Monday, October 24, 2011

Going Home, Updates, Funraiser

Monday I return to Haiti.  A month goes by in the blink of an eye. I'm just settling into the Canadian lifestyle, revelling in the crisp Autumn weather and able to string to-gether a couple of sentences in English without lapsing into Kreyol.  Much has happened in Cap-Haitien since my Oct.1st departure.  Construction continues in Sen Rafayel. Gone are the hundreds of bamboo supports and interior finishing (krepisaj) has begun. Septic tanks are ready to go.  The privacy wall has been extended across the front.  Eventually we will be adding a gate for visitors and vehicles to enter and will top the wall with decorative iron work. Doors will open for student use in November and work will continue on the second storey. Although it has served the purpose, staff will be glad to move out of the depot.

Kahlil Gibran wrote:

" I prefer to be a dreamer among the humblest with visions to be realized..."

Thanks to the Jasmine Foundation, the  vision  of an education support centre, long held, is fast becoming tangible. I am in awe when I think of what  we are  growing to-gether in Sen Rafayel.

Looking like home.
On a recent trip up Granjil Mountain, it seems our truck was parked in the wrong place at the wrong time. A truck belonging to the company doing road work in Sen Rafayel damaged both the passenger side of our vehicle and the  hood.   Fortunately no one was inside. Insurance in Haiti is a mandatory government program which unfortunately covers nothing. We are depending on the word of the driver for repairs. If they don't materialize, we will live with the battle scars.

Bruised but not bowed
The new center is going to be a busy place. Currently in Sen Rafayel  there are 21 senior students enrolled with us who  are ready to enter Philo, the final year of high school.  Unfortunately the village secondary schools have been unable to find teachers, so our seniors will sit out the year. To facilitate this crisis, we are grouping students who wish to participate and setting up daily study sessions, with a resource person on site.  As we have already purchased materials and text books, we'll add a light meal daily for participants.  At the end of the academic year, we will support those who want to write state nationals as they travel to Grand Riviere du Nord for 4 days in July. Those not wishing to write will return to school full time next fall if a teacher is found. Given that there are still 300 letters from July requesting support, several of whom want to finish Philo, the number of participants will grow once we begin interviews and make the move.

Auguste is qualified to mentor this program, so he will be spending more time in Sen Rafayel. That leaves me to operate the Cap-Haitien center. I will also be making repairs to our rental center as we suffered some damage from the magnitude 6 quake which took place in September off the coast of Cuba.

As usual, Auguste is doing a stellar job in my absence. He sends reports via email every other day so I'm in the loop. I have also added a new skill to my repertoire - texting. It is a surprisingly quick and easy way to touch base.  Should it be necessary, it also means Auguste does not have to be at work for us to connect. The portability is a great plus.

Auguste at work(with Valon, Evains, Dieugrand)
Last week  senior student Camiose was in hospital with typhoid and H-pylori infection. Typhoid is a very debilitating illness, so I have notified her sponsors as it can affect  academic success.  Mme. Joceline is off work as she is  experiencing abdominal pain, leaving Auguste on his own throughout the day. On my advice, Inea has delayed surgery  (Thyroidectomy) until I return. After speaking with an endocrinologist here, I am aware of the critical nature of on going  post-surgical  support.  The 3 letters I have sent to the hospital have gone unanswered, which makes me think she will be sent home post-surgery with no one to follow her.

Inea's initial visit, July 2011 - courage comes at all ages

September -a  smile that says  - I'm going to high school!
So next week, we'll go to see Dr. Jerome to-gether and ask him to take her on.  Replacement thyroid hormones are a life-long commitment if the entire thyroid is removed.  Once everything is in place, we will reschedule the surgery. When she knocked on our gate in July asking for school support, I had no idea we would be connecting for life. At age 16, with both parents deceased and no living grandparents, aunts or uncles, we are her only possibility. Once her Thyroid is removed there is no going back. If possible, I would like to delay the surgery until she has completed the meds for Tuberculosis. She could need support through high school and whatever career path she chooses in order to be able to continue the hormone replacement therapy which would  keep her alive.

This is roughly an 11 year commitment - 7 years of high school and perhaps 4 post secondary (ie: nursing, medical technology..) Additionally we are covering rent and food costs for her and younger sister Dina. One starfish at a time.

In Closing...

Thanks to all who have helped me get around during my stay - Cindy, Jane, Terri, Betty-Lou, Brandy, Daniel and anyone I may have left out. The universe knows.

Mil mesi ( a thousand thanks)  also to the Orangeville unit of the Canadian University Women's Club for  the opportunity to share our work.  Everyone made me feel very welcome and questions were so insightful. It was an exhilarating evening.

Thank you also to Linda and the amazing members, past and present,  of the Golf Road Junior Public School Girl's Club. You are my heroes.

Last but not least, Acheson's of Orangeville will again be holding a Starthrower Funraiser,  Thursday Dec. 8th.  Details to follow.  Our web admin Daniel will be there to sign his graphic novel and do sketches.  I will be there as well -  taking a week to come and support the hard work Diane and Cindy do in putting this day to-gether.  It's also a great opportunity to speak one-on-one with folks who have questions about what we do.

And finally, also from the mind and pen of  Kahlil Gibran:

"Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh
 and the greatness which does not bow to children."

A guide  for life's journey : remember to laugh and cry and honour the young.
Profound simplicity.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

On the road again

Although leaving Haiti is always emotionally wrenching, a four-month absence provides surprises upon arrival in Canada which briefly take my mind off those I have left behind.  For example,  I forgot that I had been to the laundromat the day before I travelled, and all my "Canada clothes" were clean. Good surprise.  On the kitchen table, a vase filled with beautiful cut flowers with a note from friend and board member Jane saying "Welcome home." Crisp fall weather and clean breathable air. On the down side, four months worth of mail to be sorted, opened and dealt with. The  new phone company had not resumed service as directed, following, disappointingly, in the footsteps of my former provider. Surprises of a prolonged absence.

But  the ups outweigh the downs - electricity, running water, and a library across the street. The abundance of Canada makes me more aware of the poverty of Haiti and my small apartment seems palatial. Rain welcomed me the first night, making the transition easier. In September in Cap-Haitien, we  experienced heavy rains and thunderstorms nightly. Last week we paid a home visit to Ednie, new intake. Once out of the truck, always a source of curiosity to any neighborhood, we navigated narrow passageways and puddles to arrive at the  6 x 8 ft tikay (small house) she shares with a marenn (godmother) and her two young children. It was necessary to duck heads and step down about 18 inches to enter.

The heavy odor of mold/mildew assaulted us and the 2 inches of water puddled on the floor was disconcerting. A water mark from the morning was visible - level with the  top of the step. Because of the area in which they live (Fosenmichel) the rain water was mixed with salt water and erosion of the cement blocks was very evident.   Ednie and 'family' were used to the inundation and  moved through the water as though it was not there.

It doesn't take long to inspect one room. Usually Ednie and the younger children sleep on the concrete. However when the rains come everyone huddles on the single bed normally reserved for Mme. No toilet, no kitchen, no electricity, no running water, no personal space.

Visit over, we headed a few blocks away to Aviasyon  to visit Inea and sister Dina to drop off rice, beans and Inea's new backpack filled with text books and other supplies  for the upcoming school year. We didn't get far. With nightly storms, there isn't enough drying time and some areas could not  be reached by truck. We were able to pay a driver to deliver the supplies by motorscooter. The storms continue - unprecedented  for September/October. It will be interesting to see what the rainy season brings.

Puddles everywhere-small children were swimming
and adults  were bathing.
Last week brought good news for Inea. She is tuberculosis negatif. Meds will continue for 3 months then she will be retested. If negative again, she's homefree. Unfortunately the cyst on her thyroid continues to grow, causing difficulty swallowing.  She is scheduled for surgery at Sacre Coeur hospital in Milot on October 28, so my time in Canada will be cut short. Whenever one of our students undergoes surgery, we bring them back to the house for a week to 10 days of post-op care, minimizing the potential for further infection. The caveat is, of course, if a doctor shows up on the scheduled day.

We also visited new intake Suzeline, who lives in the same zone. Another orphan, the single room she shares with brothers, sisters and cousins was so dark, it made videos impossible to view. I used a flash to take some pictures. The only source of illumination was the flashlight in the cell phone I'm holding. It was 10 am on a brilliantly sunny day. The absence  of any light source was  disturbing. I can't imagine living in a state of sensory deprivation day after day. Most disturbing was the open well at ground level in a room across the hall. There was no cover for it and without a light source, a child could easily fall in.
Light from cell phone flashlight

Same space with camera flash - Suzeline (lt)

Sen Rafayel

On our last trip to Sen Rafayel before my departure, we stopped to talk to some of the young people who try to make a living filling in the pot holes. When shovels break down, they work with bare hands.  There is little monetary return for the hours of back breaking labour. We pass the same kids every trip and always pay them something on our return.  One young man now looks for us and gives us a gift of freshly picked oranges and grapefruits. Occasionally we give him a ride down the mountain to visit friends. We took a little more time and stopped to talk with Frandzy (12)  and  brother Wisly (10). Their parents are dead and they live with 8 brothers and sisters on the mountainside. Frandzy had a large gash on the his leg which needed medical attention. The urge to 'rescue' is overwhelming at times. I sent bandages, baseball caps and sunglasses with Auguste the next trip he made after my departure.

Orphans Frandzy and Wisly on the road to Sen Rafayel
In the village, work continues on the centre. Danius, 3rd year university student (Bus. Admin.) and a master mechanic has taken over supervising the project in tandem with M. Franck, master mason.  Friday the roof was poured (koule dal-la) by a konbit (work group) of 23 which included masons, cement mix master  (met pel -literally master of the shovel) and students. The bamboo supports will remain in place for 15 days. In the interim the septic tanks are being finished and work is starting on the security wall which fronts the property.

Bamboo supports will stay in place for 15 days while the roof dries
The office is still operating out of one of the new storage depots and co-ordinator Guerlande is calm, organized and efficient in the midst of the chaos. We are still waiting for end of school year results for about 2 dozen students in the village. Schools did resume for most this week. Some marks are coming too late for us to register students for the coming year, so if possible,  we will again play catch up in January.

I know the time in Canada will fly by, but it always seems too long,  too much time away.

In my 'Orangeville' purse, another surprise - a scrap of paper on which I had written the quote "Coming generations will learn equality from poverty and love from woes". I don't remember why that particular quote from Kahlil Gibran spoke to me, there are so many.  I can only hope that it is a process even now taking root and growing  in the world. Learning from poverty is a  life-long education.

Kenbe pa lage


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