones are indeed growing healthily at a glimpse, from one visit to another, changes occur.

Thankfully I have been getting help; from my own personal “accompagnateurs”, my three daughters and my husband John who lovingly and tirelessly listen to me and support my efforts in ways too numerous to list, subtly or boldly but always always steadfast.
Every new group of volunteers that comes with me, is “treated” to what I have discovered, what I have learned and how we might in fact accompany our friends. From the campus of Loyola University Maryland, some administrators, faculty and students are listening and joining the “accompaniment”. Campus Ministry, the Office of Mission Integration but also Technology services that are unwavering in providing material that “accompany” on the journey to knowledge. In the French department, the students have a letter writing exchange with the older children at the Foyer in Haiti sharing of themselves, increasing awareness of another reality that might lead to advocacy. Fund raiser events organized by the students have successfully provided tangible goods, such as funds for the chicken coop and mattresses as well as craft supplies that stimulate creativity in an educational system based on rote memorization.
And so I hope… I hope that my “accompaniment” is meaningful and that as Paul Farmer writes: “Each of us can strive in some way, however small, to be an accompagnateur to those who have not been blessed by good health or good fortune. And in so doing, we are, one baby step at a time, helping to repair the world.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rendez-vous in Haiti in August

“Boy-what can I say?  What an incredible week that was.  It may sound odd, but I am back in NY feeling like something is missing.  I can't get the kids out of my head.  I am already setting up a Kayak (airfare website) alert praying that there is cheap airfare in the coming months, so that I can return..."  Cecilia Dowd, LUM class of 2003

Cecilia and Keith Orpheus from News 12 Long Island spent a week filming and interviewing the children and Maud at the Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes. I can’t wait to see the documentary they are putting together. Having professional tell this story is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness and support.

Thank you both.

In addition to helping with significant financial contributions the three volunteers present during that same week, continued projects of craft development to stimulate creativity, taught English to a select group, played football, and painted murals designed by LUM students from Janet Maher's class. They also gave unconditional love to all that sought it.:)
Meg Young & Marie-Andree putting final touch
Tracy Sanna admires work by Samuel while holding Wawa
Meg & Tracy teaching English

Thomas Robinson teaches Morvens
Angelo & Samuel's paintings were displayed
during inauguration party

Adeline enjoys
making bracelets

Thomas helping little ones with

LUM student design is now
on the wall of new classroom

Latest painting by Samuel

25 beds still need mattresses

Responsible Rosena is in charge of printer

All set for power point

Thanks to generous donations by many friends fifteen mattresses were purchased ( 25 mattresses are still needed so that each child can have his own bed), Technical Services at LUM donated projector, DVD, and instant printer which not only give a lot of pleasure to kids seeing their picture in print but will be a source of revenue as neighborhood children register to come to school at the new Foyer site. 
The soccer balls donated by LUM Recreation department were a big hit.  More Zanmi bracelets were produced and it was fun to see the red hens happy in their coop.
During a grand celebration, Bishop Delmas came to say Mass and inaugurate the dorms.
Boys making Zanmi bracelets
Mattresses, pillows, sheets...wow!

Little ones napping
Bishop Delmas inaugurates
the dorms

Red hens happy on their perch
Sorting through donations that can be a problem.
Not all are useful and there is no storage space
New soccer balls are a big hit.
Getting ready for movie night
Popular plastic gimp bracelets are traded
by the older children
Meg's initiative: a world map.

Alice, Clara & Meg got lots of help to
finish this project before departure

Watch the little gentleman in action!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What a laptop can do

When Jean-Willy invited me to visit and see his new baby and their new home, I wasn’t sure what I would find, how long I would be gone or when I would return. He came at the given time in a borrowed car; driving ever cautiously as it was obviously a rare opportunity. After being served a coconut and admiring their beautiful seven month old, I was prompted to check what he had accomplished with the laptop he had gotten from me over a year and a half ago. The laptop he brought out didn’t have a speck of dust or finger print on it. It had obviously been revered. He has taught himself computer literacy and created a website for a steel frame construction company. Just recently he was able to get a job because of this website and also recently with a few friends, he has created a non-profit organization to find sponsors for children in need.

The document they created to form the non-profit explains how providing an education to the young will curb violence, child prostitution and delinquency.  It is then that it hit me: the laptop has been a tool for empowerment, it has helped him discover new options and he is using it to do good. He explained that RT1 had been a key influence, that Ray had “made a man out of him”, and that the laptop helped him realize his goals.  I left our meeting thinking, this is what this is all about and how I like to empower those in need in Haiti. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A short service immersion trip is a step forward.

When volunteers come to stay and contribute to the life of the Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes, their accomplishments are usually visible: a shelf is built, a storage room tidied, a craft produced, cake decorating learned, a computer lab set up. Less tangible but more important benefits happen within each person involved.

Volunteers many times discover a harsh reality – the challenging daily lives and limited futures of children in Haiti – but their hearts melt at the spontaneous curiosity, outreach, and affection the children are so quick to shower upon them. Volunteers often leave full of emotion, feeling they have contributed little but lived intensely with all their senses during those few days.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day”; we have to keep this in mind when planning a short service immersion trip. Goals have to be realistic, expectations of project progress defined within the context of local reality, and gains measured within the scope of long term involvement, which is a defining goal of Rendez-vous Haiti.

 More importantly, for the children on site, their encounter with a total stranger brings another dimension of care, a few more skills acquired, a door opened to a brighter future as the children discover yet another ability they have within which might lead to a new prospect, a brighter tomorrow. Drawing, painting, computer savvy, cooking, baking, handiwork – these are steps in their development, growth (and isn’t that what youth is about?). One step at a time.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

PAP and then Rio

$67 + frequent flyer miles and I get to see my oldest daughter again!  How magic is that?  A year after their wedding and with one more year of research to go, both she and her husband are quite settled in a "favella" ( slum)  in Rio de Janeiro; both are fluent in Portuguese, both have made lots of friends while advancing in their individual research for their PhDs.
As we visit Rio, I am struck with not so much the differences but the similarities between Brasil and Haiti. Yes, of course Brasil is a much much larger country, has a booming economy and Rio is blessed with the most amazing setting and gorgeous beaches.  So what is it that is similar? Is it the tropical vegetation, fruits or food (rice and beans are a main staple in both countries). May be....  but last night I witnessed a woman hoisting her baby in what can only be called a box fitted to the vending stand where she and her husband sell coconut juices and cheap beer off the famous beach of Copacabana across from the great buildings and fancy hotels. Poverty is very present and that is where the similarities strike. Brasil is a BRIC country and Haiti is among the poorest, yet poverty looks the same. Houses in Haiti are shabbily constructed of cement blocks and here it is 2x6 red bricks that are stacked one on top of the other to make the wall of a house in the same precarious way. In the favella where Stephanie and Peter live, there is open sewer, trash, children running barefeet but here in broad daylight,  a drug dealer with a pistol in his right hand is swaying with the loud rap music while waiting for customers. Poverty has no color, no latitude and the constrasts are shocking.
What is edifying and heart warming is that in both countries I have the incredible priviledge of benefitting from the kindness, generosity, delicate attention and warmth of the "poor"!

Friday, May 17, 2013

RVH May trip

Plan “C “is in place, the water filtration system will be installed after we leave but Maud is anxious to create a space for volunteers to be housed; a constant stream seems to have come all through this year and their help can be invaluable.  For instance, Bérengère, a French communication specialist is at the Foyer for three weeks and we have been revising documents to facilitate the effectiveness and happy adjustment of future volunteers who so far have come from France, Canada and the US.  This trip Jason from the US built new partitions and roosts in the coop along with Nathalie, who also ran group therapy sessions with some of the teenage girls.
Rendez-vous: Haiti is collaborating financially and in planning with Maud to build three volunteer rooms at the new location.  Construction has started.

We are also focusing on making a more efficient chicken coop since the meat chickens and laying hens need to be separated and cardboard boxes have been used to roost.  Yesterday the last of the meat chickens were sold.   A nice accomplishment!  Those are the original chicks that have grown to full potential and needed to go to market if we want to generate revenue. The start is promising but profit on 50 birds was only $ 83.
As for the egg business?  We have found that feed is expensive: it will take 43 hens to lay 300 eggs a week to simply pay for their feed. To make a long story short, it means that profit will only be generated if we expand the production.  The incubator we just contributed will serve that purpose and with good planning and a little help from above, every 3 weeks or so it can produce 48 chicks. Now, we are looking for a strong healthy rooster of the same breed!!

Maud and Edouardson’s challenges will also be to develop a steady market. Currently friends and workers are purchasing the eggs and the chickens for meat.  Did you know that white chickens just eat, get fat and sit there all day whereas the brown laying hens are curious, constantly on the move and investigate any pair of legs that walk into their coop?

Jude, Mano, Pouchon , Wondlet and Jonkher produced more Zanmi bands and we have an order for fifteen from a Loyola alumn in Long Island who will sell them to her friends. Thanks Cecilia  :)
Another nice happening: Samuel is discovering aquarelle painting and made a lovely scene of women seeking water from the river. ( see picture below)

Samuel, 14 , first attempt at aquarelle painting!

Maud & Catherine in front of new boys 'dorms.
 Funded  by Food for the Poor and  friends of  FNDL
Curious red hens investigating  intruder !
Finding eggs is such fun!

Nathalie & Jason building roost

Meat hens just sit there!  Do they know ?
Nathalie & Kiraya
Jude & Angelo making more Zanmi bands.  
First batch sold out!

New volunteer rooms will be on top of " the fortress"
named so because of its solid construction.
Berengere came on her own from France
& gives  great academic support to the adolescents