Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sen Rafayel, Kinston, Some statistics


Although this keyboard lacks  accents and  punctuation marks, I'm certain  you get the idea. Am brushing up what little Spanish I have --we're heading for Santiago in the Dominican Republic with  dental student, Rose-Guerlande. We travel by bus, a great way to see both countries as this will be her first trip outside of Haiti.

She will settle in with medical students Elorge and Marlene for this trimeste. Saturday we'll purchase a bed for her and  check on Jhennie (completing 2nd year Bus. Admin., UTESA). We'll also shop for erasers, pencil sharpeners etc. The quantities we need are easier to find.

Sen Rafayel

Sunday we arrived back from Sen Rafayel about 6 pm., not so fresh from our second trip this week. Although we still await results from the Ministry of Education, we were advised Friday that reinskripsyon  for all other grades took place last week at the Lycee.  Our new co-ordinator paid a visit to the school and requested an extension. They know us, now they know her, and no problem. Before we pay school fees, we meet with students for the purpose of reading and signing the student contraact. Auguste and I worked all day Saturday revising the contract  as well as preparing payment envelopes for each grade level.
Auguste distributes contracts and answers questions. Students are sitting in
what will become covered study/parking space.
In the middle of the job, a call came in from M. Franck, Mme Carmene's husband. They have become surrogate parents for our orphans Dina and Inea. The cyst on Inea's thyroid was swelling and she felt unable to breath. Could we please do something?  Hospitals and clinics do not function weekends and this was a long weekend  as August 15th is the Celebration of the Patron Saint of Cap-Haitien.  Patronal feasts are long and loud, with expats returning to celebrate, filling hotels and closing businesses, banks and hospitals. As we couldn't take her to hospital, I sent some Rescue Remedy by taxi with Auguste and it seemed to calm her panic  and the sensation. Work resumed.

In addition to supplies for inskripsyon, we packed much needed shoes/ work boots which arrived from Mme Cindy this week and baseball caps and sunglasses which arrived from Peg in Virginia via Cindy in PA. Thank you both so much. One of the boys working on our center was wearing runners held to-gether with wire. Shudder.

New hats-Djohn, Jack.New shoes-Wilno, Thony. New septic- everyone.
While Auguste and I met with center staff and the students, Jack and the team worked on the fos pedi (septic tank) as daily rain delays again plagued construction efforts. We function regardless of circumstances: inclement weather, no building...  For the fourth consecutive visit, rain sent us down the mountain. We are becoming abitye sa-a (accustomed to it).

After securing lists, Sen Rafayel staff phoned with book lists  so we began the second half of our summer program. The repair phase of our Book Program is winding down and we move into  preparing personalized backpacks from school lists and searching for,  and preparing books new to lists. We had planned a visit for Guerlande here to work with Auguste in the office however as of this writing, our truck is out of commission as is the pump in our well, so no transportation, no water. We have been trying to find a plumber since Thursday and now the toilet is leaking as well. There has been no electricity for several days but we have solar power which operates the fridge (alas not the fans).


In Cap we are also starting reinskripsyon for those who have results. Home visits are an integral part of our school program. As we did not visit him last term,  Friday we visited Kinston, after driving around for 45 min. looking for potable water to purchase as well as air for one of our tires.  Although we have visited zone Konasa with other students, this neighborhood was new to us and vice versa, so there was a great deal of interest in our presence.

The parade which followed us into Grann's tikay
Wood in corner to build security door
Kinston and his cousin live with their Grandmother. Grann is a survivor. At the age of 87 (or thereabout) she has buried all family with the exception of 2 grandsons. She wants to come and visit us someday. Auguste and I have talked about putting to-gether a day celebration to honour the caregivers who do their best  to provide for our young people in the most dire circumstances.

Kouzin, Grann and Kinston
I've never watched  reality television. Interestingly,  a cousin of mine once accused me of coming to Haiti to escape reality. I wasn't available for enough family functions. While it's probable that family functions  provide fodder for 'reality' shows, life doesn't get more 'real' than Haiti  -- it is unique and original, filled with  heroes like Grann. She is a hero - making a home for her grandsons in a dark 6 x 8 shack which lacks windows, water, toilet, kitchen.... Somehow she manages to feed them once or twice a week -- yes, a week not a day.  The difference here being nobody swoops in with supplies and a helicopter to  airlift one 'off the island'. 

Our farewell party
And in closing...

Kesner hunts for Gregory's letter in the cache
In keeping with the reality we live, last Tuesday's visit to Sen Rafayel brought a surprise -- a drawer filled with 150  letters requesting school support, received during July but somehow misplaced during the move from the old office and the transition to a new coordinator.  If I hadn't stopped to talk to a young man sitting beside the office (Gregory) I would never have found them. When asked about his letter, I consulted my list.  His name was not on it.  Kesner remembered receiving it so we began hunting.

Of the 300 plus letters we received in Sen Rafayel in July (same volume in Cap) I was able to whittle the list down to 171, moving requests for university, trades and transfers to Cap-Haitien schools to other lists. Of the remaining 171: 
- 38 both parents deceased
- 61 father deceased
- 24 mother deceased
- 13 had been sitting out of school for at least a year
- 14 had lost parents to kolera which began end of October and continues to tear apart families and the community.

In this small sample,  72% have  at least one parent deceased, 22% with both parents gone. There are still 98 names on our list from Christmas, plus we provided support for 170 during the school year. 

Now I'm really closing...

Two weeks ago I sat in the back driver's side of a taxi heading to town for groceries. In the front another female passenger. The driver stopped for a young girl holding an umbrella to shade her baby. She was going to the medical centre just a few blocks away so they made a price and she got in beside me. The passenger in front took the umbrella as Haitians are helpful in the extreme.

 I looked at the child she was holding and started to make a comment. After several seconds I realized the baby was dead. He looked like a perfect doll, no breath, no movement, just a  lifeless doll.  Instead of commenting on the baby, I told the girl she looked too young to have a baby. She replied that she was 15.

With that, the taxi drew up to the centre and she left, being careful to arrange the umbrella over the infant. It continues to play over in my mind night and day. I'll never know her story, but if we can provide support and encouragement to one more teenager to allow them the opportunity to grow with dignity of choice, they will change their lives by the decisions they make and the ripples will spread. Sunday as we bumped along over the mountain track up Granjil, Auguste mused on how  totally his  life has changed since knocking on our gate 7 years ago. One at a time.

Thank you for your partnerships
Lape (in peace)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Weather, Sen Rafayel and Okap

I am only writing from personal knowledge of my little corner of Canada when I say that weather always seems be a topic of conversation, regardless of the season. Too hot, too dry, too cold, too wet, just right, favorite season, too much snow, not enough... Even given the possibility that Tropical Storm Emily might come calling early to-morrow, there is no weather talk here. Perhaps that is due to the absence of the Weather Channel, and by extension most forms of informing media. Even the small, traditional battery-run transistor radio is difficult to find in the marketplace.  If not for the National Hurricane Centre advisories on our computer (thank you again Jackie!!) we would be in the dark, so to speak. With that advance, we are able to inform our staff , their families and friends. So they have been apprised of Emily's potential path and  ability to create havoc. They also have a little prep time and know not to arrive for work.

Sen Rafayel

In Sen Rafayel, the weather continues to be a conundrum and a hindrance.  Instead of the parched , dry weather typical of the summer months, heavy rains persist, instantly turning roads and paths into mud which challenges travel by vehicle and foot. A week ago we headed to Sen Rafayel to visit the constuction sight, continue home visits, complete interviews for a coordinator for our new center and meet with 2 of the young people we considered in crisis after reading their letters.

The building sight was really coming along, although slowed by the all too frequent rain. The roof on the security center was drying, held in place by bamboo poles, the trench had been dug for the center,  ready for footings and posts. I could picture each room as I walked the marked off ground.  The process unearthed some massive roots from the giant mango tree we had removed, creating  more work but saving us headaches in the long run.

 We hired Guerlande Cherfils, one of our Philo students this year, as
co-ordinator of our new center, here with senior staffer Djohn.
Three home visits were packed in: Wilnise, sleeping on a bed of  broken cement blocks, Chalanda and family  living in a 6x8 tikay with earthquake cracks running from floor to ceiling, and Rose-Evenia's family in a one-room temporary loaner after the death of the family matriarch. They have to move again in October.

Chalanda stands beside one of many large cracks
 from quake - the owner will not repair.

Wilnise - sleeping space for 8

Back to the office to meet with Denouse, parents dead, living with her only sister and  an abusive brother-in-law and Darline, orphaned, no siblings, slowly dying of malnutrition. Temporary housing found, rents paid, we were on the road as the sky had turned black in minutes and the deluge began.

It semed as though the rain was pushing us down the mountainside. It was amazing to watch the road in front and beside the truck. The rain was literally carving it. Shortly after arriving in Cap, a phone call from Jack. The pounding rain had washed the fill back into the trenches, and sent a load of rocks in as well. Last week was spent digging out the root system and moving the rocks. Saturday we headed back as our lease on the rental space expires this week. The security centre was now free standing (bamboo supports removed) so we packed up everything in the truck and moved into our new space. Staff had cleaned Friday so the move was a piece of cake - 2 loads - easy peezy as the gang on The Big Bang Theory would say.

We set up the office in the utility depot and the text book repair program in the food storage depot. Sherlyne, our student program coordinator travelled up with us to demonstrate book repair techniques. As the mango roots had been removed and the fallen rocks and gravel moved back, once again we measured off the center and staked it for a second dig.  Again the day was cut short by darkening sky, strong winds and fierce rain. Again we were washed down the mountain, the mud so strong we crawled for safety sake.

And now Emily is dropping in...


In Cap, tutoring for upcoming rewrites and text book repair programs continue.  Paudeline is enjoying her summer school, Micheline is beginning final co-op for her diploma in Medical Technology. Althega came in with a school bulletin as well as severe dental pain. We sent him to Milot for dental work. His end of year report was a joy to read - he began Medical Technology at the Polytechnique in January. He completed first year a semester ahead with an 89.9% average.

Talien arrived Monday for his tutoring session with Camiose appearing very distraught so the 3 of us sat down. Last week our new President was in town and during the trip through Talien's zone, protests broke out. Rocks, bottles and bullets flew and protestors turned into a gang of thieves, ransacking every tikay. He lost everything. We'll be making a home visit later to-day to see what we can do temporarily and have given him the go ahead to look for another place in a safer part of town.  All this and he has to rewrite exams next week for 5 days.

Inskripsyon began for some, and results began to filter in for post secondary students.  Still no news on results for State National exams.  Our focus however was on Inea and younger sister Dina: finding, renting and setting up a decent tikay for them, setting up cooking/ feeding regimens, hiring senior students to monitor Tuberculosis medications. We happened to be present for a home visit by a staff member from the clinic to follow-up with the woman who was transmitting the TB.  We deposited the girls and nurse in their old neighborhood and left as our list of jobs to accomplish was long.

15 yr old Dina sits on the new bed in the  tikay she will
share with sister Inea. It is basic but clean and safe, with well and latrine.
Monday, we sent Dina to the hospital in Milot with senior student Edwina for Tuberculosis testing.  After 5 consecutive trips, each beginning at 5 am on a tap-tap, we finally had results Friday.  No tuberculosis but multiple vaginal and urinary tract infections. Edwina said it was almost funny to listen to the nurse tell Dina that she had to make certain she bathed with clean water - an orphaned 15 year old with Grade 2 education and no living adult relations - only a 17 yr old sister who is seriously ill.

As Inea had a serious allergic reaction to the TB meds and the doctor at Milot hopital told her to keep taking them, I made a trip to the Tuberculosis clinic in Fort St. Michel to follow up with clinic staff. While there, I spoke with the nurse who had made the home visit. She reported she was able to find the girls' former landlord and do preliminary testing in the home, as Mme refused to go to hospital. Thankfully she did agree to the tests and will receive help.

Everyday we have frantic young people knocking on the portay wanting to know if we will be able to send them to school. We won't know how many we can take on until September, once the 170 from this past school year have been placed. After that we'll respond to the letters according to the priorities which have emerged. Then we'll interview, check papers, make home visits, register with schools, provide funds for uniforms and shoes, prepare backpacks, text books with school and hygiene supplies.

In two weeks time, we' ll be taking Rose-Guerlande, our dentist in waiting, to Santiago for intensive Spanish. We'll take it a semester at a time and the universe will provide sponsors. With the murder of a Haitian university student in the Dominican Republic 2 weeks ago, we are more aware than ever of the responsibility we have to place our students in safe surroundings. The student killed had gone to look for a student apartment. Makes the idea of a Foundation house in Santiago very appealing, as we pay rent for each student.

In the meantime,  good to touch base with you.

Pran swen


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