Next week I head back to Haiti. My time in Canada always makes me grateful for the abundance here. That gratitude argues with the intimate knowledge I have of the lives of Haitians. The only abundance in the lives of about 80% of the population is absolute poverty. That doesn't mean having nothing -- it means having the pain, discomfort, illness, fear, frustration, hunger, bewilderment that comes from living in a situation not of one's choosing. An accident of birth. Example: while here I developed bursitis in my left knee with possible meniscus tear. After weeks of limping, the pain grew too intense and I couldn't walk resulting in a trip to Emergency at Headwater's Hospital. THERE WAS AN ACTUAL DOCTOR WORKING--not in Haiti. Usually a nurse or two. Two hours later there were xrays and a diagnosis, a prescription and a recommendation to get physiotherapy. MRI recommended as follow up. Not in Haiti --no xray machine, therefore a guess as to diagnosis. No Physiotherapy clinics for rehab. Try to fill the prescription in Haiti. One could go to 20 small pharmacies and still not find it.
Available healthcare -- such luxury. During the first physio session, the therapist asked what I most appreciated when I returned to Canada. Without hesitation or thought I said "Water - safe water -- for showering, drinking, cooking. Hot and cold!" The healthcare system which had led to my diagnosis I took for granted. It didn't even enter my mind. The money to pay the physiotherapist comes from my government pension. Didn't think of that either.
Again luxury. It is a challenge to live between two worlds and find balance. Every shop I have been in over the last couple of weeks has had a clerk who asked if I have finished my Christmas shopping. Usually I just smile and move on but occasionally I say that I don't shop for Christmas as I won't be in the country. With the exception of 2009 when I had multiple surgeries for perforated colon, I have been in Haiti for Christmas since 1998. Christmas for me is a day by myself with the dogs and Lucy the cat. I eat oatmeal for breakfast and have a boiled egg mid afternoon. And drink copious amounts of tea.The staff have holidays. So as I prepare to head back and savor the abundance for the last few days, a reminder of the reality that is Haiti and many other places in the world. Although physically in Canada, Haiti dominates my thoughts and heart.
|We often drive for hours in Sen Rafayel searching for|
a water source. Untreated yes but we have Aquatabs.
|The water source, the canal, is very contaminated.|
|We reuse all water in our drop in centers. Water from washing dishes|
is used to flush toilets as is water from handwashing.
Both drop in centers are staffed by our grads but students are responsible for cleaning up after themselves. They do it joyfully, grateful to have a safe place where they can study, eat, drink and find community, companionship, discussion.
|We purchase reverse osmosis water for drinking|
but its very expensive.
|Heading for a home visit along the canal, animals|
and people cool off, bath, toilet. Laundry is washed
in the same water.
|The same water is used for cooking and drinking.|
|Because the once free state- provided water has|
been locked up and now costs, held hostage by bandits with guns and
machetes, everyone young and old
walks miles to find water.
|Containers of all sizes are prized. All are unsanitary.|
|Young and old wait -- sometimes patience wears thin.|
Sometimes the canal dries up.
|Buckets are often too large and too heavy|
for the carrier.
When we make home visits, about half the time we see latrines, often in need of cleaning out. The other half there is just nothing so folks make do with plastic bags or other containers for body waste. We have never yet made a visit where there was water on site. Dirty buckets sit empty as distance and weight make carrying water an onerous chore. Perhaps because of the scarcity of the most fundamental needs for living, our young people are filled with gratitude to all who give them "possibilite".
This year we have 136 in high school and 14 in post secondary. THERE ARE STILL 260 ON OUR WAIT LIST FOR WHOM WE HAD NO FUNDS. THESE YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SITTING OUT OF SCHOOL FOR ANYWHERE FROM 1 TO 3 YEARS, unable to continue as their source of support disappeared, often it is parents who have died.
The lucky ones admitted picked up funds in September for uniforms and shoes. In addition to the contract our people sign, they also sign whenever funds are received. They take the responsibility very seriously.
Although school began a month early catching everyone unprepared, as always the kids, the tailors and seamstresses rose to the occasion. As did you the donors who provided emergency funding which made the opening of school possible. Here is a sample of some of the new uniforms for this school year. With school beginning a month early while temperatures were still well above 100 degrees every day, many of our young people suffered from painful boils under arms. No soap or clean water for bathing plus uniforms with mandatory long sleeves and undershirts is a dangerous combination.
It has been a year of turmoil and loss, but also of joy and growth. Although it seems as though Canada and Haiti are two different worlds, we all have the same basic needs. Availability and accessibility is the difference.
How can one have so much and one a few thousand miles away have so little? So no, I don't shop for Christmas. If I only lived in this world, life would be different. But I don't. I live between two worlds.
Every time I hear of someone on our waiting list dying I am saddened. It happens every year. If 2016 is the year we are able to develop and enclose the property we purchased in Sen Rafayel, we would be able to dig a healthy well, install a system of solar panels and distribute water to our kids and staff, alleviating some of the problems. We could even develop a delivery system..
So much to do, never a dull moment. I am, however, a fan of dull moments. They allow me to recharge my spiritual batteries. To those who have supported our young people, thank you, thank you, thank you. Now that you've been recognized, don't rest on your laurels. Please do what you can to help us admit those who sit and wait yet another year. As many of you DO prepare to celebrate the Christmas season, keep our kids in mind -- those in our programs and those who sit and wait yet another year. Become more involved. Tell another person about Starthrower, about the amazing youth of Haiti. Your cup will overflow. May you be blessed.