Monday, February 23, 2015

Home Visits - 2015

"Haiti is a difficult place" understates author Jonathan Katz (The Big Truck That Went By Palgrave MacMillan 2013) "No one, not even the rich, is fully insulated." However in a calamity, and in Haiti heavy rain can be a calamity,  the chances of surviving come down to 'one's means...inevitably bound up with family status, nationality and race." (p55)

This reality, always  magnified during home visits, was thrown into relief for staff when those visits fell on the same day as our hunting for a new land to build on or a safe  structure for our Cap-Haitien home base.

Our Director of Programming, Auguste and I managed a dozen home visits just before annual pre-Lenten Karnaval activities took over the city, disrupting traffic and schools this week. All activities were cut short by the tragedy in Port-au-Prince when at least 16 were killed and nearly 100 injured when a power line fell on a parade float. Life and death - always so close here.

Heavy rains which fell in November and January returned in early February putting some visits temporarily on hold. The very fact that we couldn't get into some tikays (little homes) highlights the need for student housing in some areas of Cap-Haitien. Sen Rafayel always needs student housing due to the river criss-crossing the village. As we make time several days a week to either inspect land for building/or a post-quake structure for our Cap-Haitien headquarters, we went from viewing a 2 story monster house, listed at $500,000.USD (I laughed all the way out of the yard, reminding the agent for the owner that this is Cap-Haitien not Miami) to shacks which lack the basic necessities and well as personal space and security.  Still our young people survive. Their hope is to one day move beyond  surviving to thriving.

Asking price $500,000. USD but will negotiate. Unfinished-no courtyard. LOL
Best laugh of the day.
Shortly after looking at 2 houses and 2 lots for sale, we met Celine and Melane at our drop in  center and followed them home. They assured that it was not far (li pa lwen), we did not need the truck. A mile hike through garbage piles and over swollen, fetid canals brought us to the space they currently call home. My aching sciatic! Like a dozen of our young people this year, the girls had left Sen Rafayel and moved down the mountain with visions of a better life in the big city. Unfortunately the cousins who offered to put them up expected them to do all housework including laundry for floor space to sleep( basically being a servant - a restaveks) . No meals included. So they moved in with a friend from their church who offered floor space no strings attached.

Following Auguste through one of many serpentine paths
which make finding living quarters a second time mission impossible.

Celine points to the concrete floor where they sleep.
They have no mattress, carpet or blankets. One room 7 people.

Melane stands beside the 'kitchen' where rice and
beans can be cooked if they find any.
Unless students can get to our centers to eat , they eat 'le w jwen li' (when you find it). It is usually once or twice a week (at most.) We distribute Aquatabs (thank you again, donors) for water purification which helps prevent water borne illnesses.  Rising costs in the marketplace have put a halt to food sack distribution. Keeping 2 centers operational 7 days a week is also becoming exorbitant but we are maintaining that service. Although the menu is limited, is has the essentials - protein, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Next day we loaded the truck with students and headed out. Although Claunise said her tikay was within walking distance - well fool me once....Again we followed someone through the twists and turns of a different ' interieur.'
Following Claunise - she was right,
we didn't need the truck.
Everything had been moved to the doorway to dry
out. Inside was too dark for the camera and too much water for us.
Like Melane and Celine, Claunise had come down from Sen Rafayel in the hopes that the big city would provide more advantages - jobs, better living conditions, better schools. Like the others, the situation here is no better than the mountain village. Neither place had running water or toilets or proper kitchens. There is no place to hang laundry and no security.

Milionise leads the way to the room she shares
with cousin Nerlande.

4 people sleep here. Pillow cases are
stuffed with rags.

Nerlande's uniform hangs above the
wet walls, away from cockroaches etc...

Again there is no toilet, no kitchen, no water except for the rain which came in and refuses to dry out of the walls. Mold and mildew are everywhere. Our visits never take very long - travel to and the walk in and out usually require the most time.

While it's advisable to wear closed shoes when out walking, sometimes that just isn't enough. The room we had rented for Inea in July was dry at the time, and because of the proximity to the Semi-Lycee where we have 14 registered, it seemed like a good choice for student housing - enough room to add a couple of beds and help those who live at a distance, like Carline. When we arrived it was quickly evident that we would not be visiting that day without rubber boots. Although Inea tried to make a path through the rainwater with stones, the tikay is at the back of the property and just not viable.

Auguste and Carline wait for Inea to open the portay.
The sign says that there are more rooms to rent.

Inea in bare feet tries to create a path of stepping stones through the  algae
covered rainwater.
Her room is at the very back of the property-
still holding water 3 weeks later. She gave up.
When we moved Inea in July the ground was baked dry and there was no indication it would become a swamp. Although we will lose a partial year's rent, we have asked her and all our students at the Semi-Lycee to hunt for dry places available for rent. Back in the truck to take Carline home. The  tikay she shares with her brother and a friend from Sen Rafayel is 5 miles out in the country, but it was dry. Still the problem - a 5 mile walk to get to school by 7 am then a 5 mile walk home after classes let out at 3pm. You can see the reason our students cannot get to the drop in center every day. Imagine walking 5 miles with a heavy back pack, hungry from not eating for a couple of days. Being a creature of comfort, the choice of  a 3 to 4  mile walk to our place or just go home and collapse is a no brainer - home and collapse.

Following Carline - 5 miles from school - past the goats to the single
room she shares with a brother and friend from Sen Rafayel.
One room 6x10 - no window, no furniture. Auguste
documents everything including what we can do to ease the situation.
It doesn't take long to visit one room - especially when there is no furniture - no place to sit, no place to store clothing, no kitchen, bathroom, running water. No privacy, no security.

Jonathan Katz wrote that Haiti "in good times and in bad, is not a place to which you adapt. It rewires you. To cope and not be torched by its energy, you have to change the way you think and feel and see the things around you." (pg. 273 ibid) It does rewire you - and if one wants to survive and do the job, you have to let it happen. These home visits get us out of the relative comfort of our drop in centers and remind us of the reality. If someone drops in only once or twice a week because of distance and hunger, all we see are clean uniforms and students hungry for not only a meal but a quiet place to do homework or read the newspaper. The last of our dozen visits was to new admission Wanchine. After checking her papers and interviewing, we had admitted her Jan. 27. Like everyone on our list, she took the contract we offered her very seriously and signed as though her life depended on it. Although her letter said that she was the youngest of 5 children and that she had been brought to the city from Hinche by an uncle who wanted help for his wife, we did not know that those siblings were with her.

Following Wanchine into the tikay she shares with
older brother, 2 sisters and 9 yr old cousin.
Imagine our surprise to find a house full of young people. When I asked who was in charge, older brother Yfrenel , 23, said he guessed it was him. Like Carline, they live 5 miles away from the school, in the country but in the other direction. As we asked questions and introduced ourselves, the story unfolded. The uncle had brought all 4 siblings to the city to look after his wife and son, with the promise of paying for schooling. When the aunt died, the uncle left and went andeyo  (to the countryside) leaving his 9 yr old son with the 4 young cousins. He paid for his son's school year (primary school grade 4) but had not paid for the others for 2 years. All 3 older siblings are in Sec 3, the second last year of high school. They had been attending the same Semi-Lycee as Wanchine, but had no supplies or last year's report card as payment had not been received.

Withnise teaching cousin Gregory Social Studies.

Wanchine take Allimax we had given her for
a grip (cold/flu) making the rounds after heavy rain/flooding.
Although the tikay was now dry, the piece of material on the wall behind Wanchine is a huge hole, waiting for a window or concrete blocks. Two rusted bed frames with what used to be mattresses are filled with rags and bits of paper and twigs. No food. The outdoor latrine has no roof and the exposed walls are covered with mold and mildew. But it is there. The story unfolded haltingly as we were looking at the latrine and shower (behind Auguste) . Each said they had written a letter, so we asked for them. Auguste did a quick read of each on the spot.

Namene holds her letter of application in her hand and watches
as Auguste reads  her brother's  letter.

Sister Withnise waits with her letter.
We drove home in silence, Auguste lost in thought, me reading the letters. We were already at 152 students, this would be funds we did not have. No way could we pay back fees for 2 years. The next morning our coordinator Lusnot went to the school to talk with the director- he had to arrive at 6:30 as classes begin at 7 am.  We have a healthy relationship with the administrations where we send our kids, developed over time. The director listened as Lusnot retold their story. He knew the family well. He had not barred them from the school because they are intelligent and hard-working, respectful and always on time. He was willing to forgive last year's fees, release their end of year report cards, and forgive first term fees if we will support them to finish Philo. What an amazing offer - he has staff to pay but has such faith in this family that he would go the extra mile. That is entirely due to our staff and the relationships they cultivate. With your help we'll pick them up for a year and a half.  They're not MY kids - they're OUR kids - children of the world who are grateful for any support large or small.
So here I sit in my little apartment in Canada - a frigid -29 outside  (tonight -40) not knowing what is happening because our last and best computer died this week in Cap-Haitien and the phone connection was dropped when I called. Ayiti Cherie. Dear Haiti. Always expect the unexpected and you will still be surprised.
Be well - I'll let you know what's happening as soon as I know.
 All quotes from The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster By Jonathan M. Katz, Palgrave MacMillan, 2013

Recommended reading if you are interested in the  experience of the 2010 earthquake as seen through the eyes of a journalist who was living in Port-au-Prince  and if you are interested in where the many  reconstruction donations ended up.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Our staff - it's about Service

While leaving Haiti is necessary from the perspective of fundraising, medical and dental support and touching base with the amazing volunteers who keep everything going while I am here, bottom line - the most wrenching aspect of this journey is not the poverty, the dangers, the frustrations - it is the leaving.
But I leave everything in good hands. To whom do those good hands belong? Here is a celebration of and perhaps introduction to our Haitian staff. With the exception of Mme Joceline, they all come from the ranks of our students, graduates who have chosen to stay and pass on what they have learned.

Auguste is the person in charge of everything, the director of all programming. He looks after staff, supplies, deliveries, purchases, program content and delivery - you name it, he is in charge of it. Auguste had struggled since age 11 to put himself through high school (see web comic by Daniel Lafrance) when he arrived on our doorstep in the summer of 2005 seeking support to finish the final year of high school, and began as part time yard help. His many skills unfolded and he moved into the office within 3 months. He is now called the Director or Direk in Kreyol.
Sept 2005 - student and part time staff Auguste
gives computer lessons to Jhennie and Dieugrand.
Jan. 2015 - Director (Direk) Auguste explains student
contract to new admission Wanchine.
Everyone reports directly to Auguste, but part time student staff report to branch coordinators. Our Cap Haitian branch is managed by Lusnot, who came to us as a student in Gr. 9 along with brother Gaby.
Jan. 2006  Gr. 9 student Lusnot
reads in the library
Jan. 2015 - Cap-Haitien coordinator Lusnot
gives homework help to Building Engineer student Rosema.
Sen Rafayel coordinator Edeline had dreams of becoming a medical technician. Her parents were dead, she had no siblings but had an aunt in Cap who offered her floor space to sleep while she went to school. The year Edeline completed high school, her aunt contracted Cholera and died, along with Edeline's dreams of post secondary education.
2006 - orphaned high school student Edeline (Sen Rafayel)
Jan 2015 - (standing)  preparing and distributing kasav to students at
Lakay Jasmine in Sen Rafayel.
Operating 2 drop in centers means that security is a major job. Dieugrand has been our coordinator of security for both locations since finishing high school 2 years ago. Dieugrand was one of the first students I met in 1998 (he was in Primary then) and has been with the foundation ever since. Looking after security means he travels up Granjil mountain every week in an open tap tap. He works 2 nights and one day in the office while there. The other day is spent at the Cap Haitian office, working the grounds and office, as needed.
Dieugrand working in Cap, interviewing prospective
admission. Jan 2015
Jan 2015 Dieugrand cleaning out the garbage pit.
Mme Joceline came to us via our friend Sister Rosemary, who was operating a nutrition program for malnourished infants. Joceline was a widow with 7 children. She had never been to school, never worked. She began doing laundry for us in 2004. Our cook, Mme Carmene taught her a great deal and when she left after the death of her second son (Frandzy) Joceline took over.
Jan 2006 Joceline with our first cook Carmene
Jan 2015 Joceline now cooks and cleans
and keeps everyone in line, even the dogs.

Saint-Luc and Adelaine round out the full time staff in Sen Rafayel. Saint-Luc works security with Dieugrand and Adelaine does everything in the office with Edeline.
Adelaine and Edeline sort and prepare backpacks
for distribution - by school and grade.
Saint-Luc also helps students over their fear of dogs.
He sat with our beloved Tigger when he was dying.

Saint-Luc and Adelaine sort text books for distribution.
Sometime job descriptions have blurry lines. If one is available....
Part time student staff are necessary to keep both centers active 7 days a week. In Cap-Haitien, Rosema works weekend doing everything to keep the yard and the dogs in shape. He would make a great vet, although his heart is set on a career in the construction industry.

Because the Sen Rafayel center has no courtyard, we have student dog walkers who give us a half hour a day to exercise TiKe and Granjil.

Saint-Luc walks with the dogwalkers

Junior and Isaac - dog walkers extrordinaire
Angelene and Sabine work weekends and Furmancia steps in if someone is sick or writing exams. So I leave knowing everything is in experienced, caring hands.

 Sen Rafayel Staff - Jan.2015

Cap-Haitien Staff - Feb 2015

And this week the number of those caring hands grew again as we added a registered nurse to run our clinic in Sen Rafayel. Gaby D. who arrived on our doorstep from Sen Rafayel along with his brother Lusnot (Cap-Haitien coordinator) in late 2005. In 2009 Gaby entered the university in Leogane registered in the 5 year nursing program. He excelled and was first in his class every year. In late December he wrote State licensing exams (along with Brunie, Wisly and Alland) and will have results in March. We are so fortunate that he is going to spearhead our clinic. He began work Wednesday, preparing a dossier sheet and setting up a file system. Tomorrow as I fly out, he heads to Sen Rafayel with Auguste to do an inventory of supplies on hand/needed.

Gaby in scrubs - year 4
Gaby this week - Welcome back!

So you see the blessings -- talk to you from Canada.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Rainy Week Tale

The hum of electricity is in the air - a welcome sound if only for a brief time. Roosters and voodoo drums compete for airspace. For the first time in 9 days and nights - no patter of raindrops singing harmony. Hopefully we can begin to dry out, clean up the mold and mildew growing everywhere and gather garbage tossed around by high winds. Nature gave us a swimming pool, but it's too cold to enjoy it.
Our swimming pool- note the mold on the 'miray' (privacy wall)

We are just a microcosm of the macrocosm. Outside our gates, misery magnified. We had just recovered from the November floods - replaced textbooks, eyeglasses, uniforms, shoes, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs - you name it - lost because there was no place to put them. Yesterday Lusnot had revizyon and all but one cancelled due to flooding. Budget? An exercise in futility.
Petitans and Fosenmichel are both flooded again - we have more
than a dozen students in each area.

Watching the water level rise - waiting for the inevitable

Everyone who is able still has to make a living. Most take off
their shoes and keep on going.

People have to go places - even in the rain. Some tap-taps
cover up with a 'prela' (tarp).

Our young people in Cap-Haitien have the luxury of a tap-tap for 5 gourdes. When they drop in to the center or come for a study session, we give them travel money. Change very difficult to find and we are constantly looking for 'mone' (change).
Melane and Celine arrived in shower caps. School was cancelled .

3rd yr. nursing student Edwina huddles
over her computer . Small comfort from the damp.
Classes cancelled due to flooding for Brunel-
he huddled in the library
Classes cancelled for Paudeline. She checks out
her new solar lamp - which requires sunlight.
Most Lycees in the country remain closed and on strike. While my sympathy lies with the teachers who need to be paid for their services, I regret seeing our young people lose valuable class instruction. Here in Cap the hospital remains on strike as well and many private schools have closed due to flooding. Paudeline took advantage of the free time and again went to the hospital for test results after her beating and rape the first of December. They did release them this time, probably because of her persistence. Everything was negative but retesting suggested in 3 months. So those 3 months are almost up if they mean 3 months from the original test date. 

If you have a heavy sweater or hat, you cover up.
If you are eating, there will probably be a dog nearby.
The mountainside was awash with misery as well. There are no tap-taps to move people so everyone is on foot unless they can score a 'wulib' (free ride) with someone. The 2 boys helped us out covering the holes in the DonDon/SenRafayel bridge so we took theme home. They had been out gathering firewood for cooking.

Unfortunately the cab was full of perishables but
our passengers didn't mind. They weren't walking barefoot.

This barefoot gentleman and his 3 dogs had also been out
scouting firewood (machete under arm). We thanked him for his advice with a
large tin of dry dog food.
Everytime we caught a glimpse of the river it was swollen past its banks and there were waterfalls where no waterfall had been just a week before.
The river had crested at every turn, flooding gardens. Too much, too fast.

I counted at least 3 new fairly large waterfalls
No taps-taps on the mountainside

Sen Rafayel was facing the same challenges, but no schools were functioning. Auguste and Dieugrand went to the market and bought as many long sleeve jackets as they could find. Very few have cold weather clothes so we distribute. Nothing is new but nobody minds - its warm and dry. Orina made her way to the center after hours but I opened for her as she presented symptoms of mosquito borne Chikungunya. She is the first case since Christmas. This new rain will bring another round of mosquito borne ailments, all debilitating.
In addition to strikes, other forms of violence disrupt life. The convent in Sen Rafayel was broken into early Friday morning (2 am) and 3 elderly nuns were beaten as they had no cash on hand. These women are friends of mine, in their 70's and 80's. Incomprehensible. We paid a visit when we heard and all were coping. Village police refused to help -- fear is everywhere.

Students/dogwalkers Junior and Isaac try on jackets.
TiKe waits but its too muddy for a walk.
John-Steevenson, Dieuner, Sterlin and Gasnel share a meal.
We eat, read, study, converse, laugh, sometimes cry.

New stove delivered and set up, staff oriented to its workings, we head down the mountain late Sunday. We have several stops along the way to deliver dog food.  

On the mountainside: The dogs have to be faster than the chickens as
all are hungry.
Mountain families - hard working, resilient, courageous.
It is now 8:49 on Monday morning and a weak sun is mounting the horizon. I began to write at 5 am. Staff arrived at 8 and Fatia has arrived for breakfast because her school is flooded. But that's another blog.
Stay safe
PS If anyone has connections with a pet food company, please let me know. Animal welfare is becoming a priority with us.


Related Posts with Thumbnails