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


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Letter #55

I've been sitting at the table reading letters since 6:30am  Dogs and cats have been fed, George the rooster is quiet at the moment. I can eat later.

Every May, as part of our intake strategy,  we accept letters from those who were unable to attend school this year. Although that is our criteria, there are always those who have been sitting out for much longer who find a scrap of paper and a pen and briefly tell their story in the hopes of support. If we had the funds, I would say yes to everyone who meets our requirements. But we don't, so as a staff we have to choose - who gets to live with hope and who is crushed because we are the only chance in Sen Rafayel. I have another blog ready to go but this one is demanding my time.

Reviewing letter protocol with Sen Rafayel staff
(Solange, me, Nicoly, Edeline, Kesner)

You would think that after 14 years the stories which unfold in the letters we receive would become conmmonplace. You would think that after 54 letters which demand and deserve full attention, that #55 would be no different.  But each letter still touches me and each story contains the lives of real people in impossible circumstances.

Her name is Arinie - we have to return her letter because she forgot to include her birthdate.

" Madam mwen santim kontan jodia poum di'w bonjou ou bonswa, e m'ap swete wkouraj nan bon travay w'ap fe nan peyi nou."

Madam, I am happy to-day to say good morning or good afternoon, and I wish you courage in the good work you are doing in our country.

"...mwen pa gen papa, men se peche pwason li te ye se pandan li t'ap peche, pyel glise nan yon basen dlo, le neje epi li mouri. Depi le sa manman m vin pa gen bon sans sou li koonya nan moman papa'm mouria, mwen te kay yon kouzen m potoprens."

I don't have a father, while he was fishing his feet slipped in the water, he swam but he died. Since my dad died, my mother has lost her mind so I went to the house of a cousin in Port-au-Prince."

"le'map vini nan lan mo' a machine chavire ave'm. Pye'm te kase ak yon zo nan sentim."

On my way there, the bus skidded. My feet were broken and a bone in my lower back.
"Sa te vin koz mwen pran echek."

That's the reason I didn't pass (my year at school).

She ends by saying:

"nan moman sa mwen vle tounen lekol paske mwen mache sou de pye'm koonye a. Tanpri pran ke'm jis pou m efase enpe chagrin ."

At the present time I would like to return to school because I am walking on 2 feet again. Please help my heart erase a little of the sorrow (grief, heartache)."

There are 54 letters before hers and as many again I have yet to read.



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