Thursday, December 15, 2016

Canada in October : An Attitude of Gratitude

I've been back in Haiti for 3 weeks. There has been very little electricity and internet signal. As we had enough sun today to give our solar batteries a minimal charge, I sat down to write about our mountain and the lives that depend on it . Mosquitoes swarmed me - one of the many after the rain hazards.

When I opened blogger, I found this opener  I had began in Canada in October. I had forgotten about it. PTS is very real you see and sometimes the only energy I can summon is to get through a day. 

Back in Haiti after a truncated visit due to heavy rains/flooding here in the north, I  am coming out of my shell. The ode to the mountain can wait another day. This brief passage was written with gratitude and details a little of my journey.

I'll get to the mountain eventually.

This morning I woke late -- 6am. Here in Orangeville it was still dark  -- dark, rainy and cold. Instead of making my way to the double yoga mats on the kitchen floor for some Sun Salutations,  I snuggled back down. Luxury -- a warm bed, with pillows, sheets and blankets.  

At my age I need 2 things in the morning -- a bathroom and  coffee.  The bathroom is just down the hall in this one bedroom apartment (which is above a store on the main street) More luxury -- an indoor toilet  -- and it actually flushes and one can actually put the toilet paper in the toilet! And running water to wash  hands -- hot and cold! And electric lights to keep the dark morning outside. Clean, appropriate clothing to put on, a washer and dryer hidden in the kitchen closet. Abundance. Such abundance. Some would see it as small and cramped. It is my refuge --it welcomes me when I return from Haiti, a tired, dirty traveler with just a little case of PTS. A little post-traumatic stress is like being a little pregnant.

While I do have a one cup coffee maker (courtesy of my friend Cindy) I chose to bundle up and walk the approx. 200 or 300 steps to my favorite coffee shop, Mochaberry. The street was safe and clean -- traffic lights adding to the safety.  The shop smelled so good and the music and conversation were energizing so I ordered a no meat eggything to savor with my coffee. Wendy was her usual friendly self, making customers feel like family.

One of the new baristas was making a sign to put outside. I complimented her on the art work -- it was beautiful. Thanks she said but it's in chalk. It won't last.

"Which sort of speaks to the impermanence of life doesn't it" I replied.  She nodded. 

I slowed my walk back, taking in the streetlights, stoplights, garbage bins, lights on in Noinkees ladies shop, banks and restaurants on the corners, Kala Yoga studio to keep my mind and body in shape.

I stopped and did a slow turn, drinking in the abundance and deepening my breathing. I was alone in that time and space.  If I could just hang on to this moment and this breath I thought, I would never worry about not having enough. It would always be alright, there would always be enough. 

But that breath gave way to the next --  I whispered Thank you to the universe and made my way home.

Leaving my breakfast to cool on the counter, I opened the laptop and went into the blog  archives for Starthrower Foundation.  In October 2008 I had undergone emergency surgery in Haiti for a perforated colon (caused by e coli). Eight years ago after many near death experiences I was airlifted to Canada thanks to the generosity of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the round the clock nursing by my friend Sr. Rosemary. I had an ill-placed colostomy, a mucous fistula and 4 other open surgical wounds.

I read the blog posts for the first time. The week of Oct 20th I had been in Saint Michael's hospital for 2 weeks, still in isolation and still not seeing visitors.  

Perhaps I'm feeling reflective because it is my anniversary. I have never looked back on that year, really 15 months of my life.  While recuperating from the third major surgery in Canada, my mother died and shortly after the earthquake shook Haiti.

Now it's 2016 and Hurricane Matthew has destroyed lives and livelihoods, challenging Haiti and her people to once again show that like the mythological Phoenix it is possible to rise again. 

Living with one foot in Canada and one in Haiti is my choice. I thought that it would get easier with time -- but it hasn't. I am more aware that ever of the abundance we have and take and use everyday, stopping only infrequently to give thanks. 

I sometimes despair over the limited resources to respond to the overwhelming need in Haiti. Thousand of young people orphaned with no 'possibilite'.  When those moments of despair sneak up on me,  I stop, breathe and reset my gratitude meter. So much has been accomplished by so few. Think of what another 50 sponsors or another 100 sponsors would mean.

My coffee cost me 2.00 -- that's 1.85 and 15 cents for the tip pot. If everyone who reads this donated the equivalent of one cup of coffee a week.... oh the possibilities.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Tann Matye (Waiting for Matthew) Part 1

If Waiting was an Olympic sport, Haitians would sweep the podium.  They wait for everything.  I think if I stay long enough some of it will rub off on me. The question is -- how long is long enough? This school year we have added 61 new and 1 returning admissions. All have been waiting, some for as long as 3 years for the chance to go to high school. Of our 30 candidates who wrote State National exams for Philo/Sec. 4, 29 were successful. 15 of those have written asking for post secondary support for everything from physiotherapy to medicine to veterinary science..

In Cap, we are responsible for supplies for both centers -- purchasing, preparing (covering, numbering, stamping, labeling) textbooks as well as all food stuffs ,  hygiene products  and delivering to Sen Rafayel. Last week we made 2 trips. I had noticed the winds picking up and was enjoying the somewhat moderating effect on the unusually high  fall temperatures. September was hotter than July -- 40 degrees daily and no electricity.  So when we worked, we moved work spaces around to catch the breeze.When there is no electricity we make the space work. Here we are  in the front hallway.

Nearly all textbooks have been changed this year making a very large
 hole in our general funds budget. 
We were in the truck leaving when Edeline stopped us and asked if we could talk to one of our new admissions. Fed has been sitting out 2 years. His parents are dead and he lives with two aunts. We admitted him to finish high school -- Sec. 4 the final year. When they were at church last Sunday, a thief broke into their tikay and stole his new school shoes and backpack as well as the large bag of rice his aunt was going to repackage and sell in the market and her cell telephone. His uniform was still at the tailors, and his textbooks were sitting at the center for pick up. We made a detour to meet his aunt and verify the story then headed down Granjil to Cap.

Auguste Following Fed

Where the thieves broke the lock

His aunt lost her livelihood for a month

Back down the mountain, our new admissions were coming in to pick up textbooks and to show new uniforms.  The bulk of 90 returning students are in Sen Rafayel. As Cap is the supply center, with everything purchased and processed here, we keep the numbers smaller due to the heavier work load for all staff.
Senkyeme wants to know what's so interesting
Jean says look at me

 Lusnot waits until he has several members f the same class
that way everyone has the same information about supplies.

Finally the last year of school without
financial worries.

Mildrede, Marie and Orina show off uniforms and backpacks
I follow the National Hurricane Center website weekly but as the  NHC showed the brewing storm moving west of Haiti I was just grateful for the drop in temperature. Our trees were constantly being snapped to attention.


When sick, Haitians  wait  --   to get better or die, so I was told by former students.  We had been sitting waiting in a blokus (traffic jam) one day for several hours and I asked Auguste how he stayed sane. He laughed , shook his head and said  "I'm Haitian. I do what is necessary to keep the peace." 

After nearly 19 years with these amazing people, shouldn't some of that have rubbed off on me? Osmosis?   

Since arriving back in July our bank has been closed on 4 occasions, most recently last week for Thursday, Friday, Saturday. No warning -- no advertising -- no reason. You show up, it's closed. That not only meant that we had to wait to purchase needed food and  text books but that I would have to stand in line for hours to get our funds. So after waiting for the bank to choose to open, we  wait again -- in a line that extends around the block outside. Standing mountain yoga pose... don't fail me now!

While their patience hasn't rubbed off, the example they set always gives me pause. We had no electricity for 2 months this summer. It has been a long, hot summer.  Then when it was delivered again 2 weeks ago, someone had disconnected 2 of the wires leading to our counter so we were the only house in the neighborhood still without. Wait again -- for an electrician, and by the time he arrived, the electricity had been turned off. They shrug ...

Monday Joceline showed me green water in the kitchen sink ---- it looked like cooked spinach--coming out of the kitchen tap . It was moss.

Gross -- where is it coming from? Our well?  the pipes? Wait for a plumber. This was one occasion when they didn't sit and wait. Instead it became a do-it-yourself project.
Every apprentice needs a supervisor..not sure
which is which here. Is the supervisor  2 legged or 4 legged ?
Finally the weekend had arrived -- the first and only weekend I had no pressing work to be done. Sunday was my day -- to write a blog, catch up on Facebook , do some much needed yoga. BUT sometime during Saturday night, Matthew became a monster hurricane and veered ever so slightly east putting Haiti  right in his sights. 

Waiting for Matthew was a little bit like waiting for Godot. It made about as much sense. And the object of the waiting appeared to not really exist. So, we had  one day to prepare and all large businesses are closed. We had 7 windows that did not close and therefore had to be covered. We had some Cilotex but not enough, so I texted Auguste and he cut short his weekend, went to town and scoured  every street until he found some.

Rosema and Fritzman are our Cap weekend staff so had their first lesson in hurricane preparedness.

The roof had to be checked for anything that could fly away, the water chateau had to be checked for weight, potable water purchased, windows covered, garbage secured, the courtyard cleaned up of objects that could fly in wind (mangoes)...

Stocking up -- potable water

Cleaning the roof--checking the
water chateau

Securing garbage
Stabilizing windows

We double covered all windows which had broken handles and will not close.
Weekend staff left and I waited with the dogs. Joli had a great idea -- hide under the bed.

Joli found the perfect spot to ride out a hurricane

I tried to bribe her but she was there for the duration

Coming soon --  Part 2 -- Matye rive  (Matthew arrives)

Be safe -- be well


Monday, July 18, 2016

Past, Present, Future

Birthday's always give me pause -- not just mine but anyone's birthday. Our young people are amazed that we make and display a list of their birthdays every  month. Most of them do not know their date of birth. It is the most frequent mistake on letters of application to us. When they come  for intake interview, we check papers. The first is proof of date of birth. As most of our young people are orphans, papers documenting their lives are often lost, misplaced, destroyed by flood, fire,  mold, insects, rodents...

We learned very early in our existence to ask for other forms of proof -- baptismal certificates, State photo receipts issued to write National exams for Gr. 6 and 9, Kat D'identite (government issued). 

71 isn't an especially auspicious age, although it is a milestone... every year is.  Maybe that's why I felt the urge to dig out photo albums long forgotten, which in turn led me to take a stroll through photos that for some reason I didn't see fit to put in albums. A treasure trove.

In the beginning before Starthrower had a name or a home, I had already fallen in love with the country and it's people and was growing to co-exist with the absolute poverty that still makes my heart hurt as my nephew used to say.

Although I had  no home base, there were always brave souls who traveled with me. I say brave because it takes courage to walk into what you know will be an uncomfortable (to say the least) situation. From my first trip  as a chaperone til finding a rental and receiving charitable status in July 2004 there were always adventurous souls.

David was the first to travel with -- if memory serves  this is the fall of 2000. Here he is working in the nutrition center located in Sacre Coeur at the time. He is flanked on the steps by Wilnise (TB in her spine) and Djackie (dead of a headache at age 9).
David and the gang creating  Lego sculptures
at the nutrition center
What has always amazed me about our visitors is their willingness to enter into the situation.  Tanya traveled with the next year then Adrienne. Ashley and Shannon.
Tanya at the nutrition center 
All experienced both Cap-Haitien and Sen Rafayel as I was already being groomed by Sr. Cecilia to take on the village. I just didn't know it yet. I was still a visitor as well, taking advantage of the hospitality offered by Sister Rosemary and Sister Cecilia.  The 3 girls and I traveled to and from Sen Rafayel by public transit (a bus with the seats ripped out, many chickens and no standing room) . We stayed overnight in a guest house in Doctor's Ann's compound.  These girls did not know how courageous they were.          
Adreienne, Ashley and Shannon with their babies at the
feeding program

In May of 2004 I rented what would be our base for 11 years in Cap-Haitien. In July we received charitable status and in August, Marjorie came to visit to attend Jud and Gigi's wedding. When our Lucy died last month, I wrote that she was 10 years old. But I was wrong -- a picture doesn't lie and here is Marjorie just before the wedding with the very new born Lucy -- so she was almost 12.
August 2004 - Marj with Lucy

Having a home base made a big difference.  Pat came with Marisa and Amy followed by Laura the next year. The Rayjon gang came from Sarnia, made home visits with us and  gave our office a coat of fresh paint.  I don't have any pictures for about 2 years as the hard drive on that computer fried (spontaneous combustion?) and I had no backup.  If anyone has pics I'm missing could you please share? Here are a few of our visitors over the past 12 years.
Mark, David and Kat visited and helped unpack
supplies from Pennsylvania
The next year Alex and Laura visited from Canada. During that time, student Rosema's manman gave us 2 puppies (Joli and Tisab) to thank us for sending her son to school.  Timing is everything. I had no experience with dogs and Laura worked in a Pet store and had vet tech experience. Thank you universe. She taught us so much. Visitors are an exchange program..learning from each other. 

Mme Cindy from Pennsylvania
fitting in

In 2009 I was a visitor in my own home, having been airlifted to Canada in October 2008 after emergency surgery which saved my life and  left me with a colostomy and more surgery ahead.  The surgeon performing the 3rd surgery allowed me to travel to Haiti for a  brief visit prior to the operation. Marjorie is a retired nurse so the ideal travelling companion. Doctors Jerome and Coq who to-gether had saved my life came to visit, along with my private duty nurse and good friend Sr. Rosemary.

While recuperating from the third surgery, 2 catastrophies. My mother died on Nov. 11 and the earthquake struck on January 12. I couldn't return fast enough. Shortly after we bought our first vehicle which meant we could take visitors up the mountain. No more public transit up and down. 

Move to 2 room mudhut -- a step up from 1 room

Our 2 room mud hut was a step up from the one room shack we had been using. Here we played host to Daniel our website administrator.  Pictures please Dan?

Sponsor Mme Yvonne came to visit her high school student 
Sherlyne. Sherlyne's aunt had taken her 2 nieces in after
the death of their parents.
We put her to work so it was only right that 
she have a uniform.

Mme Yvonne began sponsoring Sherlyne in high school and has seen her through university... this year  in her final year of nursing at Universite Roi Henri Christophe. Our sponsors are amazing!

By the time Marilyn from Guelph, Kathy from London and Marjorie from Sarnia  came to visit, thanks to the Jasmine Foundation we had purchased property and begun construction of our drop in center in Sen Rafayel. A place to sleep!!!  The roof on the second floor hadn't been poured yet so it was a ideal spot to paint. 

Breaking bread -- we ate well thanks to Mme Joceline.

What a difference the new building in Sen Rafayel makes.

No roof? No problem.. we'll use the space to paint!!

Not only do they have the courage to show up, they dive into any and all challenges. Robin and Alice had only been in Haiti for about an hour and already they were helping with payroll --- getting acquainted with Haitian gourdes and filling staff envelopes.  I remember our web admin Daniel weeding the garden and talking to our driver Jackson at the same time.  
Sometimes it seems like monopoly money..
If a visitor is also a sponsor it is an opportunity to meet the sponsored student and see where they live. Home visits are ongoing throughout the year, and it's really helpful to have a fresh set of eyes on the situation.
Nico came to meet his sponsored student John and
fell in love with every student he met. Here on a home visit .

The last night of his visit Nico cooked for us -- crepes yet -- and told us stories of his childhood in France. He taught magic tricks! A true exchange program. Our staff and young people are hungry to know what goes on outside of Haiti -- how the rest of the world live their lives.

Visitors bring that ...  the outside world in , opening it up. Visitors by their presence tell our young people that they are valued. It is very affirming.

Monica traveled by herself to meet her sponsored student Marc and to meet Tamara, sponsored by the Gr. 6 class at Laurelwoods where she taught.
Monica visits Tamara at the tikay she shares
with her grandmother.
Making the most of a breakdown in the middle of nowhere.
Everyone was a mechanic,everyone helped, everyone was paid.

Last year, Kim left her restaurant in the hands of capable staff and traveled with me. Like our other visitors, she was fearless... not daunted by what wasn't available, finding ways to maximize what was there. She did laundry, made home visits, fed neighborhood animals, and created apple pancakes. 

Laundry Haitian style

Kim and student staff Rosema fill bottles with potable water.
We freeze them and distribute during the summer months.

When Kim returned to Canada, she created the Haitian Dirt Cookie (3 kinds of chocolate) which she sold in her restaurant as a fund raiser. In a year she raised enough to put a student through 2 years of school. Her staff chose the student and he is now one of our security staff as well as full time student.

The cookie was so popular we are now making it gluten free in a commercial kitchen and selling it wherever requested. We deliver!!

Kim's  cookie is the present ( and the future hopefully)  as is our new permanent home in Cap-Haitien. Again thank you is insufficient -- there just are no words to express our thanks to the Jasmine Foundation .

When we set out from Orangeville at 6 am, coffee deprived, the cookie fundraiser wasn't even on the radar. Haiti has a way of changing and challenging one's thinking.

This year was Kathy's third visit to  Starthrower.  She is one of the many who have been with us past and present. She did everything from bring me towels and a bucket as I made my acquaintance with H Pylori bacterial infection to prepare staff pays, shop with Auguste, visit her sponsored student. 

And this time Sen Rafayel had a roof and a guest room, and Cap-Haitien had a permanent home with guest room.
Visiting Youseline -- sponsor Kathy
Which brings us to the present -- we now have a permanent drop in center in Cap-Haitien and Sen Rafayel. Not only does it have a roof, but it now has an enlarged courtyard with security wall and a well. WATER!!!!! (I read recently that using capital letters was shouting at your reader... so yes, I'm shouting --- WE NOW HAVE WATER!!!!

Lakay Fondasyon -- our permanent headquarters in Cap-Haitien.
I took this picture at night because THERE WAS ELECTRICITY!
(shouting again)

The future is  the students who have finished high school thanks to donors. sponsors, visitors working together. The future is some who have actually been fortunate enough to be funded through post secondary. If past is prologue then the future is a going to be a great story.

The future is also those who sit and wait for the PRIVILEGE of going to high school. Here are a few, some I have been introducing  on Facebook and in blogs. They are courageous, hard working, focused. They are also frightened, confused, hungry and I'm certain sometimes angry. They are sick, they are loyal, they are KIDS, full of contradictions and dreams. 

To gether we  can make some of those dreams come true.

There are at least another 500 who have not been lucky enough to have their letters processed and receive an interview. There are another 10 or so trying to reconstruct their history with birth certificates and old report cards long destroyed.

My job is to collect information, verify that which is possible and make choices. There should never be a choice. Education needs to be a right. 

This is the world we share. Welcome to our world.



PS Please share  this blog and the Facebook post.


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