Laura and I flew into Cap-Haitian late Tuesday afternoon on a full seventeen-seat propeller plane. On the way over, one of the other four blanc passengers had said to me, "I read your T-shirts; I think we're on the same team."Laura McIntosh travelled from London, Ontario with Alex to visit Starthrower. Laura writes:
He wasn't quite right however. Like many aid workers who come to Haiti from the Western world, he was with a group of other travellers who were part of a religious team coming to save Haitian souls. I was not.
From my perspective, Haitians don't need charity or saving. They need, and deserve, justice. The poverty and inequity experienced by all majority world countries is a form of modern colonialism perpetuated by the Western minority.
Ever since Sharon came to speak to my Social Justice and Peace Studies class at King's University College, I have realized that the Starthrower Foundation is an organization that understands the current world order more than most, and I that could learn a lot from them.
At the Airport in Cap-Haitien
Our senses were immediately assaulted as we stepped off the plane. The smell of pollution, garbage and human feces permeates throughout. The airport was a small two-room building with a bare light bulb and fan, neither of which were operational since there is rarely any electricity.
The immigration officer dutifully stamped our passports without making any record of our visit or asking any questions. The customs officer rummaged through the bags of donations that we brought and claimed a back-pack as duty.
Sharon met us at the airport with Jackson, Starthrower's trusted and reliable taxi driver. Our drive back to the compound was an obstacle course around holes in the road and piles of garbage.
All along the way, raw sewage either ran down the road or in small canals beside it. It was immediately evident that this is a country that has had its wealth sucked out of it.
At Lakay Fondasyon
Sharon told us that the staff was really happy that we were here to visit and to learn from them. When we arrived at the compound, it was evening so the staff had already gone home, but we were greeted with welcome signs Auguste had made, and Carmen [cook] had left a hot meal for us.
After our first glimpse at the poverty and conditions in which people live, we started to get an understanding of Haitian life. Despite these conditions, it was amazing to see the staff start work the next morning.
The first thing they did was go straight for the water cooler. Safe drinking water is a rare treat in Haiti, and cold safe drinking water is an even rarer treat.
You could immediately tell that these young adults were happy to be here and to have a job that pays well by Haitian standards. The first couple days that we were here, we were fully staffed and worked on reconditioning books for the coming school year. Now we plan to accompany Sharon on home visits. I will tell you about that in my next post.
This trip to Haiti is my first time placing myself in another country that's not as privileged as my own, and with a different language and different customs. How we ended up in Haiti of all places is quite easy to tell.Update from Alex:
When Alex first heard Sharon talk about Starthrower's work in Haiti, he was quite intrigued by her passion and her ideals. At the same time, I was researching Haiti for a case study I was working on for school.
The idea of visiting and experiencing this wonderful country with its rich and powerful –- as well as disturbing -- history made my heart just jump. Sharon's organization sounded perfect for us; being activists, the chance to meet these people, not to help them but for the opportunity to swap knowledge and to get to know them are humans was really important to us.
Meeting the Staff
The Haitians I have met are some the most welcoming people I could ever meet. On my first morning with them, I was bombarded with names I couldn't pronounce and I found it difficult at first to communicate with them, besides Hello (Bonjou). I was amazed, however, with the speed and teamwork they presented when setting about their tasks.
The majority of them were working on the textbooks for the kids this year: cleaning them up, making sure they had the proper number of pages, and making sure that the books were securely held together (if not they fixed them with white glue), as well as many other things.
No one person was in charge; each one seemed to know which tasks needed to be done. They were efficient, and still managed to gossip and talk about everything, just like your average teenagers.
For the first little while, I worked with them in silence, studying them and learning from them what they were doing. Then body language took over and I would tell them what things meant in English, with them giving the Creole names. They found most of the English words funny to pronounce, and things went on from there.
Another group of students was inside preparing backpacks with pens, pencils, erasers, mathematic sets, paper, etc. Throughout the day, Auguste met with students, counseling them and seeing how they were and if they needed anything.
There was a separate group working on renovations to the house and the yard wall. It's almost a 24 hour job, just maintaining the house. Sharon was inside working on books and paperwork, as well as conversing with the senior staff about what needed to be completed and worked on; making sure she always received their input.
Haitians love to sing, so of course there was music. These students were like those everywhere, but I've never seen such hard workers. They may joke around, and sing and gossip, but they're productive and focused. They seemed always to show respect for each other and take pride in themselves.
For people who barely have a home, and certainly no clean water, they arrive every morning on schedule, washed and wearing clean clothes with smiles on their faces for everyone. It's all just amazing to me how these people do this day in and day out.
Fortunately, Hurricane Gustav missed us, but unfortunately Port-au-Prince was hit again. We had some dark clouds come our way. It has been overcast for the past couple days so we didn't get much power from the solar panels. Also, this is the first time we've had electricity in several days except for a few minutes or an hour or so in the middle of the night.
We leave today (August 27). We had hoped to send another update before we left for home, but it will have to wait. Laura and I have quite a few photos and some video which we hope to incorporate into a future blog post.