Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Unfinished business, Water and Mountains

The one constant in Haitian life is that everything can and will change very quickly. Last week the price of gas rose. Monday brought raises in fares on all forms of public transportation: buses, taxi-moto, tap-tap, taxi-boat and taxi. Drivers have to pass on the increase or go out of business. Monday all staff arived late as none could find transportation. Many drivers stayed home and the situation continues to deteriorate. Port-au-Prince has been the site of protests (manifestasyon-yo) and the 2 topics of conversation everywhere are  the price of gas and waiting for election results. Kolera, thank goodness is a distant third. All of our post-secondary students live on extremely tight budgets, but for those in Haiti - Gaby, Brunie, Wisly, Alland, Peterson, Weby-Schneider, Plenito, Micheline, Althega, Danius, Gabriel - depending on public transit to get to and from class and for some their practicums (staj-la),  funds were used up before month end and raises are needed to cover increases.

Election results were promised for Mar. 31 so we planned our week accordingly, as did the schools. Several announced closures in anticipation of demonstrations. Now we are told results will come Monday, April 3rd - perhaps. In connection with the impending election result,  it has also been announced that all work contracts on roads and canals in the country are finished and equipment  recalled as of Sunday. That leaves our corner (and the entire stretch of Rue L) unfinished and impassable by vehicles, canals filled with garbage (fatra-a) It leaves the canals on the main street of  Sen Rafayel  unfinished. It leaves many of the main streets in Cap sitting unfinished, blocked with large holes and /or small mountains of gravel.  Deye mon gen mon. (Behind every mountain there is another mountain)  Tout bagay tet anba kooniye a la. (Everything is still  upside down here).

I think we broke a record Sunday for travelling up and down Granjil mountain to Sen Rafayel.  Round trip took just over 5 hours - usually it takes 6. We were euphoric. I know that doesn't seem like a record for 56 kilometers but if you have a minute, click on the video and come along for a brief stretch.

Early in the trip, the theme of water presented itself and recurred throughout the day. The river, which causes death and destruction when inflated by rains, was tranquil and pastoral. It is the only source of water for those living on the mountainside. Animals and humans alike bathed. All along the route laundry was being done, containers of all  description were being filled  for multi purposes. 

Low levels of water - waiting for rain. Always too little or too much.

This young man was gathering drinking water in a filthy bottle.
He told us he washed the clothes because 'manman mouri' (Mother is dead)

Bath time

Just south of the gates to Sen Rafayel (.5 km if you google earth) we stopped to look at a piece of land. The land was too small for our needs however there was another parcel behind it also for sale, so we took the time to measure.  When we pulled into the village, the new water supply was the site of bustle - bathing, drinking, doing laundry, filling containers. The water source has been opened up in response to the cholera epidemic. However, the water gushes out for several hours, turning everything around it to mud, making bathing a challenge. Late in the day it is turned off, and at night it sits, a site for mosquitoes (marengwen) and by extension malaria to breed. 

Jack (yellow shirt) and Auguste (cap) measure land.

On to the office and 14 interviews, 12 new and 2  graduates. We are still working our way through last summer's waiting list, checking in with those for whom we had no funds in September.They are the faces of our waiting list.  They'll take any support offered. No surprise everyone was sitting in on classes, no text books, fees unpaid.  As 2nd trimeste is coming to a close, I asked which would be better - to be enrolled now or to start the new year with supplies and uniforms. Why did I ask? Without exception, everyone replied "It's better for me to keep going. If I stop, my life stops."

Wensky, Vilsaint, Dahendie -Lycee Charlemagne Perault

Siseline and Venise sign contracts.
Centre Classique Le Phare

Mexene and Guerda-College Le Genie

We also followed up with 2 of last year's grads. What a meaningful phrase - "last year's grads".  My enthusiasm for this work is always renewed when I look at the results - high school graduates!! And it doesn't stop there! Louisena still wants to enter nursing but her father is dead and mother is very ill. As the oldest she feels she must be close by. There is a  new nursing school in Cap-Haitien. If the diploma is recognized by the state, she'll write the entrance exams. She has had a dental problem for over a year now, so to-day she came into Cap to gather information for the nursing program and we provided a referral form and funds to travel to Milot for dental work. Louisena has been with Starthrower since before it had a name. Likewise Osner is an original Starfish. His dream is to study Agriculture. like Louisena, he has severe dental problems. 2 of his front teeth have been pulled and he is very self consciouss, so taking a picture is a challenge.

Osner-grad 2009 - waiting
to study Agronomie

Louisena -grad 2010-Waiting to
study nursing.

Interviews over, lists made out for staff, medical bills paid, uniform funds distributed, we pack up the truck to head out. We travel with a cooler filled with bottled water
Djohn wraps the remaining ice many times
to preserve it as long as possible.

and Tampico, a juice beverage as well as sandwiches made by our short order cook (me) at 5 in the morning. Jack is allergic to peanuts and Djohn to eggs and other dairy so food reflects that.  We cool with ice cubes purchased at the gas station in Cap-Haitien (whenever available). Whatever bottles remain we leave for the staff, with any leftover ice. I watched Djohn wrap the remaining ice as though it was precious, which it is. In a village which only recently  received a communal water supply, limited and untreated but available without charge, a cold drink is not even on the radar.   As we headed out, the community was coming to-gether for water to get them through the night. The pump was due to be turned off.

We intruded on this community scene.
Down the mountain, laundry dotted hills and valleys. Clusters of people gathered on roadsides, talking. Sunday coming to a close. Down the mountain in record time, after tricky navigation, we turned onto our street, Impasse Soeurs Missionaires. The  cleanup work begun with anticipation of a healthier place,  is now in jeopardy. The canal, which the project was supposed to clean up,  stands today as a festering monument to politics as usual.

Our canal - no clean water here.

Clean water - the gift of life - should not be a privilege, or if so a privilege for everyone not just a few.  Our young people come in to our Cap center daily to fill their gallon jugs with potable water. They have to walk past this to get to it. They take it in stride as many live in situations far worse.

Electricity (another gift) is flickering. Best save before lost.

Pi ta

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Last Week

After a week-long absence, electricity has returned, of course in the middle of the night.  As a friend pointed out, sleep is overrated, so I'll  blog, a verb I didn't know existed 5 years ago. Due to election closures, our weekly schedule was thrown off, so to-day we will head up Mon Granjil to Sen Rafayel. We have a piece of land to look at and 14 interviews scheduled.

Last week, election day came and went with a minimum of violence. Jack worked for a local senatorial candidate and reported that the biggest challenge he faced throughout the day was helping those who could not read or write with their voting.As long as they presented a valid electoral card, they were eligible. Many did not vote, as election violence and other irregularities in November  had produced 2 presidential candidates who did not provide the choice many wanted to see. It will be an interesting 5 years, whatever the result.

The history of Haiti was altered in other less public ways on March 20. In Sen Rafayel, sisters Fabiola, Adminada and Rose-Evenia lost their grandmother. During a home visit in January, Mme told us that she was 98 years old. Exact age is often unknown and usually decided upon by relating birthdate to the person who was in power at the time. It could be off by several years either way. I had wanted to talk with her about the changes she had seen during her lifetime, but home visits don't provide that luxury.  Her story will never be told.

Joceline attended a funeral that day. The last member of her mother's family, an uncle, died leaving 7 children between the ages of 5 and 15. His wife had died in childbirth 5 years previous. Cousins divided the 5 youngest between them, leaving a 12 year old and a 15 year old. Joceline said her heart broke for them (li te kraze ke'm) so she is adding them to her family. She is a widow with 7 children of her own. She lives in a 6'x8' shack which contains one bed, a table for 2 and a television set rescued from a dump. The house has no electricity so it doesn't matter that the set is useless.

Schools were closed the day after elections, and some took the entire week, once again giving our young people free time they do not want. The price of gas rose as well. Friday we paid 200 gds (just over $5. US) for a gallon of gas. We are told via radio that these increases will be permanent as the country had been receiving subsidies which have expired. The price of all public transit has increased, making life more difficult if that is possible. We paid more for rice and beans this week also. Increases in food costs jeopardize our food distribution program. Everything is increasing. Last week we paid 500 gourdes each for dictionaries - we were so happy to find them. To-day we paid 625 gourdes each at the same place for the same item. The schools ask that each student have French, English, Spanish and Kreyol dictionaries. Friday Centre de Formation Classique sent students in one class home if they did not have dictionaries. Keeping up is a challenge.

Last week also saw the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I sat with the staff and watched his speech from the airport. We'll never know what could have been under his leadership, as his potential was denied. Let us hope that the private citizen is left alone to continue what the public servant began.  If you're interested in the truth with insightful commentary  behind the often confusing media reports, The Uses of Haiti by Dr. Paul Farmer  (Common Courage Press, 3rd ed. Dec. 2005) is an excellent resource. Others who provide accurate reportage are journalists Kim Ives and Laura Flynn. The Miami Herald  can always be counted on as well. It says a lot when the number of unbiased journalists, with no hidden agenda,  can be counted on one hand.

More from the other side of Sen Rafayel.

Daniel here: Here's a link to the latest article by Kim Ives that Sharon mentions as a journalist that provides accurate reporting.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pre-election Violence, Self-esteem and self-definition

As we move into the final week of  candidate stumping, violence is again on the front burner. Election run-offs will be held next Sunday Mar. 20th.  Auguste and Jack headed for town after work Thursday, Jack because he lives there, Auguste to look for a USB flash drive. Enroute they encountered folks who told them to avoid the downtown core as violence had broken out during a speech by the now government backed candidate. She is not the people's favorite, so travels with a large security force as well as PNH officers. (Police National D'Haiti)  Auguste turned back, Jack lives in town so continued.

A visit by people's choice candidate late in February had been met with crowds large and small, sometimes cheering always listenening and notable for the absence of violence. This week his pictures were torn off walls, ripped out of the hands of supporters, smashed off vehicle windows. Jack witnessed several people being beaten because they  indicated support by holding a flyer with his picture. He reported that candidate's  official vehicle was destroyed by rocks and bottles, the driver fled with his life. A climate of fear pervades life again, adding to the misery.

Violent acts affect us here at our sant soutyen (support center). We will close the days before and after the  elections to eliminate the need for travel by staff and students. Food and water distribution will be truncated. Tuesday we hope to be in Sen Rafayel. This depends on the 'temperature' in the village. We made the decision to cancel this week's visit due to the climate of unrest following the death of a PNH officer who responded to a fight last  Monday 7th.  To restore order, a larger contingent of  police moved in, keeping everyone in their homes. While the village is 'cho' (hot), we stay put in Cap-Haitien.

What does pre-election violence have to do with self-esteem?  Everything. The contributions you make to the lives of these young people cannot be measured in dollars. The support you so generously provide is a direct contrast to the violence and misery they have witnessed most of their young lives. While I thank you individually, I don't do it collectively.  Thank-you to each of you for supporting our young people in whatever way is available to you. I know that often your lives are  not  ' a piece of cake', I have a foot in the first world as well.   In looking back over the past 13 years, the difference your support makes has been summed up quite nicely by Adriana Trigiani in her novel Big Stone Gap (Ballantine Pub., 2000). The character of Ave describes an impoverished teen she has supported:

"Something good has finally happened to (her). At long last somebody believes in her...she has gained the tools with which she will build her self-esteem: she has been chosen and she has security. Maybe this is all a person ever needs to succeed. (She) has been picked and that has begun to define her." (p.109)

Auguste and I talked about this in the truck coming back from market. We have one young man, Kinston,  to whom we have never paid a home visit. Like Talien, he came to us from another organization. He had 'outgrown' their mandate. There are not many organizations here working with teens and young adults, but those which do often stop all support at age 18.  Auguste explained why we have not visited: "Li pa gen kay directaman" (He doesn't exactly have a place to live..) "He stays with different friends from time to time. His mother is dead, his father has disappeared.  He used to be in the gangs, causing trouble. He has left that behind, now that he goes to school."  As of this blog, we  have 152 young people receiving souyten.

Here are just a few of the reasons they  thank you:
Secondary school diploma,  university education
and learning to budget

Eye care, glasses, school uniforms

Birthday presents, someone who remembers and 
celebrates  ( Kinston)

School fees paid, text books and a place to study

Newspapers and the gift of reading


A place, a meal, time to gather
(Edwina,Esmann, Lusnot, Jimpson, Kinston, Micheline)

A diploma and a career
Soccer balls and a place to kick them

Research, internet, computers, knowledgeable staff
Valon, Auguste, Evains, Dieugrand

First aid, medical referrals, clinics, careers
Jhennie, Micheline

New skills,confidence,part-time jobs (Myriame, Sherlyne)
Food sacks, gallon jugs, potable water
Jack and Rosema

During each time of upheaval, these young people have received your gifts, which translate into the tools  to build self esteem.

With violence and disorder all around, their self esteem continues to grow, they make choices which show the influence of your support.  They  are beginning to define themselves and find their voices.

Knowing that you are behind them, they will take the future and own it. Now that is a gift for which there is no pricetag.

To each of you
On behalf of everyone

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More new faces, a laptop arrives, Judy's Group

Drums, dogs, roosters, rain, bullets and babies - each component of Haiti's nocturnal rhapsody is a reminder that others are also sleep deprived. Thursday night rain, dogs and babies took turns trying to outdo each other.

Mme Cindy delivers laptop donated by Lynn D.

In the  morning, despite mud in the street, our students started arriving with the staff at 8a.m. 'Kanaval' (madigra) had begun. This celebration gives students a week-long holiday, so we will be busy until next Wednesday.  Auguste and I had a 'randevu'  in Labadee with Mme Cindy, who had a day stop on a cruise. The usual 90 min. trip to the beach  took almost 5 hours as carnival antics clogged the streets and will continue without rest.

Mme Cindy delivered a backpack of supplies for Talien, whom she had seen in an earlier blog, and a  notebook computer donated by Lynn D., also response to a blog request.  Daniel put them in touch with each other. Thank you, Lynn and everyone involved in the transfer of this gift. Jhennie will be very happy when she receives this at spring break. Let us know if you're passing through on a cruise or vacationing in the Turks and Caicos. There is potential here!


Anpan ! Jack and Auguste start to unpack.

Our weekly trek to Sen Rafayel took an unexpected turn. Only a few kilometers to go and a clamp on the rear axel gave way and the tire just drifted away from the truck. A vehicle 'anpan' on the side of a Haitian mountain is the very definition of 'stranded'. Our mechanical knowledge is limited. As Auguste had phone service, we called Boss mechanic Max and staffer Djohn in Sen Rafayel. After a lengthy wait in the midday heat, help and alternate transportation arrived. Jack stayed with the vehicle and Auguste and I headed for the office for prearranged interviews.

In order to accommodate everyone, we doubled up by grade and school to make up for our late arrival.  As students had been through initial interviews in September, had papers checked, family histories taken, it was time to find out what had happened in their lives since September.

We are still making our way through letters received last summer.  Everyone in this group was  sitting in on classes, unable to write exams as fees unpaid.  Staff members were on the go all day. Kesner and Djohn split the registrations, travelling with the students to pay fees, secure book lists and receipts. Fabiola had the day off so  organized the interviews and saw to distribution of  food sacks, funds for uniforms, and basic supplies.

 New Faces

Philo students Wisline, Adelaine, Guerlande with staff
Djohn, Fabiola and Auguste
(first year of high school)

2eme (5th year of high school) students Wislet and Tchawens
Ginette - 3eme
(4th year of high school)

Edeline ices a severely swollen ankle. Ice is not available in Sen
 Rafayel.It travelled in our cooler. She will  travel to Pignon for xrays.

Jesumene - 9eme
(3rd year of high school)

Angelene - 8eme
(second year of high school)
Before leaving there are always emergencies to be dealt with - this week hospital fees to pay for Evaldine, Illiomene and Fabiola. Last visit, Edeline arrived for her interview injured. This time she was in more pain. The most expedient response was a trip up the mountain to the hospital in Pignon. They have x-ray facilities so we arranged the consult. The round trip will take her 6 hours in an open vehicle over non-existent tracks.

Our office is coming under increasing vandalism, so both Kesner and Djohn are sleeping there. Holes riddle the new roof from rocks being catapaulted. For safety of staff and students, we need to move or close in Sen Rafayel.

Back in Cap-Haitien we search our office stock for text books, prepare a master list of those we need to purchase then Saturday, student staffers Rosema, Sherlyne and Myriame searched the market place. It is a time consuming process as most booksellers carry only a couple of titles and copies. No book store lined with choices. Today they are  processing for delivery.

More new faces

The first summer we were in the Cap-Haitien center, we turned away more than 2000 students asking for support. We continue to turn away on average about 2500 per year. There are always those who persist, like Fredelyn. We accept letters of request in December and July, but Fredelyn was persistent. So after half a dozen visits I finally asked him to write a letter detailing  his situation. He and younger sister Sarafina are orphans. Since their parent's deaths, they have been staying with a cousin, Paulette, Gran and an aunt, who is a seamstress. Gran died.  Matant was not able to make enough money to support everyone so saved  for a passport and travelled to the Dominican Republic in August to look for work. There has been no word since. They fear the worst.  She had paid for first term for the kids.

Fredelyn - 9eme
(3rd year of high school)

Sarafina- 7eme
(First year of high school)
Tuesday we made a home visit, met cousin Paulette, then travelled  to town to-gether and paid school fees for the rest of the year. While our working model is effective and efficient, finances limit our ability to say yes to everyone who knocks looking for soutyen. Those lucky ones you meet  here are in the minority.

And in closing

Friday afternoon was blog post time. But a phone call from a friend of Micheline's changed that. Micheline (3rd year Medical Technology) was very ill and the hospital could not keep her. Auguste picked her up by taxi and brought her here.  She has Typhoid, H-pylori, Filariasis and anemia. More sleepless nights. Add private duty nursing to our list.

In response to the last blog, Judy in NB, Canada wrote: "I am ...moved by the letter from Nicoly G...I am a senior with very limited funds... wondering if I ...can be part of this young man's future by sending $10. a month - part of another group that steps forward, perhaps?" (used with permission) We have added Nicoly to our group sponsoring program "Starthrower in Action". It takes one to make a start. It takes another to keep the momentum going. Perhaps that is you. Thank-you Judy.

A special hello to the members and staff support of the Girl's Club of Golf Road Junior Public School in Scarborough, Ontario. Starfish themselves, already seasoned Starthrowers. Remarkable.

So to all you remarkable readers, kenbe pa lage.



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