Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Waiting, Looking for a home, Remarkable people

After a litany of extraordinary obstacles, Jack delivered a box of supplies from Pennsylvania yesterday. Thank you, Mme Cindy. Inside, in addition to much needed hygiene products, was a book by Nuala O'Faolain titled Are You Somebody? (Holt and Co.,1996). The introduction resonated with me, evoking Haiti's children. "I was...a nobody, who came of an unrecorded line of nobodies...I took it for granted that like most of the billions of people  who are born and die on this planet I was just an accident. There was no reason for me...Yet my life burned inside me...I'm not anybody in terms of the world, but then who decides what a somebody is? How is a somebody made?...most people, like me, feel remarkable..." (pg.4,5)

Last night during a lengthy telephone conversation, a friend spoke of our young people seeking post-secondary support. "Can they do it?" she asked. I replied that anyone who can successfully write State National exams in Haiti can succeed in a post-secondary institution. Like Nuala O'Faolain, our young people have life burning inside them. They know they can become agronomists, dentists, masons,  medical technologists, electrical engineers, mechanics, nurses, doctors. Arriving at the threshold of post-secondary studies, I can say from close observation they are remarkable.

Edeline J. - waiting
Edeline is waiting for a sponsor or group of sponsors (see Starthrowers in Action) to study Medical Technology, a 3 year program in Cap-Haitien. She completed Philo last summer.  She is an orphan with no siblings. Currently, she is staying with a cousin in Sen Rafayel but has an aunt who will literally give her floor space in Cap-Haitien to attend school.

"Who decides what a somebody is? How is a somebody made?" They are made by life experiences, Edeline was beginning her teens when she started primary school. Patient and determined describe her.


Nicoly G. - waiting
Nicoly has a different life story. He has 4 brothers and 4 sisters. His father is dead, and his mother has been ill (pap viv ansante) since his death. There is an older brother who disappeared 8 years ago.

In his letter, Nicoly writes 'I want to learn agriculture, because before my dad died, he explained the advantage  a person  has who can work with the earth. He can make Haiti beautiful and green. Without trees, we don't have quality of life, if we don't work with the earth, we don't have enough food.  I want to be useful in society like the agronomists of old who planted trees. Thanks to them we still have a country even after many hurricanes." The agriculture program at the university in Limbe is 5 years. The university fees include a dormitory and a cafeteria which functions Monday to Friday. He cannot imagine having a bed and a hot meal 5 days a week. He has been waiting since last year.

Rose-Guerlande B. -waiting
Like Edeline, Rose-Guerlande is an orphan. She stays with an aunt in Cap-Haitien. While awaiting support (soutyen) to study dentistry, she is taking intensive Spanish to help her with the equivalency tests in the Dominican Republic. She was awarded a bursary for the final 4 years of high school, based on academic performance. This was a first - unprecendented for someone from the ranks of the poor to be recognized and rewarded.  Like the others, she is bright, patient and determined. She has suffered dental woes all her life and with your support, will change that for others in her corner of the world. If successful writing entrance exams at PUCMM  (Pontoficia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra, Santiago) she will room with pre-med students Elorge and Marlene. The dental program is five years plus Spanish equivalency.

Peterson J. - waiting
 Last but not least, I have the privilege of presenting Peterson. After losing school, classmates, friends in the Jan. 12 earthquake, Peterson wants to attend Medical School. Although in a medical program, he changed his major after witnessing the horror and being injured himself. He is one of a handful of Starfish to have both parents alive. They live in Sen Rafayel with his brother and 2 sisters. His mother never attended school, dad has 2 years of primary education. Peterson is currently in Port-au-Prince where he has just secured all necessary papers to register and write entrance exams at UNDH (Universite Notre-Dame d'Haiti). Like Rose-Guerlande, he is also studying Spanish and would welcome the opportunity to study medicine in Cuba. However efforts to secure information from Sante Publik have met with no success. He's not connected. If you are, please let us know.


I remember when I thought it would be miraculous if we had one student complete secondary school. In addition to our 9 sponsored  post-secondary students and these 4, we  have another 8 waiting. There will be 16 more writing Philo(last year of high school) in July. Every year we have a higher success rate than the national average. We're doing something right.

No matter where my feet take me in this country, whether tromping through a field to look at land for building or scaling a rickety, hand-made ladder in San Rafayel to examine the roof on a potential new office space, I am surrounded by remarkable people. 
Landowner Aleus points out the
various plants on his land in Labadee
Gran looks on while Danius and Jack hold the ladder.
A new office in Sen Rafayel??
They say it takes a village to raise a child. What does it take for that child to become a doctor, a dentist, a medical technologist, an agronomist?

One person to say yes. One person to say 'I can and will make a difference.' One person to phone someone they know and say 'I have a great idea. Let's get a group together and each give $10. a month ( or $20. or $100. or $5.) for 3 years and give Haiti a medical technologist and Edeline a career for life..' Or give Haiti a doctor, a dentist, an agronomist. Let's give Haiti and these remarkable young people 'possibilite'.

How is a somebody made? It just happens when others believe in him or her. I've seen it time and again when young people understand that sponsors are people who care about their lives and their future. It is profound.

It just takes committed people who know that alone it's a big job. Working to-gether we can make it happen. After all, we are remarkable.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Starthrower, Statistics and Sen Rafayel

For more than a dozen years, the Starthrower story has been a voice inside my head. Although needs are often pressing here in Haiti and dire situations frequently arise, the Starthrower's response to a situation created by the universe is a reminder that I am one person but I can do something. University of Toronto student Andreas (Frostbike) also knew that he could do something.

 Every young person who writes an unsolicited letter,  stops me on the street in the village or sits across from me in an interview leaves an imprint. Their stories imprint  on my spirit and when the opportunity to take on new students presents itself, I return to those we were unable to support last time. Some day we'll be able to catch up. Yesterday we were  working on last September's waiting list, thanks to Frostbike.

In Sen Rafayel, the canal project is coming along. Getting in and out of the office is more of a challenge now, but we managed.

This mini obstacle course keeps me fit.
 Our 'office' is the white building.
Two weeks ago I delivered a list of 15 students who were of concern to me from September. Thirteen arrived for interviews. The two absent sent letters of explanation. We'll meet with them in March. Within the group, 8 have both parents deceased, 5 have father deceased, mother ill or paralyzed, 2 have both parents living but they are ill. None has a parent who  attended school. In several cases, they are the oldest in the family and responsible for younger siblings.  These are the faces of statistics.

Adelta - both parents deceased
(3eme - 4th year high school)
Raphael - both parents deceased
(2eme - 5th year high school)
Anne-Mercie - father deceased,
mother ill
(3eme - 4th year high school)
Wilno - both parents deceased
 (Rheto - 6th year high school)

Marrion -father killed in quake,
 mother injured
(Philo - Last year high school)
Jodelin - both parents deceased
 (Rheto - 6th year high school)

Mirlene - both parents deceased (8eme - second year high school). Staff member Kesner
( standing behind-both parents and 2 siblings deceased)

Lunes - both parents deceased
(Rheto - 6th year high school)

Angeline - father deceased,
 mother ill.
(3eme - 4th year high school)
Ducadin -father deceased, mother
(2eme - 5th year high school)
Each young person you see here was  in school  this year - sort of. They were not registered, but  Haitian youth have such a strong desire for education, they borrow uniforms, wear shoes too small, write on scraps of paper, make do with outdated textbooks, eat maybe once a week, are always dehydrated, have never been  to a dentist, doctor, optometrist, never slept in a bed, no access to electricity,  a toilet or running water etc...

But they find a way. Depending on the school, they cannot write exams or pick up a report card, but they can sit in on classes.  This drive will propel them all their lives. They will make amazing doctors, nurses, dentists, electricians, agronomists, politicians, masons, mechanics, bankers.

Because of the funds raised by Frostbike,  as of yesterday (Wed. Feb. 9th) they  are now in school with uniforms  and shoes, back fees paid. Even though they did not write exams, we are obliged to pay from September.  It will be a while before we can find all textbooks/backpacks needed but it will get done.

For those who donated to Andreas's challenge, when you  look at these faces and read the brief information under each, please know that you have changed their lives.  Your pledge of $5. or $50. or the loonie you threw into the pot on pub night has given them school and hope for a year.  Every dollar  makes a difference. You have changed the statistics. You are truly Starthrowers.
On behalf of everyone on this page, thank you.

Monday, February 7, 2011

February 7, Santiago, following Talien.

Monday, February 7th - an auspicious, historical date and all staff arrived late. No camionets running, students turned back home, schools closed, burning barricades and projectiles which include bottles, rocks and bullets. To-day we should be celebrating the departure of the old government and welcoming the new. But the old doesn't want to relinquish power so the new remains undecided. Last week's 'moment' wasn't enough - too little, too late. Leave, the people say. It's past time.  Jack just returned from the street - all stores are closed so we have one  bottle of potable water til tomorrow. We use ten per day.

Thursday morning (Feb 3rd) Auguste and I had descended the street in search of a taxi. We were heading for the bus station, destination Santiago, Dominican Republic for home and school visits for our university students there. Twice during the week,  Jack had helped repair the street for passage. The rocky, pitted surface still demanded full attention. 

Jack (red shirt) helps to open our  street for pedestrians.
Everyone was tired. Staff had arrived before 7 a.m. after a night spent waiting for election run off results. The promised announcement was again delayed. Then as we walked, an experience to be savored. All 'bri' ( noise) seemed to stop - no horns honked, no voices called. Radios broke the silence - portable and car - blaring from everywhere. 'S'ak pase?' (What's happening?) we called out. It was the long awaited announcement, a surprise in the timing. No one on the street moved. The results - Martelly, the people's choice, was in the run off. A cheer from what seemed like the country,  followed by everyone talking and laughing at the same time. A moment of euphoria. The voice of the people had been heard.

After a long and tiring bus trip to Santiago we settled in and began visits. We managed to share a meal although everyone arrived and departed at different times. No group picture.  Jhennie is in 2nd year Business Administration at UTESA, Marlene and Elorge are 2nd year Pre-Med at PUCMM. All have been in Santiago for longer periods as programs require intensive Spanish. We have learned a great deal from their experiences and the next students we send will have the benefit. Jhennie exhibits the distinctive edema of wet malnutrition - a student diet of less expensive carbs, no funds for the more necessary but expensive proteins. She is very uncomfortable in her skin.

Elorge and Jhennie share experiences. Marlene was writing an exam,
Friday morning breakfast then off to see Jhennie's apartment, followed by a trip to UTESA (Universidad Technologica Santiago). Jhennie shares a 2 bedroom apartment on the top floor of a 6 story walk-up with 3 other Haitian students. Like all of our post secondary students who are obliged to leave Cap, Jhennie sleeps in a bed for the first time in her life. She shares the bedroom with one other person. The living room contains 2 plastic chairs - no work/study/rest space. A table, desk and laptop are needed.  We're working on that. A sofa and chair would be luxuries.
Reviewing Jhennie's message to her sponsor.

Jhennie and Auguste take a break on Campus.

For  three days I had the luxury of walking everywhere, something I am unable to do in Cap for security reasons. What a sense of freedom in the simple act of walking. Jhennie headed to class at noon and Elorge joined us for a sandwich then shopping. He knows the city well and proved a great guide. We made bulk purchases: pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners and highlighters. Backpacks were simply too expensive - the equivalent of $40 USD each. If anyone has a connection with the companies which make high quality backpacks, let me know or feel free to contact on our behalf. (Jansport, Columbia, High Sierra and ???) Less expensive items give out within weeks - victims of the climate and load.

Saturday morning Marlene was available so both she and Elorge made video messages for their sponsors. Jhennie had a day long seminar. Like Jhennie, they were very self-conscious of the video process - a new experience, but in each case it showed the amazing young adults these 'starfish' have become.
A rare moment of relaxation - Auguste, Marlene, Elorge
Their lives are difficult and busy - there is no social life. The idea of a Lakay in Santiago was raised as rents keep increasing. Another good idea for someone who reads this, as we have more students headed for university there.  We happened to pass a small, neat house for sale just blocks from the two campuses.

Travel is always an opportunity to reflect. What a gift these young people are receiving and what a gift they are already giving to their community here. Thank you, sponsors - Jeff, Marjorie, Sharon and families.

I would be remiss if I didn't follow-up our visit to Talien's ti kay. He had owner's permission to clean and paint so we arranged a work team Saturday morning (video below).

Many stopped by to see what was happening and everyone asked if we could do their place next. No one offered to help. We donated 2 plastic chairs and a small table - he thought he had won the lottery. The danger now is theft - everyone knows what he has acquired.

Jack and Talien packing sleeping carpet

Lusmond after hospital visit.
During the week he picked up the sleeping carpet we purchased. His brother Lusmond accepted our offer of a hospital visit for his eye problems. Tuesday he had a consult with the Opthalmology Dept. He has a followup to-day.

Due to the unanticipated school holiday, we are very busy. Auguste has gone to transfer funds to our students in Port-au-Prince so I am looking after the office. Joceline is making sandwiches, Carmene is baking a cake, Jack is out looking for staples as Myriame, Carline and Mackdalene have arrived with books to cover and every stapler is empty.  

Elines has just arrived from Sen Rafayel for a consult to-morrow, also in the Opthalmology department. Teeth and eyes - we never catch up. The good news - we have Rose-Guerlande, studying Spanish and waiting for sponsors to enter Dental School at PUCMM in Santiago and Edwina has announced she wants to become an Opthalmologist after secondary studies.

More later
Kenbe pa lage


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