Monday, December 10, 2012

Visitors, visits, another pair of eyes

Monday morning at 7:45 am the school in our backyard called its students in with loud speaker recordings of Jingle bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in English in 95 degrees.  At the moment there is electricity and sunshine. Hopefully enough solar power to recharge inverter batteries. Hydro woes continue to plague us although our visitors last week were content to use the solar powered lamps we keep on hand. They were also very patient when truck breakdowns delayed planned activities. I should know better than to plan.

After a flight delay which gave us time to change a flat tire at the airport, Marjorie (Sarnia), Marilyn (Guelph) and Kathy (London) arrived with loaded suitcases, transporting French books, Aqua-tabs, dental products, and computers which Marilyn had picked up at my apartment in Orangeville. Thanks to Eugene, Nico and Sylvia for the donated items and also for delivering them to Orangeville. We have established a system (of sorts) which eventually gets everything to Haiti.

After unpacking, Kathy and Marilyn joined Camiose and Myriame processing the books they had transported, and all were ready for Sen Rafayel by the end of the work day. Mme Joceline, who does our laundry, had assured me that she could also cook. She was right. Her rice, beans and legume could become legendary.Our first meal to-gether was a success.

Camiose, Kathy, Myriame and Marilyn - work and Kreyol lessons

Mme Marjorie - trip recovery

Mosquitoes, rain and power outages also greeted our guests but we set out for home visits next day in spite of the weather. Brunel and Dialine were first on our visit list . They arrived punctually at 1 pm. Unfortunately our truck was again undergoing emergency repairs in our driveway and we didn't set out until close to 4 pm.  Brunel  had changed locations so needed a revisit. His brother-in-law appears to be over the death of his wife, Brunel's sister. He put Brunel out as he was in the way, so he is now staying with an acquaintance of his father. The lady is giving Brunel floor space to sleep but he is not allowed in the living room, nor does he receive meals. There is no toilet or running water. 

Brunel shows us where he studies on the roof  - no shelter from rain or sun.
Dialine's home visit had to be aborted as every avenue was flooded or knee deep in mud. By the time we arrived at Mona's, daylight was waning and the rain was starting again. Home meant prepare for Sen Rafayel - make sandwiches, pack the truck. 
Sandwiches for Sen Rafayel. Every job was tackled with enthusiasm
as there were no expectations of "what am I going to do"

As advertised, the mountain track up Granjil proved to be a jolting experience for everyone. But the machinery held up and we arrived without misadventure. 
Impromptu Kreyol lesson in Sen Rafayel

I learned a great deal from our visitors. Most significant - there are no language barriers when one comes with an open heart and a sense of humor and wonder.

Library corner in Sen Rafayel  - Furmancia, John-Steevenson, Dahendie and Sterlin(photo courtesy M. Couture)
As electricity has not yet reached Sen Rafayel and we have no solar power until the roof is completed, all food is packed in 3 Rubbermaid insulated hampers, along with copious quantities of ice. Making ice is a challenge when the hydro keeps playing hide and seek.  I wasn't certain how much 5 people needed for 3 days but there was still ice left on day 3.  After setting up the library corner ( the shelving we had purchased in the market arrived without a scratch) and lunch, we set out for the first of 12 home visits. Four were accomplished late the first afternoon, then four next morning and 4 in the afternoon. Exams are starting in the village to-day. In Cap-Haitien, our young people will finish exams Thursday.

Home visits are about more than the students. They are about the oldest in the home and her prized possession, a bible. They are about the youngest in the home who has never seen white skin. They are about the children in the neighborhood, doing their homework on a piece of warped Cilotex or rusting corrugated metal.

Prized above all -- a Bible in Kreyol

Is it the glasses or the white hair?

Homework on a dirty, stained piece of Cilotex.
Photos courtesy of M. Couture. It is eye opening to see my day through 
someone else's eyes. Thank you, Marilyn.)

Visiting Andreus - meeting younger brother for whom he is responsible

Visiting Carline - so malnourished. First on list for sponsor.

Visiting Ducadin and sister Medanise - distributing Aqua Tabs
Note solar lamps charging.

On each home visit, we meet everyone in the house, check for study space, kitchen facilities, water source, bathroom facilities, sleeping arrangements - everything which contributes to a healthy life and success at school. So much is lacking yet these 'everyday heroes' get up in the morning and move through the day with dignity and grace.

In between home visits, visitors painted chairs, walked the village and again made friends by exchanging national anthems. It was very moving to hear O Canada sung in that little center and to watch the reverence with which our young people sang their national anthem. 

Under the supervision of Mme Marjorie, the workshop was efficient and fun.
Our chairs are now fit to sit on.
Another jolting trip down the mountain, a good night's sleep then a day in town visiting Sant Sakre Ke (Sacred Heart Center) begun by our friend Sister Rosemary and still functioning. It was an opportunity to renew old acquaintances, make new ones and share a meal.

New acquaintances at Sant Sakre Ke(photo courtesy M. Couture)
A final photo then a trip to the airport. 

Marilyn, Kathy, Marjorie, Lusnot, Auguste
Note the camera in Marilyn's hand. She was never without it.
It is now 3 pm . The electricity has come and gone at least 3 times. This time the end was in sight so have marshaled  the reserves of the inverter and calling it a day, posting before all is lost.

Upon arrival home, Kathy penned a lovely brief reflection of an experience here which encapsulates all. 

Imagine someone taking away all but two rooms in your house.
Now imagine those two rooms shrinking to 5’x 6’.
Your furniture is gone, including your bed.
Your painted drywall and hardwood floors have morphed into damp, cracked concrete and your ceiling is a ripped plastic tablecloth.
Your door is a 25 year old curtain.
You have no toilet, but there is a hole in the dirt behind your house.
Your parents are dead and you are barely more than a child, but you look after your five younger brothers and sisters.
A lovely 16-year old girl walks into a classroom, her uniform crisply clean.  She’s thin, but her eyes are lively and bright, her hair is neat, and her smile is contagious.  She carries her textbooks in a backpack and explains that she is in “deuxieme” – our equivalent of 11th grade.  More than anything, she wants to be a teacher.

 Do these images seem incongruous?
She is real.  She has a name.  She’s alive, she’s beautiful, and there are millions like her.
Won’t you give her a thought as you climb into your comfortable bed tonight?

Be well

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cap-Haitien,nursing students

It's 4:04 am and I'm working in my 'junior garden suite' (ground level room which overlooks the driveway) at the Ports of Call in Providenciales. Although it created a bit of chaos in the house in Cap Haitien, leaving a day early proved to be essential to making to-day's connecting flight to Toronto. The normally 8 am departure left Cap shortly after noon. Apparently the airline is one plane short due to maintenance. Which gives me the luxury of being able to get up at 4 am and blog. No roosters, no sun, just the hum of electricity and an occasional passing vehicle.

Auguste emailed me last night as we were expecting exam results for Sherlyne and Edwina  They had written entrance exams for  University Roi Henri Christophe in Cap Haitien for entrance into the 4 year nursing program.. It has taken the better part of a month and two trips to Port-au-Prince for archived Releve de Notes for every year of school  plus trips to the police station for a statement of good character and Justinien Hospital for medical clearance to secure the papers to register.It is an expensive, time consuming process.

Both were accepted. We are probably going to turn out enough nurses to ease the shortage. Certainly enough to staff our fledgling Sen Rafayel Clinic.

Sherlyne - 1st year nursing
   Sherlyne has a sponsor for the full 4 years of her  program. Thank you Mme Yvonne. 

Edwina - 1st year nursing
Edwina has two sponsorship's which cover approximately half of her fees. Thank you Yvonne and Joan. This year we need another $1500. to get her through first year. That could be one donation or 3 donations of $40. per month (or any variation which gets us there). 

 Venise  also hopes to study nursing but her results came too late for application. She will sit out the year and we'll will look for funds for next year.

When I entered Milot hospital last month with pneumonia, one of our 4th year nursing students Alland was on duty. It was an overwhelming feeling to see him in action,  confident, professional, respectful. These young people make many sacrifices to pursue their chosen profession. Sponsor fees do not cover everything and there are times when they are hungry or without supplies. But Haitian students are world class when it comes to degaje (managing)

4th year nursing students Wisly and Gaby discuss workshop topics for 
both our centers with director Auguste.We ask them to give something back and the
 information programs 
were their idea.

All of our students are excelling both academically and in their practicum programs. Our boys continue maintaining top of the class standing. Brunie enters third year with a 90% average.
Brunie receiving her cap.
The school year for senior nursing students has already begun. First years will begin Oct. 28th. With the exception of Sherlyne, all of our nursing students are in need of sponsorship funds. The others are supported
by groups of Starthrowers In Action. Sadly this past year two of our sponsors died. Perhaps we could dedicate Starthrowers in Action to students in medical fields. Just a thought!

About 90% of our Cap-Haitien students.
Before I left on Thursday, we attempted to get our Cap-Haitien secondary students together for a group shot. It was the same as Sen Rafayel. Kids realizing they are not alone, eating together, getting to know each other, beginning new friendships which for some will last a lifetime.

Full house in Cap
As I mentioned last blog, it takes a dedicated staff to operate so many programs  successfully: intake, home visits, text book refurbish, registration, uniforms, medical, dental, eyeglass, potable water distribution, study sacks, tutoring etc.

In addition to secondary school, our university programs are all managed by Cap-Haitien staff.

Cap-Haitian staff:
Front row: Jolie(canine security)
2nd row:Dieugrand (grounds)Auguste (director)Joceline (house)
Edwina (book program) Lusnot (branch coordinator)
3rd: Sherlyne (book program coordinator) Camiose (book program)
Rosema (grounds/dogs) Myriame (Book program and office support)
Rear: me
The new year has begun. Thank you for the part you played. I hope that you will be around for the further adventures of Starthrower in Haiti. Please tell a friend.

If you are in the Orangeville area, I will be speaking at the Mill St. Branch Library this Wednesday at 7 pm. Hope to see you there.

Kembe pa lage.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sen Rafayel: school opens, home visits

In Sen Rafayel on Tueday morning,  roosters  crowed, the sun shone,  humidity was nil as heavy rain Monday night took care of that. Tuesday was the first day of school in the village (bouk-la). Monday afternoon staff posed for a group photo just before the rain began. Saint-Luc (student) a new part-time security staff member was missing.

Staff Sen Rafayel: (rear) Kesner(security) Danius(building projects), Edeline
(branch coordinator)
(middle) Adelaine (student), Solange (hat -full time)) Tigger, Granjil,(canine security)  Angeline(student)
(front) Auguste (director)

We had requested our students be released from classes for half an hour for a first ever group photo.
 School administrators know us and the work we are doing, so they were  accommodating. Auguste taxied to the most distant school, Lycee Charlemagne Perault. Some began arriving on foot about 9 am as  had afternoon classes. Our second floor is well under way, constructed of commercially made blocks. Auguste had found the company. Although we had to wait for the blocks to be made and delivered up the mountain,  delaying start of the second floor, it was worth the wait. The blocks are so strong - the masons working with them were extremely happy.This is my long-winded way of saying we had a second floor on which to pose half of our students.

2nd floor - Lycee Charlemagne Perault
galri - College Le Phare,
in front-College Cacique Henri and College Le Genie.
It requires  dedicated staff to get this many young people ready for school - papers checked, homes visited, text books cleaned, organized, listed, backpacks, hygiene products, school supplies purchased, delivered, uniform material purchased, uniforms sewn, school badges secured, delivered for insertion on pockets, shoes, matching socks -- you name it. Although about a third of the kids arrived too late for this group photo, it still gave everyone the idea that they are not alone. They arrive for interviews one at a time, we visit one at a time. There was a great deal of joking and laughter. It was a memorable moment.

Lakay Jasmine Taxi - service to Lycee Charlemagne Perault

Returning to class placed a great strain on our vehicle. Only in the village is this the norm for transportation.

With the exception of a holiday in Milot, we have been making our way through home visits. The 'holiday' turned out to be a virulent strain of pneumonia which began with a night of fever,pain and vomiting (in Sen Rafayel) followed by a tortuously slow descent down Granjil mountain, me trying not to roll off the bench seat. After finding a new doctor, blood work etc.. I was instructed to get to Milot hospital asap. And there I stayed for the better part of a week while staff unraveled  my symptoms. Thanks to Allimax again I am close to 100%. So back to home visits..

Cap-Haitien has a few left.   Sen Rafayel will take most of the year, given the number of new admissions. 
Rose Magda-Alina

Rose Magda-Alina sleeps on a small square of cement in this tikay owned by an uncle. Her mother has had a stroke and is partially paralyzed -- she lives elsewhere. Her father is dead. In July Rose had an infection in her feet which caused them to swell and blister. She could not walk nor wear shoes. She crawled to our centre. We drove her home and gave her money for the clinic as well as money for a taxi moto. She was writing exams at the time and refused to go to the clinic until exams were finished. She just missed her year with 49%. Because of this she also has to change schools. The Lycee maintains strict academic standards. Her feet have recovered.

Furmancia's tikay was a mixture of paper walls and cement
blocks with no mortar.

Walls are made of cardboard. Her new backpack hangs
away from the bugs and damp.

Her legs were covered with sores
During the visit to Furmancia, I noticed that her legs were covered with open sores. She said they were painful and itchy. I asked her to come into the centre and we would clean them up and apply some cream. Next morning she arrived.

One of many reasons for opening a clinic on site-the room is ready.We have 3 nursing students entering 4th year, one third year and 2 first year.
Two others wait, their passing grades arrived to late to apply.

She returned at 6:30 and we reapplied cream and covered with a light gauze. The inflammation was already receding and the itch had stopped. I couldn't help but think of her and her brothers and sisters in a cardboard house as the rain pounded and the wind howled.

At 6:30 next morning she arrived again, first day of school, for me to remove the bandages, bathe and reapply  cream. They were so much better. As it was the first day of school and she had to get home to put on her uniform I asked Auguste to drive her. She said ( in her very small voice) no thank you - I've left a keen (5 gallon bucket) at the well. I have to fetch water for my family. I can manage.

Our next visit was to sisters Angeline and Siseline. Their tikay was almost as fragile as Furmancia's. One wall was a sheet of Silotex, used as a chalkboard and covered with equations. I am always in awe.

A wall of silotex -a homework station
Auguste (Director) sisters Siseline and Angeline

There are 12 more visits from last week but they have to be put on hold. I am scheduled to depart Saturday morning for Providenciales with a connecting flight to Toronto. A call to an airline employee this morning was not reassuring. He recommended changing my flight to to-morrow if there is a flight and if there is a seat available, as the connection could be in jeopardy. 

So I'm going to pack my meager belongings and try to get the house ready for visitors who will be returning with me in November. Auguste is entering the new year student lists again. The computer he used yesterday will not open to-day. 

Be well

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Under the weather, exam results, Monise

Hi All

Here is a partial list of reasons why this blog is overdue:

1) In July the operating system on my laptop was compromised and I was without a computer

2) I flew to Provo in the Turks and Caicos to purchase a new laptop - arrangements and flight coordinating took some time.

3) While travelling I picked up a particularly virulent chest infection which flattened me . Today (Aug. 28) was the first day I have felt slightly human

4) Tropical storm Isaac paid us a visit for several days knocking out electricity, cell phones and internet

Of interest but not on the list is the fact that apparently I shared my hotel room in Provo with at least one mouse which chewed through my backpack to get to  protein bars I had purchased there to bring back to Cap. It was a tenacious mouse - 2 bars were destroyed /or enjoyed (depending on your perspective)

Preparing for Isaac - can you find Auguste  in the tree?

Because of our subscription to the national hurricane center website, updates provided ample time to prepare both locations. In Cap-Haitien, Auguste, Rosema and Lusnot spent an afternoon trimming the huge tree in our front yard. The wires in front of it are (believe it or not) the EDH (Electrique d'Haiti) feed into the house. Although the tree had been trimmed in September, it was again a threat. In the corner of the picture the text book repair program continues with mild interest in the proceedings.
In Sen Rafayel, Edeline and staff scoured the market looking for tinned fish (nothing else available)for the dogs and sachets of drinking water for students. In both locations we did a clean up of the yard (lakou-a) picking up anything that could go flying in a strong wind. We were ready.
As of to-day we have not been able to travel up the mountain due to fallen rocks, mudslides and uprooted trees. Auguste and Myriame are heading up to-morrow, hopefully to deliver supplies, support the staff and pack up the text books which have been repaired since our last visit.

Sherlyne prepares Myriame to take over the Book program.
Sherlyne was BON for Philo so heads to university for nursing.
Myriame is being groomed by Sherlyne to take over coordinating the Book program. It is a huge undertaking as it means travelling to and co-ordinating staff/materials at both centers.  While Isaac was dropping in, some results from the Ministry also arrived. Sherlyne, Edwina, Suzeline  and Lusnot were all bon (passed) for Philo.  Myriame, Phana and Dahendie were bon for Retho.
With returning health comes returning responsibilities, so I spent the day reconstructing sponsor reports now that there are some results to report. That lost operating system had given me much grief. Sherlyne's sponsor replied with an email that she was supporting her through university to study nursing. I'm so happy for Sherlyne but it means replacing her in the book program. Myriame has been working with her this summer and should be ready to take over in the fall when school resumes. Our biggest challenge now is to find enough new backpacks for each student. Cindy reports that she has backpacks in Pennsylvania ready to go but when they will arrive is anyone's guess. In the meantime we search the marketplace and pay the equivalent of $25-30. USD for a new but often not strong  backpack. We had 26 on hand and to-day we found 18. We need 150.
Fresh from his Philo success, Lusnot tutors Venise and Marik (Philo)
Rewrites are usually within 2 weeks of result post.

Dieugrand and Paudeline - working on Physics for Retho

Camiose prepares French Lit. while Jolie
guards the corner
Students writing baccalaureat exams are either Admi(pass)/Ajoune (must rewrite close to passing marks) or Elimine (fail). Here in Cap we have 6 Ajoune, the rest Admi.  No eliminations!! This means every corner is occupied with students preparing to rewrite. Our text book program was relegated to the parking space to-day. We have a better than 90% pass rate.

Christamene, Carline and Mona - relegated to the parking space
We are flexible!
There are still no results for Sen Rafayel. It creates a bit of a panic if rewrites are necessary. Sunday Auguste and I will head back to Sen Rafayel for the week to begin  home visits to the 45 students admitted to our program. It is so difficult to cut 300 plus down to so few.

While every letter is from the heart and usually says a great deal in a few paragraphs, there are those which stay with me. Meet Monise.

Monise - asks for the consolation of a manual trade
Her letter - as always click on image to enlarge

(Translation from Kreyol)

Dear Madam
I greet you and compliment you for the good work you are doing in the area of education because education is the key to life and one becomes an active person in society by education. I don't know the words I can use  to encourage you to keep firm to your good work.
I am writing you because I was admitted to Reto but because of illness I did not finish 3rd trimest. This year its 3 years since I went to school. My papa died in 2000, just maman kept us alive to-gether but she contracted a grave illness and died in 2011 leaving us 10, 5 girls and 5 boys.
Each time I reflect on my life it doesn't make sense  because I'm not doing anything. If I had a manual trade I could take consolation in it.
This year the goal/objective of my life is to go to school to study sewing but I don't have the means. It's for this I am writing you - to ask for help in this situation.
I already thank you for receiving my letter.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Roadblocks etc...

Here's the problem -- roadblocks. Sometimes they are figurative - two weeks ago I opened my computer and read the message PLEASE INSTALL AN OPERATING SYSTEM ON YOUR HARD DISK. ??? Roadblock. After consulting with our web admin, his tech friend Phil, my tech friend Alex, I  arrived at the conclusion I must replace my laptop before I return to Canada mid October. How does an operating system become compromised? I have confidence the tech staff at Staples in Orangeville can resuscitate or at least retrieve lost videos, photos, lists once I'm there.

In the meantime,there are blogs to write, year end sponsor reports to rewrite (because I did not back up - my fault) and send, new school year lists to create  and so on. Currently I am working on Auguste's  small, very slow,  not to mention old notebook computer. The screen is smaller than a telephone screen (yes I exaggerate) and the keyboard was not built with my arthritic fingers in mind. Thus the more than usual number of typos. Note to self - Auguste needs a new computer.

Sometimes roadblocks in Haiti are literal - Tuesday morning Sherlyne, Auguste and I headed to Sen Rafayel. The end of our street however was blocked - the katye committee had been cleaning up the interior and dumped everything at the end of the road. Better there than in front of  our gate, yes. The smell of rotting garbage (fueled by 100 degree plus temps) made leaving town a very good plan.

Sometimes you roll up the windows and plough through a roadblock.
(Our corner Tuesday morning.)

After  3 hours of shock and awe on the mountain track to Sen Rafayel, we arrived - to be greeted by yet another variation of the Haitian roadblock - a construction project which used our entry road as it's personal space.  Every trip in and out for the 3 day stay was a testament to Auguste's driving skills.

The truck at the corner could not be moved as it was anpan.
There was a clearance of about 2 inches.
This is the only way in/out.

Sherlyne  (Philo student - program coordinator)  was along to impliment the book repair program in Sen Rafayel. Gone are the days of trucking everything to Cap-Haitien. What a blessing! While I interviewed, hired, Sherlyne  set up the physical space.  Edeline kept the office  running with its usual efficiency.   Auguste and I moved on to  a series of  pre-set meetings requested by  the directors of 3 of the 4 schools we feed. The directors were very interested in the programs we run and by the end of the visit  strong partnerships had been forged.

Angeline, Widelaine, Dahendie, Consienne, Wilnise, Sherlyne, Solange
Book Renew program - day one.
 Also on the agenda - a final meeting with 30 intake students whom we had interviewed in June. After the initial interview at which we had checked papers, money was distributed for official school photos. Now they returned to sign our contract, choose their school and deliver photos for registration. Once the office closed at 6 pm, Auguste and I began the  work of preparing lists and envelopes for the schools. Our new Retho students (9) begin classes Monday Aug. 6th. so time was of the essence.

9:24 pm and we are still a long way from finished for the day,
 thanks to solar lighting and a computer with fully charged  battery.
Next week we meet with returning students. In Cap-Haitien, Lusnot was at Lycee Boukman registering returning students today but Sen Rafayel has a different rhythm.
The director of College Le Phare, Auguste, Sherlyne
Visits to each of the schools was on our To Do list so we fit them in as next week will be about returning students.  A  final visit was on our agenda - to check construction on the new house for Consienne and her family. In April I posted a home visit video. When her sponsor saw the condition of her home, he asked if we could tear it down and rebuild. Consienne's mom is blind and sat in the dank shack waiting for it to fall on her. After checking the deed, arranging for a survey and renting a temporary place for them , we had the existing structure torn down and a new  house begun.

The new house will be ready to move in by the end of August. It will be safe and dry, with lots of windows. At the centre, the clinic is taking shape and I have finally found a new block maker for the second floor. As Consienne's house winds down,  push is on to complete our second floor with the best blocks man can make.

Driving down the mountain in torrrential rain yesterday, we received a phone call telling us results for 9eme were in. Everyone gets very nervous when Nationals are about to be announced. Edeline our coordinator called a while ago to tell us that of the 13 candidates we sent to write 9eme in Sen Rafayel -- everyone was bon. Staff and students  (me included) did the dance of joy and sent congratulations to each successful candidate. Our students continue to outdo national statistics every year - a testament to the dedication of our staff and the support of our sponsors.

This dance of joy was in honor of Sherlyne who had written her l ast Philo exam
Rosema, Myriame, Sherlyne, Mona, Edwige, Carline
Shared moments like that are beyond price - and there are many. Now we wait for Cap-Haitien results for 9eme, then Retho then Philo.

Monday Sarafina and Jean-Ricot are writing finals again -they were ajournee Both will be here on  the  weekend with staff and student tutors. , so we have every stage in the academic year taking place within a few days - inskripsyon, exams, results, waiting.

I have a blog started on Consienne and the housing project but many of the pics are locked inside the laptop now missing its OS. Will complete that blog  when I have  a proper size laptop - hopefully with the currently unreachable pics./videos -- either after I travel to Provo to purchase one or the universe delivers one.  I left out the best part of the week - chasing mice in the kitchen in the middle of the night with dogs Tigger and Granjil and security staff Kesner. It was an adventure which ended at 3:40 am. Seven minutes later, then again at 4 am the church bells rang calling the choir to rehearsal (repetisyon). Sometimes I just laugh at the absurdity of my life. 

It doesn't get much better. If I was really clever I would somehow bring this back to the theme with which I started - roadblocks. But I'm not so I won't.

Be well

Friday, June 29, 2012


My friend Cindy S.  in Inglewood has a car which, in Winter, warms the seats for passengers. Very welcome in sub-zero temperatures. We have the same available here although it cannot really be deemed an option as it cannot be turned on or off - it just happens. It also only happens in the warm weather -winter months when a little heat would be welcome, it is conspicuously absent. With temperatures consistently above 100 degrees, every seat is prewarmed -sofa cushions,  chairs (wooden, plastic, iron...), bed, toilet not to mention vehicle. Getting dressed in the morning or getting into a nightgown in the evening means that the clothes one dons exude heat as though just ironed -- with an iron set on high. Same for sheets and pillow cases.Argh!!

If the environment is beyond warm to the touch, imagine what that means for unrefrigerated food and water (not to mention mounds of garbage which fester in the streets). I woke at 1:30 this morning with a feeling that something was not right. Good instincts. The electricity had again left as I slept and within the few hours I had perspired in dreamland, our refrigerator had completely defrosted. The floor was  a small swimming pool. Fortunately the solar batteries had enough charge left in them to run the fridge and freezer until the electricity (EDH) returned. Fully awake after mopping the deluge, it seemed like a opportune time to finish the last of a series of blogs I had started over the past 3 weeks but was forced to abort when EDH and solar power left in  tandem. I just deleted 7 partial blogs.  So many stories untold.

To tell those stories, I  sometimes draw from letters we receive  from those hoping to be admitted to our  education support program. They contain a  great deal of misery because misery is present in such large quantities. Friday Micheline dropped in with a letter.

Director Auguste with Micheline June 22
Micheline was one of the first students I met when I travelled to Sen Rafayel in 1999. In 2002 she left the village  to stay with her aunt in Cap-Haitien and attend school. By that time I had taken on several of the Sen Rafayel students who had migrated to Cap.  A few months later her aunt died suddenly of unknown cause, and Micheline contacted me at the Pension Brise de Mer,  again by hand delivered letter, to ask if there was anyway I could help her with housing as well. In those early days I was always surprised when students tracked me down as I had no place to call home.

In 2008 Micheline finished Rheto and registered in the medical technology program (laboratoire medical) at  Institut Polytechnique du Cap-Haitien in Vaudreille. From the time her aunt died, she had told me she wanted to be able to help others who had undiagnosed illnesses. She graduated in January this year and this month completed her last hospital placement in Limbe, the final requisite for her diploma. She is busy putting together her CV to begin the job hunt.

School year 2006-7 Micheline in Rheto
On Sunday she travelled to Sen Rafayel with us to provide some objective thoughts on putting a small clinic and lab on site. Her training and passion for health care were evident. She was enthusiastic about the possibility and very insightful with suggestions and questions,  designing the lab, nursing  and waiting areas for maximum use and comfort. What a great resource she will be.

Although she had delivered a card and letter on Friday, I didn't get to read it until Monday night upon return from the village.
We ask for handwritten letters for program admission because they provide so much information - not always what is said but often the way it is said. Micheline's letter was not solicited so it is a treasure. It speaks to the adult she is becoming. I'm translating portions from Kreyol. Although it is addressed to me, it belongs to every person who has donated a dollar or whatever amount through the intervening years. Micheline never had the luxury of a sponsor, so 'general funds' sponsored her. I couldn't have responded to her needs without your support. This one is for you.

" Today I feel I have a full exuberant cup of joy in my heart because I am taking the occasion to write this letter to you.

The objective of this letter is to tell you thank you for everything that you have done for me in my life - for example paying school for me from 5th grade to professional seems that at each difficult moment you were always with me.

Manmi Sharon, I cannot imagine all that you have done -giving me food when I was hungry, when I was sick you gave me care. Thank you if I didn't say thank you at the time. I remember when I was discouraged and couldn't pay the rent and was put out of my house. At the moment a friend offered me a place to stay, I fell gravely ill and you quickly sent staff for me and brought me to your home for nursing care.

Thank you - you are a good mother of this family .... thank you, a thousand thanks for everything you have done for me."

Mil mesi pou tout sa-a w fe pou nou
A thousand thanks for everything you do for them

Carpentry Shop, Exams, Solar relief

We have discovered a stress relieving activity which can be done alone or in company with the added benefit that something tangible is created. Not Yoga, although that would also work - Woodworking! Everything we need for Sen Rafayel must be purchased in Cap-Haitien and trucked up the mountain. The open market in front of Customs offices on the boulevard is the best place to find treasures - albeit some look as though they have been buried treasures but we clean, sand, prime, paint, varnish with enthusiasm. There is a perception that cost of living must be very cheap in Haiti, however the opposite is true. No large buying base--high prices. The only store in town with a desk for sale (one model, not aisle after aisle) has it priced at 25000 gds, ($625. USD) In the market we paid 7500 gds each ($188.US) for a desk with six drawers  and a table with 4 chairs for the library. 

Sen Rafayel library gets furniture

The office gets a desk - finally
We've temporarily lost our weekend staff as State national exams are coming up -9eme beginning July 10th, Rheto and Rheto libre July 23, then Philo and Philo libre July 30th. Those who are rekale (rewriting missed subjects from last year ) begin Aug. 4th. Once they are finished we should have first results and those with near pass marks (ajourne) will have the opportunity to write again. It's often October before we know who passed and who didn't. Some schools have already started by then. It means that planning for next year or post-secondary applications are often delayed. At both of our centres it is study, study, study.  What impresses me in Cap is how these young people from different schools and different zones have come to-gether to form study buddies. Cap-Haitien (lavil la) has a distance factor -  very different from Sen Rafayel (bouk la) where everyone knows each other and everyone walks everywhere.
Kinston and Phana (Rheto) different schools (Cap centre)

Staff member Lusnot tutors Edwige and Mona (9eme)
(Cap centre)
Sherlyne, Venise (Philo) different schools
(Cap centre)
Study for everyone this term has been made much easier thanks to the funds raise by the Palgrave Rotary, Life after 40 and Women with Spirit. We were able to purchase and distribute solar lamps sold by a Canadian-Haitian company out of Port-au-Prince (Micama Soley). Everyone is thrilled with the products. No more kerosene,candle,matches.

Delivery day - Checking the solar lamps

Firefly solar lamp  at work in Auguste's tikay
Our two trips to Sen Rafayel this week showed students with the same commitment to study. In Cap the students in different grades don't mix but in Sen Rafayel, perhaps because of the luxury of time - no rush to catch a tap tap, a walk home with others leaving the centre, there is a grade mix in the study pattern. I have been astonished at the natural teaching ability of some of our young people.

Rheto and Philo study mix in Sen Rafayel
On the weekend we doubled the amount of board space in Sen Rafayel and tripled it in Cap-Haitien. A chalk board is just a sheet of Cilotex but it gets the job done. Chalk is one of the few items we are able to purchase here.
It is intake time for us. In May we received submission letters. In June and July we prioritize and hold intake interviews. Over the past 2 weeks,  Auguste and I have interviewed 45 potential admissions in Sen Rafayel. which includes checking their papers and verifying information in their letter. Thus far we have offered admission to 20 and have a final round of interviews on July 18. For those new to our blog, Starthrower in Haiti is an education support program. We do NOT have a school, rather we work within the Haitian education system, supporting local schools which we vet carefully looking at academic performance, staff performance, student comments... When we take on new students, (those who are in secondary and have been sitting out for at least a year due to financial distress) we offer them a choice of school from the list we have compiled for Cap-Haitien and Sen Rafayel. In addition to financial support, our 2 drop in centres operate 7 days a week for the kids providing a snack, potable water, study, tutoring, a game of dominoes,  newspaper etc...
Meet a few new faces ......



Sen Rafayel continues to challenge - changing but not in the most significant ways. There are now poured concrete roads and sidewalks. At what price? Houses being razed with no compensation. The poor get poorer. EDH has hydro poles and transformers in place but when electricity will arrive is anyone's guess.Who will have access - another thorny issue.  However, if you have 10 gourdes you can listen to a soccer match. And if you have 100 gourdes you can get a plate of rice and beans at this restaurant. Fortunately the last plate had just been sold.We made do with the sandwiches in our cooler.

This restaurant was take out only - and the last meal
was taken out before we arrived.

Advertising is alive and well in Sen Rafayel - for 10 gourdes
one can listen to a soccer match on a portable radio

In addition to paved roads there is a shiny new covered market, impressive to look at and jammed with throngs of buyers and sellers on Thursday's market day. The problem becomes apparent once inside. The rental prices for a few feet of covered space are just too high for a poor marchand and so the choice interior spaces sit empty while those who cannot afford to pay sit crammed to-gether under the blazing Haitian sun, hoping to make a few gourdes before the day is done. And there it sits - a testament to  someone with a great idea who didn't ask the poor what they needed.

Til next



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