Friday, December 17, 2010

Cholera, School Exams and Rain

Voodoo (vodou) drums (boula, asoto, kata) were back last night, creating a lullaby in tandem with the rain, which has been falling for more than a week.  The drums, part of a wake ceremony for the dead, have been curiously absent for almost 2 weeks.  When I asked  if it was the rain hampering the ceremonies, staff  replied no, too many dead.

Rain means cooler temperatures (19 celcius today).  When you're used to 30 plus - that's a shock.  No one has proper clothing for a seasonal change.  It also means we can't do laundry as nothing dries, mold and mildew are taking over.
Jocelyn bundled up against the cold
Garbage continues to pile up as well. The newly distributed garbage dumpsters (poubel-yo) are never emptied so they become sites for burning. Toxic smoke fills the air on a recurring basis.

Poubel on Rue L.
Not surprisingly, chest infections abound. We have 6 students with pneumonia, Marie-Modeline being the most serious. As Carmene and Jack were off work, Auguste and I made the journey to her place in Madeline to deliver the last sleeping sponge and some bedding.  Most of our young people are sleeping on either cement or dirt floors with no covers, no mosquito nets. A full-scale 'bedding program' is currently out of  economic reach. Sleeping bags don't work here as they quickly become sources of damp and mildew.The sleeping sponges come in from the neighboring Dominican Republic but that supply route has become a mere trickle in the face of  'kolera' fears.
Auguste carrying sleeping sponge.
On the way home we stopped at one of the "Medecins Sans Frontieres"  (Doctors without Borders)cholera clinics to see if we could talk to someone about Sen Rafayel but there was no one with authority (pouvwa)  present.

 "Doctors without Boarders" cholera clinic in Cap-Haitien.
Carmene returned to work Thursday.  She had phoned early Monday to tell me her mother was ill in Sen Rafayel.  Family comes first at Starthrower - I just ask that they keep me informed somehow.  Her mother had Cholera and was forced to use the hospital which was charging our young people such outrageous amounts.  Carmene paid $60.25 USD for treatment (10 bottle of the sewomoral, which is potable water, salt and sugar) and $12.50 USD per night at the hospital to sleep on a rough plank on the floor, no covers, no pillow, no food, no water for visitors to wash their hands.  We had bottled  sewom here so Carmene knew what to do but the sugar and salt needed were not available in the marketplace in Sen Rafayel.  She was also upset by the hospital deaths during the brief time she was there - 4 people - all ages and stages of life died in front of her as she tended to her mother.  Her sister, who has been with Carmene since the quake, travelled up to take over home nursing duties,so Carmene could return to work.

Some good news. After hearing the story of the charges incurred by our young people for Cholera treatment in Sen Rafayel, a friend of mine who works in the medical field here contacted the minister for Sante Publik (Public Health).  He acted quickly, contacting officials at the hospital in Sen Rafayel  and  Medecins Sans Frontieres as well. A medical team arrived in the village late Thursday  and we are told  cholera treatment is now free.  Small victory but a victory!!

Jack also returned to work Thursday for a half day. Monday morning, he had arrived saying he had had a bout of diarrhea during the night but it was not cholera and he was fine.  I observed him throughout the morning.  He spent much of his time in the latrine and his energy level plummeted.  Late in the morning he finally admitted to being ill.   I asked Auguste how he felt about driving Jack home as he probably had 'kolera'.  Auguste was 'dako' (ok) with that.  Thank goodness for the truck.  The speed with which Jack's energy and overall wellness deteriorated was eye-opening.  I sent him home with 8 bottles of 'sewomoral'.  In some ways he is one of the lucky ones.  His neighborhood (katye) DOES have communal latrines.  Unfortunately they are pay for use and you have to find the keeper of the key and pay him when you want to use it.  He appeared for work Thursday looking wan but determined.  He was adamant about staying but quite content to leave at noon when it was suggested.

Auguste records books taken as Rosema and Esmann browse
Some schools reopened on Monday after an almost month long hiatus due to the elections/protests. Sen Rafayel schools are still closed due to the heavy rains, mudslides and rockfall.  In Cap-Haitien, our young people went from an unwelcome break into exams, which means everyone drops in for food and water as well as pencils and pens for writing.  Auguste and I had taken a day to clean out the office. In the process we decided to offer some of the text books the schools had not used for the past couple of years to anyone wanting supplementary study materials.  There is no reading for pleasure here - just study so the books were a big hit.  In the process of looking through the books, Rosema discovered that the handwritten photocopies his teacher had been distributing at a cost of just under $2 USD were taken verbatim from an older text book no longer on the purchase list.  Apparently those funds go directly into the teacher's pocket. The book has 78 pages - in groups of 3 or 4 pages to-gether so at least 20 required purchases by students. One way to supplement income - there is no copyright legislation in place here - anything can be copied. 

Daylight has broken - rain clouds linger but so does the elecricity. In closing my thoughts return to Carmene describing the hospital conditions in Sen Rafayel.  She is one of the very few people I know here who has a mother living.  She said that it seemed that those who did not have family to care for them were the ones who were dying.  Mothers and daughters - perhaps because I have just finished reading 'The Red Tent' by Anita Diamant  family relationships speak to me.  I wonder about our young people - 90% of them raising themselves and sometimes siblings with no role models, no support, no words of praise or encouragement.  Only time will tell what bearing this will have on the people they become.



PS We learned late Friday that there will be an official announcement on Monday  regarding the results of the Nov. 28th elections.  As schools have been disrupted since that date, most of our young people are writing exams Saturday and Sunday. This is an unprecedented action, but understandable given  the potential for renewed violence if results are unacceptable by the populace (pep-la).  Should Cap-Haitien be 'cho' (hot) again on Monday, schools will close early for the Christmas break and remaining exams will take place the first week of January. I'll let you know.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reflections from Cap

3 a.m. and finally there is some calm.  Gunfire has ceased - outside my window the occasional mango drops, somewhere a dog barks, roosters crow, a child cries.

When I left Canada Nov. 15th I fully expected to be home in Cap-Haitien the next day.  When manifestasyon yo (protests) closed the airport for 5 days, precipitating a minor personal financial crisis in Provo, the universe put Lesline of Air Turks and Caicos and Cathy and Ian, Inglewood, On. in my life. Thank you - your compassion, humour, generosity and friendship are treasures I will store.

Once here the reality of life - a Monday trip to the bank meant a wait of 2 1/2 hours in line.  At one point I counted 184 people in front of me, just to pass the time. I forgot to bring my book.  Money transfer sent to Léogâne, currency exchanged, on to try to find supplies for the centre here and for the office in Sen Rafayel.  Everything from note books to propane is scarce.  Prices reflect the limited supply.

Our refrigerator died , twice, was revived by 2 different technicians.  The water chateau on the roof started to leak - a 500 gallon leak. The brakes went on the truck and it took us 2 days to find new parts. Our propane tank (cooking) came up empty.  The inverter proved to be a hungry beast.  Initially operating on 4 batteries (albeit ineffectively) we purchased 6 only to be told by Danius that we needed 8 to operate the house.  Our precious bank acct. dropped perilously low but the house can function now without EDH (Haiti's hydro company).  The handle on the faucet outside broke off, no replacement to be found.

Meantime Auguste and I were busy looking after students who continue to need medical attention, school supplies and dental work.  Carmene and Joceline (below) sterilized bottles and filled them with dry ingredients for 'sewomoral' (sugar and salt to be added with water when needed) to treat 'kolera' (cholera).  Jack's wife Angeline was the first to use our homemade product to fight cholera. She is much improved this week although still weak.  We spoke briefly by phone yesterday.

Wednesday, Dec. 1st, we travelled to Sen Rafayel to deliver potable water, the dry serum ingredients to fight cholera, staff pay envelopes, Kesner's sewing machine (picture below) and to make home visits long overdue. 

We witnessed 7 funerals in the 4 hour visit.  The boss who made the coffin for Consienne's father in September has died of Cholera, so his apprentices are now in business for themselves.  Our landlord's wife and children have died.  A dozen students have left bills for medical services rendered, each one exorbitant. The Red Cross (Kwa Wouj) is sending text messages to all phone holders, directing those with cholera symptoms to go to the nearest treatment centre.  For those in Sen Rafayel the nearest centre is 3 hours down the mountain over what passes for a road but is really a mountain track too narrow in places for vehicles.  What should be a compassionate, humanitarian response has become big business in our little village.

More unpleasant surprises - College Vincent Oge (one of the village's oldest schools) and College Roi Henri Christophe (one of the newest) have closed.  Declining enrollment (declining numbers of those able to pay) means teachers do not get paid.  The directors of the schools used our first trimester payments for teacher's salaries so there is no remittance coming.  We now have to find schools willing and able to take on Fabiola, Mary-Rose, Severe, Thony, Illiomene, Benouse, Evaldine and Mika.  I say 'able' as 5 are in the pilot program 'nouvo secondaire' the government started and very few schools were selected to participate.  This also means we pay again for the first trimester in order for our students to have the opportunity to write Christmas exams.

And the hours fly by - a meeting with Consienne to pass on her sponsor's stipend and Christmas gift, pay staff, distribute hand soap, phone cards, explain how to use  the natural supplement Allimax,  and finally lunch to-gether.

As we prepare to head out for home visits a convoy of marked UN vehicles heads past on the way out of town.  We had played tag with them coming up the mountain.  As they whiz past, I begin to take pictures and call to Auguste to bring the video recorder.  Djohn begins to count the vehicles (kontwole).  He starts in mid-parade and gets to 37.  We are told by those in the know that the visit had been to verify that the polling station and ballots cast had been destroyed by fire.  Two questions came to mind - how much precious fuel did those vehicles use getting up and down the mountain and why did the powers that be not send life-saving 'sewomoral' (to fight cholera) in each vehicle?

We deliver Kesner's sewing machine (thank you David in New Brunswick) then on to visits.  First Elines.  Mother has been dead for 10 years, father is partially paralyzed from an accident and stroke.  The house is full of huge holes and provides no shelter.  It was also damaged in the earthquake. (pictures below).  They have a piece of land but no funds to build on it.  Not one of the students we visit has access to a latrine or running water.

Elines is in his 5th year of high school and wants to study medicine and become a doctor.

(Daniel  here - Elines is one of our students in the "Starthrowers in Action" group sponsorship program and he only needs another $25 a month to be fully sponsored.

Any Starthrowers out there willing to help him? )

To another house where sisters Fabiola, Adminada and Rose-Evenia live with their mother and dying grandmother (98 years old).  We support these 3.  Mother has some motor impairment from a stroke.  Other siblings are in Cap-Haitien with an aunt.  Like the ti-kay (small house) of Elines, the walls are cracked and fill of holes, the 'tol' roof (corrugated metal) leaks like a sieve.  They also have a piece of land but no 'moyen ekonomik' (financial means) to build on it.
Fabiola in front of their house

Main room. Bed for her mother. Fabiola and her sisters sleep on the floor.

Our final visit to Illiomene (student staff).  She is alone in the world - parents deceased, no siblings.  The family with whom she has been staying has asked her to leave, as the owners have died of cholera and their children are being cared for by an aunt who has her hands full and needs the floor space Illiomene takes up when she sleeps.  Illiomene is of most concern.

Sleep is elusive in Haiti - so many ups and downs in a day.  The violence of Wednesday (Dec. 8th) underscores the need to stay the course - access to education is vital.  Some good news - Althega was successful getting into the medical technology program at Ecole Polytechnique du Cap-Haitien.  He began classes Monday. Post-secondary institutions are operating through the chaos.   Like Micheline, he needs a French Medical Dictionary and a complete Glucometer Kit.  Anyone who can help with these please contact me for shipping details.

There are many to thank as usual.  I'm always concerned about leaving someone out - if I do, please don't be offended. The universe knows .

Thank you Jackie, Benjamin and Diane, Cindy W., Cindy S., Betty Lou and each of the amazing sponsors who have come forward to support these courageous young people.  Until the next...


Kembe pa lage


Update 1- As of Friday, Dec 10th, 2pm.  Street manifestations have started again (in the rain).  Burning tires and gunshots.  Staff won't be able to go home if it continues.
Update 2- Fabiola and Illiomene are in the hospital in SenRafayel, both being treated for Cholera.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cap-Haitien Unrest

Hello everyone - Daniel here - due to little electricity, Sharon was only able to send these two quick updates this morning.  I know she is working on a long blog that I hope to receive this week.

Electricity just back - internet arrived last night after a week of frustration and long distance phone calls to re-activate our account.  But it's here - just need electricity for awhile.

Jack, Auguste and Carmene have all checked in by telephone this morning. Jack's call took about 8 minutes to go through. There are no public vehicles working and the streets (from staff reports) have erupted in protest to the naming of Jud Celestin as 2nd place contender for the presidency in front of favorite Martelly.

Barricades of tires are burning, there is gunfire, rocks and bottles indiscriminately flying about. The surprise is the geographical reach - Auguste lives out of town in Haut-de-Cap and he can't get out of his katye (neighborhood). Jack is in Laboul, downtown behind the Hotel Roi Christophe and Carmene is near Madeline on the way out of town to Milot, Sen Rafayel etc...

Radio reports of election results placed Celestin (Preval's hand picked successor) third which calmed the anger until this morning when the order was rearranged and Martelly dropped to third.

At some point in time those in power will learn that democrary is going to win out here - maybe not in my life time but the poor will have their day. They know and have always known what this country needs and it is not politics as usual.

Hydro back - in 12 years I have never heard such a clamor - it sounds as though every person able is participating in this manifestasyon-an (protest) although I know that is not the case. Our staff value their lives and families as do many.

These are not rain clouds over the house, but smoke from burning tires

The dogs are standing watch at the gate - all dogs are barking except ours. They just watch. Joceline arrived as she just lives above us in St. Philomene and does not need to go down to the street. Her children turned back except the oldest. He said he has to write his exam today.

The cacaphony is truly unnerving.

Be safe - more later


Update from Sharon: Smoke dissapating - gun fire increasing and closer . Student (Alex) just arrived as closer here than to go home. He had been at a course which required him to leave home at 5 am - before the protest started. Now we are 3 at the house.

Jack just phoned to say they are safe -so glad he made it back home.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Haiti in the time of Cholera

Tomorrow we head up Sen Rafayel.  We have 2 active cases of cholera that we know of - Illiomene (student staff) and Suzanne.

Vaudre has recovered and we are going to pay his hospital bill to get him released. Thank you to everyone who donated money to help us fight the Cholera crisis and also to get Vaudre out of the hospital.

Alex was in today - his aunt died this morning in Sen Rafayel and he needs travel money.  We just can't do it with so many dying of Cholera.

Paudeline (mother predeceased) lost her grandmother and father to Cholera on the weekend.  Last week Talien's grandmother and brother died (parents already deceased).

And Carline has Typhoid, Rosema Malaria, Edwina undiagnosed.

Our university students in Santiago, Dominican Republic (Jhennie - Business Administration, Elorge and Marlene - Pre Med ) have already been apprised of the reality of border crossing.  If they come home for Christmas they will not be allowed back in the Dominican Republic.  We will arrange fund transfers.  This eliminates their ability to work and make much needed money for living expenses as they are not allowed to work in the DR.

Thanks Cindy in Pennsylvania for the 2 boxes which arrived yesterday.  Carmene is baking cookies from the mix you sent as I write.

Intermittent electricity at the house - Boss working there now as our refrigerator has been leaking small rivers.  Danius (2nd year Business Admin) came out Friday and serviced our truck. What talented students we have.

Sunday was a lock down day due to elections - frequent gunfire and very angry crowds outside our portay - bottles and rocks being thrown. The voting location in Sen Rafayel as well as all ballots cast were burned.

We still await official results.  Anger still simmers.

More later,

Daniel here - Sharon has a lot more informations she would like to share but could only send out this little update from a cybercafe in Cap-Haitien.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cholera, Internet, Donations

Hello everyone, this is Daniel, the french Canadian "web guy".  Sharon phoned me this morning from Cap-Haitien and because she has no access to Internet, told me this message over the phone.(Typos and bad sentence structures all mine).

Things are not well over there.  Cholera is spreading fast, all the kids are scared of catching it.  Some carry bleach with them to wash their hands, some have put bleach in their nose to prevent the germs from going in.  Misinformation is everywhere.
Because of the manifestations, schools in Cap-Haitien are still close and Sharon suspects that's going to be the case until after the elections this week.

Starthrower Foundation has no Internet access anymore and Sharon was able to go into town to "Hotel du Roi Chistophe" for their wireless service and other Internet cafe but not anymore.  On this note, if someone would be able to help with the Internet Provider monthly fees to unable Sharon to be back online, that would be greatly appreciated. (Update - found someone, thank you!)

Now to the big problem, cholera.

One of our student in Sen Rafayel, Vaudre, caught it and got treated at the Hospital.  No clinics in Sen Rafayel are accepting people with symptoms of Cholera, the only place they can go if they don't want to die is the hospital, but it cost money.  As I'm writing this, Vaudre is cured but the hospital won't release him until he pays the medical fees, which stands now at $170 US.  And that amount will grow everyday that he stays there.  If he doesn't pay, he will go to jail.  Students are telling Sharon that they would prefer to die from cholera than to go to that jail, which is notorious for human rights abuse...
That is the same hospital that refused to admit Consienne's blind father because he had no money. He died a few days after.

Hospitals in Haiti are not like here.  Vaudre doesn't have a bed.  Vaudre sleeps on the floor.  If he brought a piece or carpet with him, he's using that to sleep on.  Food or water are not provided.  A family member has to bring him food and water.  As far as I can tell, he's being help "hostage" until he pays (that's my angry reaction, not Sharon's).

In the news, wherever you see medical responses to the cholera outbreak, it's provided by NGO's like "Doctors without Borders".  In Cap-Haitien, "Doctors without Borders" have a free clinic in a school's gym.

There are no NGO's reaching Sen Rafayel.  We are worried about Vaudre and our students.  More will get sick and could die before this is all over.  Starthrower Foundation is the only NGO in Sen Rafayel and we don't have enough money to deal with this crisis.

Sharon is asking for your help.  She needs new funds right now for treatment of cholera for our students and their families.  We are asking all Starthrowers out there to donate what you can. 

The panic is very real.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

BBC update on haiti

Daniel here - Sharon has asked me to post this news article from the BBC.

16 November 2010

UN agencies expected a significant increase in the number of cholera cases after a nationwide review.... Cholera is now present in all 10 of Haiti's provinces."


UN peacekeepers kill demonstrator amid cholera protest

At least one man has been shot dead in clashes with UN peacekeepers in Haiti, amid a continuing cholera epidemic that has killed more than 900 people.

UN troops fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators throwing stones and blocking roads in Cap Haitien.

Some Haitians have accused peacekeepers from Nepal of introducing cholera to Haiti for the first time in a century.

The UN says it has found no evidence to justify the accusation, but the cholera strain matches a South Asian one.

A demonstrator was shot and killed by a United Nations peacekeeper during an exchange of gunfire in Quartier Morin, on the outskirts of Haiti's second largest city, Cap Haitien, the UN mission said.

"There was a demonstrator who had a weapon and fired at a soldier, and the soldier returned fire in legitimate self-defence," said Minustah (UN mission in Haiti) spokesman Vicenzo Pugliese.

Hundreds of protesters threw stones at UN peacekeepers, set up burning barricades and torched a police station in Cap Haitien.

Six UN peacekeepers were injured in the clashes, the UN said. At least 10 people were also injured.

As well as calling for UN peacekeepers to leave Haiti, demonstrators accused the government of "leaving the people to die", the AFP news agency reported.

Protesters also clashed with UN troops from Nepal in the central town of Hinche.

'National security'

There have also been protests against the location of cholera treatment centres, which some people fear will bring the disease into their neighbourhoods.

The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Haiti, Nigel Fisher, said the demonstrations showed the cholera outbreak had gone beyond a health crisis to become "an issue of national security".

He added that UN agencies expected a significant increase in the number of cholera cases after a nationwide review.

"It is spreading and we have to try to contain the number of cases and we have to try to contain the number of deaths," Mr Fisher said.

Cholera is now present in all 10 of Haiti's provinces.

Aid agencies are battling to contain the disease in the capital Port-au-Prince, amid fears it will spread through camps housing 1.1 million earthquake survivors.

President Rene Preval addressed the nation on Sunday to implore people to use good hygiene to prevent infection.

But many Haitians lack access to clean water, soap and proper sanitation.

The UN has appealed for $164m (£101m) to tackle the epidemic over the next year.

A woman carries a relative suffering from cholera into a temporary hospital in Port-au-Prince The UN expects the cholera outbreak will get much worse

The worst affected area remains the central province of Artibonite, where at least 595 people have died.

In Port-au-Prince - which was badly damaged by the earthquake in January - 27 deaths have been recorded, most of them in the slum district of Cite Soleil.

Earlier this month, Hurricane Tomas brought heavy rains, which aid agencies say contributed to the spread of the disease, as rivers burst their banks.

Up to 200,000 Haitians could contract cholera, the United Nations says.

Cholera itself causes diarrhoea and vomiting, leading to severe dehydration. It can kill quickly, but is treated easily through rehydration and antibiotics.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place in two weeks, on 28 November.

Civil Unrest - a different day in the life.

Tuesday morning, 10 a.m., Comfort Suites, Providentiales, Turks and Caicos.
The plan was for me to be picked up at the Cap-Haitien airport at 9 a.m.  Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...

Going to Haiti for an extended stay means routines - pay the hydro in advance, put the phone on seasonal service and pay it in advance, prepare and deliver rent cheques for the upcoming year, deliver a cheque to the insurance rep., who will fill it out and notify me of premium.  Prepare and mail all tax receipts for donations received to date.  And of course some things just never go smoothly.  For example the eight automated phone calls I received informing me I had to be at home for a telephone service rep to come out and put the phone on suspension.  After three phone calls to the company, the automated messages continued and I left it in the hands of the universe.

Then the actual trip preparations: purchase supplies needed, pack, weigh suitcases, always mindful that Westjet (until Jan 2011) allows two suitcases, but Air Turks and Caicos only one at 50 pounds.  Any overage is $1USD per pound.  So contents of that second suitcase better be worth the amount charged.  I probably pack and weigh 4 or 5 times before I finally walk out the door at 6 a.m. Monday to meet the taxi I had booked the previous day.  I'm flying into Provo on a Monday as the Saturday flight is mayhem - 4 large carriers arriving within minutes of each other, creating long lines for customs, longer waits for luggage, and being jammed into a taxi van with 9 others, all going to different resorts, each person charged the same amount, $26USD. Monday proved to be not such a great idea, as traffic from Orangeville down to the airport was bumper to bumper, forcing the driver to take the toll road to arrive in decent time.

But I did arrive, printed my own bording pass (soo proud of that accomplishment), stowed luggage and settled in to wait.  As I sat in the lounge a young woman arrived with twins.  Of course I had to see them, had to ask how old (1 month) and complimented mom on her courage flying already.  But she was't going on a holiday - she was Haitian and her and her husband were returning to St. Marc where he is a pastor.  We switched to Kreyol, making me feel at home already.  I didn't see them after boarding but the flight was smooth, as was the customs line.  Same crowded taxi but no hardship.

By 3:45p.m. I was settled in.  As the hotel in Provo has wifi in the rooms, I decided to check emails before heading out to purchase potable water.

One new email, from the airline, time stamped 3:37p.m.  It reads "Good afternoon, please be advised that flight PLS/CAP has been cancelled due to CIVIL UNREST in Cap-Haitien. Please call to rebook".

You must be kidding.  And of course no one was in the office to answer my call, nor did my email receive a reply.  So I kept the taxi reservation for 6:30 this morning and went to the airport.  The airport in Cap is closed, I was told.  Call us.  Yes, and someone will really answer?  No thank you, I asked to speak to someone who could help.  I don't travel with money to burn.  The manager arrived about 8:30 and very gently said that this was an act of God (news to me) so the airline would not provide vouchers or reimburse any expenses incurred.

So I am back in room 103.  Thank goodness it had not been cleaned, it feels a bit like home with my half gallon of potable water waiting.

This is when I realize how necessary the internet and inverter/solar set up are for our home in Cap-Haitien.  I cannot reach the staff.  The phone doesn't ring in.  Auguste would have to go to town to find a functioning cybercafe to find out what is happening. From the sound of it, going into town is not such a good idea right now.  Being self contained once again is the goal.  That has become the priority.

I will make the best of this enforced stay.  I would rather be home in Cap but it will come.  We have endured frequent "Civil Unrest".  Let me know if you have any further information and I will do the same.  As the Haitians say "Demen si dye vle" (to-morrow, God willing).

Will update asap.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hurricane Tomas, Student sponsorships,

My Scottish grandmother always said that no news is good news.  I, on the other hand, would rather have the news, no matter the quality.  Auguste was able to send news via email twice this week.  He is tenacious - no electricity, daily rain, yet he managed to find a cybercafe with a signal.  Good news to me.  Cap-Haitien has had rain every day since Siklon Tomas (Hurricane Tomas) went through last week.  No surprise as the north coast has a rainy season from October to May, followed by hurricane season from May to October.

A week of rain means mold and mildew.  It also means that everyone is cold - Auguste did mention that.

As our centre is made of concrete blocks, it holds the heat in the summer and the dampness in the winter.  Apparently we have also sustained some water damage from the hurricane.  Staff will be back to regular hours and jobs this week, so we'll tackle the problems.  Interior painting was on the agenda anyway.

Good news from Léogâne.  The road to Ti Goave is passable again (which can mean so many different things) and our nursing students are re-scheduled to begin their hospital practicum (staj-la) Monday 15th.  More good news.  One of our nursing students, Gaby, has been sponsored for the remainder of his program.  Daniel and his wife Nadia have started a campaign called "Starthrowers in Action", an invitation and a challenge to make every dollar work. They have gathered a group of friends who have pledged $10 or $20 dollars a month. This group of donors is giving Gaby "possibilité" for a lifetime, and giving Haiti a well trained, dedicated nurse.  Awesome - in the truest sense of the word.


Daniel here - we have since expanded the campaign to everyone interested.  Here's the "pitch":
Many of us would like to help sponsor a Haitian student through Starthrower Foundation but cannot afford to take on the full cost of the sponsorship. I don’t know many people who can afford $220 a month to sponsor a nursing student, or even $55 a month for a high school student. However, many of us can spare $10 or $20 a month, but we often don’t donate thinking our small donation won’t really make a difference. So this is where “Starthrowers in Action” comes in. The concept is simple.  Individually, we feel that we cannot make much of a difference, but TOGETHER, we can make a BIG difference.
Go to our website (which was built under Sharon's supervision) for more information.


Daniel made the trip up to Orangeville this afternoon (Sunday) to bring gifts and cards for staff and his sponsored student.  I leave tomorrow (Monday) morning and will be home in Cap-Haitien early Tuesday.

Repairing storm damage will be first on the list.  As the weather is changing, our "drop in" meal for the kids will change as well.  We'll be back to making large pots of homemade soup with bread, a beverage and piece of fruit.  Carmene's cabbage soup is a work of art.  Sometimes study and eating go hand in hand.  Our centre in Sen Rafayel doesn't have the luxury of a kitchen so we will continue to distribute crackers and cheese with potable water.  Our students are welcome to drop in Monday to Friday for a snack.  Both centres are a brief respite from the reality of home life.  Photo:  Wilsaint's house in Sen Rafayel damaged by the earthquake.

Jack has been scouting for new batteries to bring life to the inverter.  As we are back to no electricity again, the solar panels will become our life line.

Cindy phoned from Pennsylvania with good news - her Fed Ex account has been reinstated, so supplies will again be able to flow into Cap-Haitien from Pennsylvania. We're looking at a variation on the Christmas package program this year.  Versatility is the hallmark of a Starthrower.

The coffee shop is closing in 5 minutes so I will send this abbreviated post to Daniel now.  More next week from Cap-Haitien, when I find time to get into town for banking and internet.  Special thanks to Sproule's Drugstore in Orangeville for their donation of hand sanitizers.  It will be more important with the spread of Cholera.

Beni tout moun (blessings everyone)


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Going Home

This is the third concerted effort to put to-gether an update.  The first responded to the cholera outbreak, the second the impending Siklon Tomas (Hurricane Tomas).  As we no longer have internet service at the centre in Cap-Haitien and the supporting solar/inverter is in need of new battteries, communication with the staff has been sporadic and frustrating.  To send an email, Auguste must first of all call in staff to cover for him.  No easy matter over the past week as I have been unable to get a phone line into Cap.  Then he makes his way to town and searches for a cybercafe which has a signal, functioning generator or EDH (Electrique d'Haiti).  While we never took the gift of internet/solar power for granted, we are acutely aware of its loss.

The first and last communication came Thursday.  I had sent a list of jobs to be done before the storm hit, including filling the water chateau and tying down anything that could be lifted.  Below - Jack on roof with water chateau and solar panels.

Prior to Hurricane Tomas passing through, we were concerned about finding the funds to continue to support our post secondary students.  Now after seeing reports of the flooding in Leogane, thoughts again are in survival mode.  No mention in news reports of how the North fared.  I will be so glad to be back next week.  Although communication will remain a challenge, there is peace of mind being on the ground and knowing where everyone is.  The rainy season will be upon us, heightening the potential for rocks and mudslides.  Thank goodness for our 4 wheel drive vehicle. Below - the road to Sen Rafayel during the dry season.

Daniel here: I've taken the liberty of including sketches from my sketchbook that I did in September on our way to Sen Rafayel.  Sure was a bumpy ride...

So many things on the list for November but again we wait to hear from everyone, begin clean up and if necessary start again.  The patience of the Haitian people seems to be rubbing off - what a blessing.  Will send a post script as soon as I hear from Cap.  Packing is always a reflective exercise for me.  As I pack, weigh, repack, reweigh, those with whom I have crossed paths during my stay come to mind. 

Many thanks to Jeff , Pete and Signe of 'In The Hills' magazine for the time and conversation.  I appreciate being included in the upcoming edition.  Thanks also to Don and the Optimist club for a warm welcome and insightful questions.

Last year, Diane, owner of Achesons in Orangeville, opened her doors for a fundraiser and this year has jumped in again to support our young people.  Thanks Cindy S. for your organizational skills and for assembling a great team.  I know the day (Dec.2) will be a success.  Although I won't be in the country, Starthrower will be represented by our web administrator Daniel Lafrance.  He will be there signing copies of his graphic novel "Starthrower in Haiti".  As he is fresh from his visit to us, he will be able to personalize the work we do in both Sen Rafayel and Cap-Haitien.

Thanks also to those who have commented on the new web site. Your feedback is important.

And last but certainly not least, thanks to Deb, Sue and Janie, owners of Mochaberry coffeeshop.  On more than one occasion, they very graciously let me spend long hours over my sandwich and coffee while working with Dan to get the new site up and running.

More later as I hear from staff.


PS. I have just received emails from Alland in Leogane and Auguste in Cap-Haitien. They are safe. As of this writing, the road to Ti Goave which our nursing students in Leogane must take for their nursing practicum at the hospital is impassable because the river has broken over its banks, flooding all in its path, forcing road closures.

We have had no communication with Sen Rafayel as of yet, nor have we heard from other students in Port-au-Prince, Limbe, Cap.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Changes, Sewing Machines and Heroes

October is a month of change - seasons change, clocks change, in some places we get out the winter clothing.  Daniel has been working furiously to create our new website which showcases the young people we serve, as well as some of those on our active waiting list.  As of to-day, it is live, yet another change.  We will be adding more faces from time to time, as we are still waiting for some state exam results for those who wrote their exams the last week of September.

Daniel's time with us in Cap-Haitien provided hands on experience which will add to the impact of the new site.  Please check it out - same place

Thanks to David in New Brunswick, two of our summer graduates will be self-employed.  Paulaine (in Cap-Haitien) and Kesner (in Sen Rafayel) each graduated from sewing/cooking programs.  Paulaine received her sewing machine last week.  We transported it in the back of the truck, Auguste and I holding on to it as the journey was brief but the road jarring.

Here's a short video of the delivery.  Better quality video on our website.

Thanks to Cindy in PA and the Flip video she sent via Daniel, there have been many moments of fun and opportunities to connect. 

Nothing happens quickly in Haiti and most transactions depend on having funds on hand.  The sewing machine for Kesner was sold to someone who happened to be on the spot, however the boss who sold the machine to Paulaine is on the lookout for another and will phone us when it arrives.  Another connection.

Secondary school officially opened Mon Oct 4, although some of last year's students are still waiting for results, so they missed placements.  Nothing is simple or easy and there are always surprises which present themselves.  There are still schools with structural damage from the Jan. 12 earthquake, so Plenito's 2nd year (of a 5 yr degree program) in electrical engineering is up in the air.  Administration was determined to open in the damaged location but the students banded together and wrote a letter, asking that an alternate, safe site be found.  He was concerned about our reaction to this action.  For me, this is the difference education makes - it helps people find their voice and put it together with other voices.  He contacted us today, saying that administration is determined to open in the old location, so the entire class is now looking for a university offering a degree program in electrical engineering.  The challenge will be to find one which accepts their first year credentials.

Our centre is still in need of repairs as a result of quake damage.  I can't imagine sitting in a classroom with the knowledge that it has been labelled for demolition.

Elorge and Marlene (below) returned to the Dominican Republic to find that fees per credit and inscription fees had all been raised.  Every student was in the same predicament, so they banded together in a quiet protest.  The fee increase remained, but again - the courage and determination to make their voices heard.

Many thanks to Cindy and David S. in Inglewood, Ontario for their donation of a reconditioned laptop.  Daniel delivered it to us and it left Cap-Haitien Monday Oct 11 headed for Leogane, in the care of our nursing students who are thrilled to have it.  They now share 2 laptops among the 4 students.  There are other students still in need of wireless laptops, so please contact me if you have one to donate.  There are visitors coming who will each be able to transport one.

Rain has been hampering communication in Cap-Haitien for the past week.  Internet locations in town have been without a signal.  Our centre (Lakay Fondasyon) is still without internet service and the batteries for the solar/inverter system have all died a natural death.  As they were a gift, we will replace them only when funds permit.  After rent and staff salaries, school fees and supplies have priority, then food and water distribution.

I will be in Canada for about a month to meet with our bookkeeper and fulfil speaking engagements.  In my absence, Auguste will continue running the centre and Micheline and Erzilia are continuing to purchase text books in the market, cover and label them and deliver to those waiting.  Below - Erzilia on the floor of the office labelling text books.

Jack looks after the grounds with Lusnot and Dieugrand working security.  Carmene and Joceline keep the house in shape.  Although their hours are cut back out of necessity, with the exception of Jackson, our driver, everyone is still working.  As he still has his taxi business, he'll be just fine.  Daniel has added a page to the new website showcasing our staff.  We hope that it's an opportunity for you to put faces on the names I mention so frequently.

For the last 6 years our book renew program has kept our spending on new text books to a minimum.  This year the pilot secondary programs (nouvo secondaire I, II, III and IV) have made demands on our funds and staff.  However, Erzilia and Micheline are not complaining as it has created a weekend job for them.

So I'll end where I began - with an invitation to look over the new site and become acquainted with the courageous young people we serve.  We've kept their stories brief to give you an idea of the challenges they face in their lives.  They are heroes.

Kembe pa lage


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Visitor, School supplies, Sen Raphael, Home visits

Last week brought 2 visitors to Lakay Fondasyon, Daniel our website administrator (aka webguy) and ELECTRICITY!  For the first time in 12 years there was electricity daily.  Admittedly it was intermittent, not strong enough to pump water from the well, provide internet access, freeze water or run a fan, but it was present.

The first day of Daniel's visit, we took it easy as the humidity of summer still lingered.  It takes awhile to acclimatize.  Dan jumped into every activity, travelling to town to pick up and then unpack a box of supplies from Cindy and company, weeding our garden, meeting the many new faces which kept arriving for school support, a little chat, food, medical referral etc...  In short, it was a normal day.  The staff carried on its usual jobs.  We have had a surge in Malaria and Typhoid cases over the last 2 weeks, averaging a new case of Malaria daily.  Fortunately, we have been on the receiving end of a wonderful gift - a carton of the natural supplement Allimax donated by the CLM Health Group in Mississauga, Canada.  Dan picked them up and brought several packages.  We have found that it cuts recovery time from Malaria in half.  Many thanks Heather and all staff involved in the donation.  You're generosity is improving quality of life.

Tuesday, we went to town to pick up supplies and check on bank transfers.  I'll try to pursuade Dan to share his impressions of the traffic circus which performs daily in downtown Cap-Haitien. (DAN:  I'll do better than that and post a video... It's not the worst that I've seen there but it will give readers an idea of the madness!)

With supplies purchased, it was time to fill the Igloo cooler with bottled water and Tampico, and pack everything for the Wednesday trip to Sen Rafayel.  Wednesday at 5 a.m. we made sandwiches after daily chores finished and Auguste, Jack, Daniel, myself and our driver Jackson headed up the mountain of Grand Gilles. The 28 km trip took us 2 and 1/2 hours - including a 5 minute stop in Dondon to purchase bananas (fig yo) - AND we arrived intact.  First up - visit Sister Ginette and catch up on the convent and clinic news.

Then on to the office to deliver a brailler and manual typewriter to Guilene.

The originals, also donated from Pa, were destroyed in the January 12th earthquake which also trapped Guilene for 6 days.  The guys took Guilene home to check her ti kay (house) for appropriate space to house the machines.

We began to distribute back packs and text books to the new crop on 1st and 2nd year high school students.  Then we began interviews in response to letters received from prospective students.  Lunch break at 12:30 saw everyone crammed into one room.

No rest in Sen Rafayel - lunch over, Dan left with the staff to take a look at village schools and some student houses.  Auguste and I had just begun the next round of interviews when Consienne (July post) came in, very quietly announcing that her father had just died (pictured below).  What was she supposed to do? 

With Auguste to handle interviews, I left for her house as Consienne's mother was on her own and she is blind.  I sat with her in the small, dark, musty room furnished only with a single bed, mattress made of old clothes.  Mme was desolate.  Her husband had a fever for 15 days.  She had taken him to a local hospital and asked them to treat him out of compassion, but care was refused.  He was 62.

With the help of staff, we found a villager to perform the ritual bathing of the body (benyen), secured his birth certificate and went to the local magistrate for the death certificate (deklarasyon).  Of course, the office had closed at 2 p.m. so we would have to wait for a day.  Then we found a carpenter to make a coffin (bwat), agreed on a price, then returned to the office, packed up and headed home.

Thursday and Friday were spent doing home visits, showing parts of Haiti not found on a map of tourist attractions.  Gabriel's rented floor space (he does not have a room) is in a house built on a garbage dump (photo below).  The dump was created to stop up the salt water marsh (bouche) which is a breeding ground for so many sources of misery.  Unfortunately, the salt water always wins, eating through the garbage and the houses built on top of it.

At Paudeline's ti kay, our visitor treated neighbourhood children to the 'magic' of instant replay. 

We check everything on home visits - sleeping space, study space, kitchen facilities, latrines (if there is one).  On another home visit, Althega's rental space has an outdoor kitchen but no latrine.  Plastic bags are used and discarded in a not so empty lot across the street.  There is a soccer field built by well meaning visitors but no ball, no shoes (see video below).

Saturday morning, upon returning from depositing Dan at the airport, the electricity we had celebrated was gone.  "Where," the staff asked jokingly, "did he pack it - back pack, pocket, or suitcase?"

Our internet at the centre has been suspended so I am writing from the dining room of the Hotel Roi Christophe.  Am hoping to have it restored before I leave for Canada next week but first have to track down the donor for account information.  It has been such a wonderful gift and now a necessary part of our lives.

Every one of the young people mentioned here is in need of a sponsor - from Guilene who will resume studies in Port-au-Prince to Gabriel entering 2nd year university to become a teacher.  To those who support so often, many thanks.  If you're thinking about it - please take the leap.  We have almost 400 on our waiting list between Cap and Sen Rafayel.  Please spread hope.

Ala pwochen


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Challenges, Changing Seasons, Victims

Communication is always a challenge here - sometimes its the language, an expression new to me, sometimes the equipment with which one communicates.  I have made many attempts to write this update, each time thwarted by either lack of internet access or electricity or solar power.  Perhaps to-day.  The SIM card on my cell phone gave up the ghost as well, taking with it all of my contact phone numbers.  There is consolation however, I have been able to keep the same phone number.

Seasons are beginning to change - the exhaustive summer heat is beginning to level off, mangoes are dropping at a slower rate (Stephen pictured gathering mangoes from our tree), avocados (zaboka) have begun to drop and our book program has moved into its second phase.  We've paid inscription for those with year end results which provides us with book lists.  We have begun to prepare backpacks .  This means a change of staff as well.  The book repair staff have finished and the list preparation staff have begun.  Micheline has a month off from her Medical technology program, so we are able to use her expertise.  She had a successful year and is looking forward to the final year of her program.  State results are trickling in - will update next week.

Sen Rafayel continues to challenge as well.  Our visits bring out hundreds of young people hoping to continue either secondary school,  enter a trade or go on to post secondary.  Often the noise drowns out our interviews.

(Sharon conducting an interview)

Although we work with teens and young adults there are always surprises - Michaella (on the left) is 11 and needs support for high school, Adminada (below) is 29 and needs support to finish the final year of a couture program.

And the letters continue to touch me - Widlen writes in Kreyol: "Neither my mother nor father are alive.  It was a cousin in Port-au-Prince who was paying for me and he died in the earthquake.  M tankou yon zwazo san branch (I'm like a bird without a branch)."

Myriame wrote also in Kreyol: "I saw life end, passing in front of me in the catastrophe of Jan 12 in Potoprens (Port-au-Prince).  By chance I did not die but those who were responsible for me did die, so it seems my life is over."

Marrion wrote in English, I'm certain with dictionary in hand. The mistake she made was so profound - heart in Kreyol is Ke, earth in Kreyol is te. She wrote: " My father died in the heart quake 12 January 2010.  I'm obliged to address you...could you please help me with this situation."

It was a heart quake - breaking the hearts of everyone here.  And the victims continue to surface.

I have been concerned about one of our girls.  She has been even more withdrawn over the past several months and I suspected pregnancy.  She came to see me Sunday morning.  She was raped by 3 young men in February, returning late one night from Sen Rafayel because the taptap (bus) had broken down on the mountainside, delaying arrival.  She had no money for a taxi and public transit had stopped.  There will be no school for her this year.  She's terrified, frightened, angry - both her and the unborn child victims of violence that continues.

On a final note, I received an email from an American nurse I had met in Leogane.  She had been teaching an intensive course at the nursing school and prepared a beautiful video of her memories of Haiti.  Hope you can take the time to view it.  She has included our young people.  Thanks again Jamille.

Beni tout moun

PS. Many thanks to Jackie, Peg and all those who responded to the letters last week.


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