Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rain is water

Two blogs in two weeks. My brain hurts just thinking about it. But if one is  anyplace that has weather, then there is  something to talk about. As I prepare to head back to Haiti, Canada is showing her finery... mountains of multi colored leaves carpeting sidewalks and lawns. And they weren't shed  a minute too soon because last week's snow gave a preview of the winter to come.

In Haiti, a different story. After more than a week of no communication from staff, I finally got through by phone last night. Auguste is sick - most unusual, but his immune system like so many others, has been compromised by the Chikungunya virus. Other opportunistic invaders have seized the day.

With Auguste temporarily out of commission,  it falls to our security coordinator Dieugrand to be the liaison between Sen Rafayel and Cap-Haitien. Up and down the mountain every week in a taptap. For the last month that trip in an open vehicle has been made more uncomfortable and dangerous due to the return of the rainy season. On our last trip to Sen Rafayel before I returned to Canada, it rained. Sen Rafayel is used to rain. It comes fast and furious, destroying gardens, washing away soil, rocks, anything in its path. Heavy rain slows everyone and everything. We're never in a hurry on the mountain . Some of the taptaps which shuttle people and goods up the mountain had pulled off the track to wait it out.

Riding inside is a luxury which costs more.
Supplies such as rice purchased for resale in the village, are ruined.

Every public transit vehicle is always packed, with passengers
hanging off the end.
But Cap-Haitien has been a different story. With no rainy season for 2 years and dry wells everywhere, it seemed as though Nature had bypassed us. Not so.

                      Poor donkeys -- always urged to do more than is physically possible.
Coming into town, the pace picked up. Business as usual. The difference between the haves and have nots is  evident. So many needing to get someplace but with no shelter. Donkeys mingled with push carts and motorcycles. 

The men pushing and pulling the cart go barefoot.
 They work as hard as the donkeys, doing that which seems impossible
for a few pennies.

Roadside signs (above) are printed on canvas.
When the wind picks up, they're gone (below)

RAIN IS WATER. For those who have no access to running water, it is an opportunity to shower.
Although I did not know it at the time, this was the beginning of the long overdue rainy season.
  (In addition to not being a writer, I am also not a photographer. Those blurry objects are  windshield wiper blades and bits of car hood. All pictures taken from inside a moving truck.) 

Running water, no matter how dirty, is a chance to shower. 
One temperature only - cold.

Rain is also an opportunity to get clean and play soccer at the same time.

This young girl took advantage of the rain to shovel
garbage from the street into the fast moving gutter.

A month of heavy rain and thunderstorms has made life very difficult. At least 6 of our kids have lost their housing due to severe flooding. Auguste knows of 7 people (adults and children) who have been killed. Mold and mildew are growing everywhere, bringing more illness.  Waterborne illnesses are  reemerging. Once it stops, mosquitoes will renew their relentless quest to spread Malaria, Dengue and Chikungunya to as many as possible.

For the time being the garbage smells are masked by water. But that won't last. Even the rats are hiding. But that won't last.

                                              Garbage and rainwater - a noxious soup.

Day 1 of a month of rain. Inside a katye popile

Whether inside a katye or on a main  street, shelter is anything that gives 
some coverage.

For the second week,  schools  are closed. They did just open last month but the real threat of flooding, mud and rock-slides makes it a prudent decision.  School closure means our drop in centers are busier. In Sen Rafayel, it will keep those who live on the other side of the river away. 

Today is Remembrance Day. My dad was a vet from WW II. My mom died on Nov 11, 2009.   I appreciate a day given to memories and celebration of courage. There are so many battles in life, some personal and some that make the front page or go viral on the internet. Rain in Haiti isn't big news. The battle to survive on this planet is often relegated to a statistic.

Statistics have  faces.  We can't fight the elements, but we can be present and be witness to the struggle. We can put names to the faces. And we can make a difference - even if its  one at a time.

"Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing
economic growth...these are one and the same fight.
We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity,
energy shortages, global health, food security and 
women's empowerment.
Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all."
(Ban Ki-moon)


Sunday, November 2, 2014

WE'RE OKAY! , Back to school, Elanie

"I'm Okay!" If you haven't seen the You tube video of toddler Tristan in minion Halloween  costume (what's a minion you ask -- I have no idea) falling on his face and reassuring the adults that he is not hurt, take a minute. But only if you need a laugh or chuckle. During a recent phone conversation with my sister, who is going through a major health crisis, she asked if I had seen it. Her description alone started me laughing and I laughed even harder when I saw it. Laughter - good medicine.
Click here to see video. 

And the message "I'm Okay!" to everyone who has asked about the long time between blog posts. When I returned to Canada 2 weeks ago, I left behind 142 students and 20 staff members, 7 dogs and 1 cat.  Our numbers are down from 160 as we had 18 graduates this year (20 last year). Of that number, 65 students and 8 staff members were/are infected with the mosquito borne Chikungunya virus (myself included). Only 1 student has recovered. It is the gift which keeps on giving. Six of our students are repeating the school year as they were unable to write final exams due to the infection. It changes lives but one adjusts and copes with the joint pain, stiffness and swelling.  In addition it destroys appetite and thirst, causing the body to lose strength rapidly, as seen in Carline, Inea and Claudine.  BUT WE'RE OKAY!




Last week Starthrower received a generous donation of Allimax capsules from the CLM health group, thanks to the collaboration of their web admin Jennifer and company president Kate. CLM has been helping us since 2010. We are so fortunate. This will go a long way to help build /rebuild immune systems. It will travel with me when I return to Haiti in 2 weeks. 

In my absence, Auguste is doing his usual admirable job holding down the fort. All high school students and university students in the Dominican Republic are in school and attending classes, while the remaining 4 nursing students will begin classes and hospital placements this week. Our nursing graduates Brunie, Gaby, Wisly and Alland are back taking classes in preparation for writing State licensing exams, which will complete their nursing degrees. Brunie has asked if we can find the funds to help her continue her studies as she wants to specialize in Obstetrical nursing.

After a grueling 5 years of university, Brunie
wants to continue her studies and  specialize in

 In our Cap-Haitien center, Auguste searches for Philo text books for Viola,
 while Lusnot (who is much taller) coaches from the floor.

In Sen Rafayel, staff members Danius, Sabine and Angelene sort text books and prepare
packages according to grade and school. (Lakay Jasmine, Sen Rafayel)

The 1500 plus textbooks we repaired and recovered between our 2 drop-in centers in the summer have been distributed and our shelves are bare. However we still have a list of more than 200 textbooks needed as schools made and continue to make changes to required reading titles. No such thing as a final list. We will be hunting the market place until first term exams begin. 

Not everyone chooses high school graduation.  Monese is entering her 4th and final year studying cooking and sewing at Sant Professionel Sen Jozef in Sen Rafayel. It will give her skills to help support her 9 younger brothers and sisters. Rosema has just begun a 4 year program at Fondasyon Vincent to study construction. He will come out of the program as a licensed Contremet (Foreman), able to facilitate all aspects of a building project from planning to final touches.
 What would we do without our truck?
Senior student and part-time staffer Rosema arranges his new drafting table and
chair, hand made by his professor at Fondasyon Vincent .

In spite of the challenges: too many young people on the waiting list, insufficient funds, roads closed, schools closed, protests turn violent, gunfire at our gate, no supplies, no electricity, no water, no ice, too many disease bearing mosquitos..... WE ARE OKAY!

Recent trips up the mountain had everything from an unadvertised detour to road surfaces sabotaged with burning barricades and large holes which required waiting for dump trucks filled with gravel to fill in before passage. Like Chikungunya, a new norm.

Unadvertised road closure - in order to get to the mountain base
we blazed a new trail through the nearest field.

After losing a morning being turned back by bridges roped off
we followed police vehicles and gravel bearing trucks. 

Regardless of the late arrival, whether Cap-Haitien or Sen Rafayel, first on our list is finding water.
It is now nearly a year since our well dried up in Cap-Haitien. When we have the resources to purchase pump, storage chateau  and generator we will have our own water supply in Sen Rafayel. We are accelerating the hunt for property in Cap-Haitien, which will also give us a new water source.  But in the meantime,  WE'RE OKAY!
Everyone  pitches in when we return victorious from the hunt
for water. It is taking longer and longer to find it.
Last week I began packing my suitcase for the return trip. I'll repack until I leave to get the weight acceptable for the airline. Tucked in the suitcase liner I found a letter from one of our girls in Sen Rafayel. She had written it in August and delivered it to the center. I knew it was there but forgot about it. It was written by Elanie , who lives with her widowed mother. Manman Elanie (Elanie's mother) suffers from debilitating asthma.

 This is a translation from the Kreyol.  It is addressed to Madame Sharon and the object, she writes, is thanks (ranmesiman).

"Today with honour and respect I say hello to you.
The reason I am writing is just for me to say thank you for your help, your support,
your courage, your counsel, your guidance in my new school life.
And I say thank you also for the support you have given towards my mother's health.
I thank each member of the center staff who encourage me and give me counsel."

What a beautiful young person - no prodding from anyone, just a spontaneous expression of gratitude. Her gratitude is intended for everyone who supports her activities. I'm just the catalyst.

Chikungunya also causes fatigue so intense it is too difficult to hold a book let alone read. I know I'm on the mend because I'm reading again. I recently borrowed The Tao Of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff (Penguin Books USA, 1982) from my Naturopath.

Much of it resonated with me. I couldn't help but think of Elanie and her letter, and the rest of our students and staff as I read this passage:

'Do you want to be really happy? You can begin by being appreciative of who you are and what you've got. Do you want to be really miserable? You can begin by being discontented. As Lao-tse wrote "A tree as big around as you can reach begins with a small seed; a thousand mile journey starts with one step."  Wisdom, Happiness and Courage are not waiting somewhere out beyond sight at the end of a straight line; they're part of a continuous cycle that begins right here. They're not only the ending but the beginning as well. (Hoff, pg 137)

Wishing each of you Wisdom, Happiness and Courage


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