Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thriving after all!

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

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

And then there is the Foyer.  Nine year old new comer Abelardo’ s twisted skinny legs and deformed little face seem to me to be the symbol of the Foyer. To the outsider looking in, the Foyer has a lot of malfunctioning body parts: the water pump is broken, the electricity only supports  one light bulb in each of the occupied rooms, chairs,  toys, tools, covered by the abundant dust brought in by the near constant wind,   all seem to need fixing. Yet, Abelardo very much like the Foyer is full of life. Hearing his throaty laughter for the first time yesterday brought me incomparable joy and still brings tears to my eyes as I write.  His cleft palate leaves his face expressionless but he is fully engaged in the life of his 95 siblings, plays, teases others and stands for himself demanding the attention he needs. 
Abelardo wanted his picture taken too.
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The Foyer too in all its complexities demands attention. Without the love and care given by Maud, Jo and friends, the Foyer like Abelardo would struggle to survive.  In March 2014 shortly after his arrival he couldn't stand by himself and grunted while raising his arms to be picked up. He needed to be washed and dressed and fed. Now in August he is thriving, dresses himself, eats on his own, and runs on this deformed legs to play with others; in the evening when the chairs have to be placed on the long dining tables so the floor can be swept, he is one of the children who volunteers to stack them up. 
The Foyer too is thriving. Even though the garden is not successful yet, seedlings are growing in pots and a fence has been erected to protect it; given time and the attention it needs, the garden too will thrive. The poultry business is launched but needs to grow in order to provide much needed income.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Foyer" means "home"

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

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

What two people can do in a week!

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


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

Soccer field 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spring break 2014 at the Foyer NDL

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

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

Rony gives Angelo a hair cut

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

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

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

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

Alenzi loves to share a moment
with Mamie Maud

Later  in the morning
7 am school starts at the Foyer

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Is sustainability in the future?

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

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

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

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

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

Hand washing laundry for.....96 children