Saturday, July 23, 2011

Following Inea

It's 2 am and there is both electricity and an internet signal. Unfortunately the battery on my computer died so if I am to take advantage of this unique occurance, I am obliged to sit in the dining room and give the marengwen (mosquitos) free reign. 

Wednesday I introduced you to Inea. We had sent her to Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Milot with senior students Edwina and Camiose. Student advocates are selected carefully, in this case Camiose plans  to study nursing and Edwina wants to be a doctor.

Thursday Edwina and Inea returned to the hospital. Camiose was unavailable, taking on tutoring duties to help Talien through his rewrites in August.

Camiose tutoring Talien -what does BIJECTIF mean?
They arrived back here with the gift of a  diagnosis. It has taken years of personal visits and sending request forms to clinics and hospitals to arrive at an understanding with each organization that we need accurate information  not only to serve our young people but to get a handle on the illnesses they suffer and the causes. Only then can we take appropriate action. This is how our potable water distribution program came into being. We tracked the number of water-born illnesses for a year. But I digress.

She has a battle ahead of her- - tuberculose ganglionnaire et kyste thyroglossal. (Lymph node tuberculosis and thyroglossal duct cyst) In addition to meds and monthly follow-up appointments at Milot, because active TB, she was also referred to l'hopital Fort Sen Michel for dressing changes on the open wound, more meds, and information re: the role of Sante Publik in tracking her disease. Tuberculosis should be a thing of the past.

Edwina explains regimen for TB patients

Edwina is turning into a fine advocate, asking the right questions, getting the answers and passing all information on to us. As Fort Sen Michel is in town, it only required half a day for a consultation.  The ultimatum that she move from her tikay immediately caught us off guard and completely unprepared. What a bombshell - Inea was told at the TB clinic that she had to move from the place she was staying as the kind woman who had taken in the 2 sisters has active TB and has not sought treatment. She is the reason Inea is ill. The ultimatum was laid down because someone who is infected and receiving treatment has no chance of recovery if the source of the infection is still present and untreated.   Sante Publik would not provide meds unless she moved. Meds must be taken at 6am with food and again at 5 pm.  In addition as she is underage, the person delivering the meds must sign a daily log and present it weekly at the hospital as medication is provided for 7 days. There are also mandatory monthly follow-ups at Milot.  This is a 6 month regimen at which time she will be re-assessed re: surgical intervention. What do we do now?

Boss Serafin at work with machete - clean up!!

Before the dilemma presented itself,  Boss Franck and Boss Serafin had arrived at 7 am Friday to cut down trees (with a single machete of course)  and help us clean up the compound.  In the midst of this chaos, there is  a now- homeless, sick teenage girl (with a younger sister probably in need of TB testing as well) sitting on our gallery looking like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. Parents dead, and now told she has to move - immediately. There are no easy solutions in Haiti - no support for communicable diseases, no respite programs...

A quick conversation with Mme. Carmene cooking in the kitchen explained the situation. We ask - if we can find a clean room or 2 to rent in her neighborhood, would she consider cooking and delivering the food morning and afternoon. Her daughter Markdalina is one of our students and could help. It would increase Carmene's work load but also her paycheck. The bonus - she could work from home. Yes she knew of a place. We sent Inea and Edwina to her place to pack her meager possessions. As we needed temporary quarters,  our security apt, only occupied when I am in Canada, was torn apart, cleaned from top to bottom. Bringing the girls here is not my first choice but given the time constraint, it was the only option. It's a temporary measure but gives the girls a clean place with safe water, a toilet and shower as well as the support of our staff. Unfortuately I am the 6 am cook. 

We loaded the truck with wood cut from our trees and delivered a load to Boss Franck's brother, who will make cooking charcoal out ot it. Auguste took a quick look at the potential rental space at the same time, then returned for me.  Myriame and Jean-Ricot agreed to work late to accommodate.

The rental space was as expected - a single cement block construction room - new but unfinished. The tol roof has holes, which the owner says he will fill with mastik. He will let us finish the walls (krepisay) add a screen door and cover the windows with screening. Location is ideal - about 10 feet behind Carmene's house. Now we need furniture, bedding, etc.

After the look-see, we headed to pick up Inea and sister Dina, a precocious 16 yr old  terrified of our dogs.  We spoke at length with Mme who had taken in the girls and asked her to please get tested at the hospital, as Sante Publik would pay for her meds. She was obviously very ill and depressed, and explained that she just has bronchitis and it will go away. How many more  people will be infected by contact with her? We promised to keep in touch and returned to the house by 6pm, at which time everyone left me with 2 hungry teenage girls who were now, in their eyes, living in Paradise (except for the hounds from hell!)

Sisters Dina (16) and Inea (17) - first meal at Lakay.
I do not remember this being in the job description.

Pi ta (later)

PS It's now 7:40 am. Inea took her meds for Tuberculosis and ate at 6am. She is now covered with an itchy red rash, getting itchier by the second. She also said she feels as though her throat is closing.  I've given her Benadryl. Sante Publik is closed for the weekend so Monday early we'll head to the clinic and explain why she stopped taking the meds. It just keeps getting better. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Last week I sat down to read the 37 letters we had received over a 3 day period. Unsolicited letters requesting support to continue secondary education.  I read for information, highlighting what we need. At the same time in Sen Rafayel, the roof was being constructed and poured on the security centre of our new compound. In the office,  used text books were received and processed.
Letters: compelling, disturbing, sad
In Cap-Haitien, books were also being processed. Tutoring and book repairs simultaneously  happened on the patio, interviews on the gallery and in the office. Hopefuls knocking on the portay, dogs yapping. Others coming to eat, to rest, to enjoy a little shade. We multi-process.  At times it is necessary to block out everything and pay attention to the  task at hand.

Myriame sorts text books by grade & subject
As of  Tuesday 74 letters - numbered to indicate order of arrival not importance. When someone knocks at our potay, we explain the current financial situation. Letters are only solicited  when we receive new money. Every young person is told very clearly that there is no money and leaving a letter  assures nothing. Rather than take them back, without exception they say if we have their letter there is a chance we will read it and follow-up. Letters are coming from new places - Grand Riviere, Limonade, Limbe, Sen Michele, Gonaives, Dondon. There will be a stack waiting for us in Sen Rafayel. The letters are a fraction of the inquiries we receive. I've translated from the original Kreyol.

Letter #1 comes from 12 yr old Bernadia. She writes "I'm orphaned of father. When I had 7 yrs my papa died. My mother begs to solve life. I have 2 sisters and 1 brother. It has been very hard to arrive here. My mother feels she can do nothing anymore. I'm just a kid who has 12 years and loves school a lot. I would like to sit in a classroom this year. I'm writing you to see what you can do for me."  Bernadia is in Grade 8. 

#2 was written by 17 yr old Danouse. "I have a big problem that has happened in my life. I have neither mother nor father to help me in life, just a sister. I have no brother. It is in the 'kay' of my sister I live but she is married, and (her husband) doesn't want me to live inside the house. Because he's not my father, he says it's not he who should pay for my school.  He will pay if I go to bed with him (pou m sevi ak li). If I don't he won't help any more with anything. I can't accept that. For my head (mental well being) I can't do what he wants. He could pay for school very well.  I've finished 9eme and am writing to ask if  you will see if there is any way you can help me with this situation ."

Monday #56 was delivered. Her name is Inea and she is 17. She writes "...I have no mother or father, they're dead, no grandparents. I'm in difficulty in school because I have no one to help me...I have spent a packet of time sitting and waiting. One person I saw asked why I was sitting, did I not like school. I said yes and he paid for the state school this year. Mama and papa left 7 little ones, they don't go to school at all. The person who paid disappeared and after I wrote exams, I cried because I had no one. (note: She has to pay to secure results next month) A  person who was passing asked why I was crying and I fell down explaining . He gave me money for a taptap and told me how to find you."
What Inea's letter did not say was that she had been suffering from a very severe Thyroid condition for a long time and had no one to pay attention to her needs.

17 yr old Inea - enlarged Thyroid area. White area (rt) boil which burst.

After looking at the distended thyroid and the hole caused by a boil which had just ruptured, we brought her in to the compound, fed her, talked about her letter and her life and took her to the clinic.   Auguste is known by clinic staff so they looked her over and recommended she go to Milot for consult. Back from clinic, I covered the  neck wound as clinic staff would not touch it. (Everytime I clean a wound I say a word of thanks to Lesley, Jenna, Pam, Alyse and Peter, the home nursing team who taught me so much during post-op recovery)

 We are  fortunate to have amazing students. Student staff members Camiose and Edwina  are working the book program alternate days, so we offered another day's work to travel with Inea to the hospital. It is a long, uncomfortable day, travelling in open tap-taps, sitting on hard benches.

 They had to catch the 'bus' to Milot at 5 am in order to arrive early enough to secure a card, meaning up for the day at 3:30 am. They arrived back here at 3:30 pm, having spent the better part of the day as expected,  sitting and waiting.  Fortunately Inea had a dossier which we had checked out on our impromptu home visit Monday.Also fortunate that there was an actual doctor able to see her. 

Edwina, Inea, Camiose -home from the hospital. To-gether they prepare
an itemized accounting of funds spent.
Thursday am they repeat the trek for results - another 3:30 am wake-up.  Initial diagnosis: removal of the Thyroid was recommended. We always ask for information -what is the condition  which necessitates this invasion and if  absolutely necessary, what follow up will be available. Teaching our young people that they have the right to ask questions AND receive answers, has been an uphill battle. We send a short form asking for a one-line diagnosis based on lab results. Clinics and hospitals have resisted this for years.

Inea is one of thousands who knock on our gate yearly seeking education support.  Summer is always busiest. Most we turn away for lack of funds. We CAN do the work. As it is, we don't have the funds for surgery for her, but we've used the rent money before for urgent care.  Many, like her, need medical treatment and never let us know. If the thyroid and boil had not been visible, we still would not know. Haitians suffer in silence. All need dental treatment - Inea  smiled for the first time  yesterday when she came back from the hospital and  blackened teeth tell another tale.

Every young person who takes the time to find paper and pen  (no easy matter when you're an orphan without a home) and write to us deserves to be heard - and beyond hearing, each deserves the opportunity to become the person waiting inside. I've only shared portions of 3 letters. Between Danouse's letter (#2) and Inea's (#56) are 54  other young people you don't  know yet. I took a look at letter #57 and it is from 3 teenage brothers whose parents are dead.

 I once wrote that we were experiencing a flood of young people - but floods retreat. I have no analogy  for this phenomenon. I just know that doing something is better than doing nothing, and one at a time is more effective than none at a time. I also know that every dollar makes a difference and everyone can do something.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rain, Sen Rafayel, Rose-Guerlande

Although hampered by persistent rain and spiralling prices,  our new education support center in Sen Rafayel is beginning to take shape. By the end of last week, masonry foundations were finished, 1000 blocks had been made (one at a time) and installed by the 3 masons, their apprentices and many of our students. It's the only summer job available in the village and like everything else there is a waiting list.
Taking shape - our storage depots and security room.

Rain continues to present challenges. Jack arrived  in Cap-Haitien Saturday at noon for funds and to see his family. Auguste and I were to travel back up the mountain with him Monday, however the mountain track was so bogged down by mud and rock slides, Jack returned by public transit and we rescheduled for Thursday. He phoned Sunday night to report a 6 hour trip in the pouring rain . He traveled squeezed in the back of an  open taptap along with 30 other people.  I'm glad we waited. Two weeks ago we burned out the clutch trying to get out of the mud on a home visit.

To-day he arrived back (Wed.) to purchase  cement, plywood and plumbing supplies.  Again, he reported heavy rain nightly in the village, and when he left, the truck (kamion) delivering sand was stuck and it's hydraulics were not working. The load was deposited by back-aching shovelling.

The search for supplies took the entire afternoon. In the last 2 weeks, cement has gone up in price by $1.30 (USD) per bag and plywood has increased $13. (USD)  a sheet . We needed 15 sheets but only found 6.

Add 'carpenter's assistant' to Myriame's job description
In addition to rain hampering construction it plays havoc with the water supply. Kolera has again become deadly. In our village, 8-10 cholera deaths are being reported daily.  There were 8 Tuesday and Jack knew everyone of them. Tomorrow we'll have more information. Malaria cases are also surging however, that was expected. Auguste's sister is ill, with cholera-like symptoms. He put in a very full day then left in a hurry to travel to Milot where she is in hospital.

Thank goodness for the addition of Myriame to education office staff. We continue to be run ragged. Paying attention to the needs of 170 young people is a feat of juggling. Every situation is unique.  Jean-Ricot was 'ajoune' meaning  in August, he will have the opportunity to rewrite the subjects he failed. Carline pulled off a 75% average on her finals for the same year and came looking for a summer job. Turns out she is an excellent  tutor. Jean-Ricot told me  that Physics is starting to make sense.
Edwige, all smiles after completing Nationals
for Grade9.
Her sister Sherlyne prepares to write Reto this week.
Carline -a born teacher
I have  begun to notify sponsors of their student's end of year results. As some schools have already distributed results while many still have not written (Philo - Nationals next week) those results will be arriving until September.

In closing, while 150 of our young people are in various stages of year end exams, and our 20 post secondary students enter third term,  there are still twenty who have been waiting for a year for support to continue their education. I leave you with Rose-Guerlande, our 'dentist-in-waiting'. Five years ago she appeared at our gate with her aunt, who had somehow heard of us. Both her parents were dead, her sisters scattered to live with relatives. She is a scholarship winning student with a compassionate heart and her goal has not wavered - she wants to become a dentist, knowing the woes the poor suffer because of the lack of dental care. After almost a year of trips to Port-au-Prince we have fiinally secured her passport. She has been studying intensive Spanish to help with integration into student life in Santiago, Dominican Republic. She just needs a few of you to say yes to her dream.

Rose-Guerlande -last month

Rose-Guerlande -5 years ago

4am comes early - more from the other side of Sen Rafayel.

Kembe pa lage


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