Monday, August 3, 2015

Solidarity in July: almost two years since the children moved to the new location.

Samuel meets new grandma.
What do you do when you are a one-year-old and you want to escape loving teasing from a dozen little hands? You run to the visiting grandma volunteer that will be only too happy to cuddle you and shield you so you can finally get a much needed nap!  Resisting little Samuel’s “Hey?” and pleading eyes is simply impossible. 

After two weeks, leaving the 116 children is tough!  Don’t get me wrong: they can be very annoying. When forty little bodies fight and tug at your arms because they all want a page to color or thread to make a beaded necklace and then pout because it isn’t the right color, while I am profusely sweating in the scorching summer heat of Haiti, I want to pull my hair out. But when evening comes and it is a little cooler and two or three little ones settle on my lap, their calm and loving touch melts my heart.

The children at the Foyer NDL are regular children: they run, tease each other mercilessly, cry, laugh, watch too much TV, and the teenagers only seem to care about their phones and whatever mysterious attractions they possess. They are basically OK.
Yet, I have several great concerns: the food given by Food for the Poor and Hunger Relief International is not quite sufficient and whoever in those administrations decided that confetti frosting was a good spread for the tasteless white bread that is breakfast is a criminal. How can one encourage sugar consumption in a place where the water has no fluoride and there are no dentists around? And how can one possibly qualify this as healthy food?

 Donors like to contribute to “sexy” projects such as providing clean water, education, and electricity, but no one is interested in funding salaries for staff. Aside from the director at the foyer NDL, only one full-time and six part-time staff members take care of 116 children under the age of 23. Of these children, 45 are under the age of 7!  Supervision and individual attention is simply impossible yet so very necessary for their wellbeing.

Napping 8 ft above ground

For Maud Laurent, the Director of the Foyer NDL, developing revenue-generating activities takes time and energy outside of her regular job as one of the Directors of C.O.H.A.N., a Dutch development agency. Hosting the volunteers with all their needs, keeping up with the reports demanded by organizations that try to help, and putting together requests for food and more food are daunting tasks that occupy Maud from 5:30 a.m. to well after 11 p.m. As of now she has no operating budget and has been relying on donations. Feeding three meals a day to roughly 124 people not counting visitors, is a great accomplishment. Funds are also needed to enable the children to go to school, and get vocational training.

Maud with latest child: Samuel, 12 months
So, how can the Foyer NDL develop the resources to be sustainable? Friends are thinking of two solutions: 
1) Finding 100 sponsors who will pay US $40 per month.  The $4,000 revenue these sponsorships would generate would cover a lot of the costs of salaries, supplies, medicines, tuitions and repairs. It would enable the infrastructure to be more solid and without the constant need to look for funds, Maud Laurent, could spend adequate time to promote a new venture: 2) Developing a take-out counter, small restaurant and convenience store as a way not only of instilling life skills and providing jobs for the teenagers, but also to generate revenue by selling the products from the Foyer (cooked chicken meals, peanut butter, and now homemade vinegar). RVH is funding this startup takeout counter/restaurant and retail convenience store and looking for additional funds to get it off to a good start.  We are just in the first phase of this pilot project (cleaning the building) and will begin setting up soon. We’ll see how it goes and will reevaluate, adjust, and adapt in a few months.
Space for takeout /store.

On the whole, the kids are doing well and in fact benefit from a lot of attention: FENDLI and Kid4kid are some of recent and regular visitors. The Foyer has attracted over thirty volunteers since the opening of the guest rooms. A group of 12 Quebecois are running a music, arts and crafts and sports camp this July. Most volunteers understand that even if Maud and her staff are happy to host them and feed them three delicious meals each day, it takes away from funds that would be used for the children’s needs so the contribution between US $ 20 and $ 35 a day according to the length of stay and the capacity to pay is gladly given.

My biggest concern is to have a beautiful structure fall in disrepair as wear and tear of so many energetic youngsters takes its toll on the plumbing, furniture and appliances. There isn’t enough supervision and no salary for additional staff. No one stops the six year old who hits the piano in passing with a large carving knife or tells another that pornographic chalk drawings are not appropriate. The Foyer doesn’t need to expand; it needs to do what it does better. 

We can help by sponsoring a child, volunteering to teach what we know for instance, English (a tool for the children to eventually find jobs) and paying for our stay or writing a tax-deductible check that will be used directly to cover costs of tuition, car repair, propane for the stove, plumbing repairs and staff salary.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring break solidarity in action

Super popular English class
Thanks to Association Terre des Montagnes, 12 volunteers enjoyed new, airy, comfortable rooms and a bathroom reserved for their use. Five of the older boys at the Foyer climbed up the roof, scaffolding and barrels in order to paint the exterior walls; they even gave a fresh coat to the main building. The last touches, interior paint and electricity will be installed in the next few weeks.

The four volunteers -- Dr. Heidi Brown, Dr. Melanie Giraud, Dr. John Hebb and myself -- from Rendez-vous: Haiti (RVH) brought in crucial funding. They also taught English and computer literacy classes, organized bracelet-making sessions, and organized competitions in French essay-writing, coloring, drawing, painting and kite-making. They rewarded top students in each grade, as well as those who exhibited the most responsible behaviors when caring for smaller children, the water, garden, goats, and chickens. In addition, they rewarded those who most helped Tatie Jo, the ever-loving and vigilant caregiver to all.
Dr Melanie Giraud teaching computer literacy
Dr Heidi Brown and
constant companion Wawa
Unmistakable Dr John Hebb enjoying the water,
even more than the kids
Douby' s kite entry in
the competition

Thanks to the efforts of Mike and Danny, Class of 2015 at Loyola University Maryland, RVH purchased a “mamba” making machine and the Foyer produced its first peanut butter under the intrigued eyes of many curious children. This will allow peanut butter to be part of the regular diet and eventually will create a small revenue. 
Emma and little friends
enjoying cookies at the beach
12 year old, Marassa's Field work

Samuel's Day at the beach
Michelene gets peanuts ready

Here is some others photos:

New mamba machine
First jar of  delicious " mamba" 
 Talented Douby's entry
 in the competition
6 year old, Kervens Mesidor proudly displays his math

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Come meet our children". Volunteers are like loving relatives that come for the holidays.

“What can I do?” That’s how Tracy would start her days during her volunteer week in Haiti. At 6: 30 am, it was play soccer with the boys before the sun got too hot, a little later it was help the younger ones get dressed after their morning showers…. the day went on with that question:"what can I do?"and Tracy did whatever she could without speaking a word of creole or French but simply by being willing to watch for opportunities to get involved.
Overthe course of the past three and a half years of my volunteer involvement in Haiti, I can attest that we, volunteers of all nations, do a lot and that it has made the lives of at least ninety six children much more comfortable and stimulating.

The Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes, has seen at least 21 volunteers in 2014 from Canada, France and the US for stays lasting 3 days to 3 months:

  •   They fund raise to enable construction and capacity building, 
  •   They bring clothes, sports equipment, medicine, toys, school supplies, craft-making items and construction tools or technology.
  •   They build, repair, teach, support learning, stimulate original creations, start a vegetable garden, make soccer goals, read and play with the children.
  •   They participate in the life of the Foyer and care for the children.

When they leave, they have contributed as loving relatives do to the growth and development of the child they have touched.

Effective on going activities are possible because the Director of the Foyer, Maud Laurent communicates what the needs are and the continued dialogue with her partners overseas brings a new level of care for her children. Come meet them!