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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