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.



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