Monday, January 2, 2017

January 1st -- A celebration of Independence Day

To most of the world, January 1st marks the beginning of a New Year. In Haiti, it is an anniversary, marking  and remembering Independence Day, Jan. 1, 1804.

The struggle for independence was long and bloody. But to anyone who knows and loves the country and it's people, giving up was never  an option. This century we have been engaged in a battle with an enemy that constantly changes, targeting those who have no weapons with which to do battle. The enemy is absolute poverty.  In the last 3 months of 2016  Haiti 'weathered' Hurricane Matthew in the south and  disastrous floods in the north.

Like the mythical Phoenix, she is again renewing and growing. The small middle class and the prosperous 1% upper class have the means to come through these challenges in relative comfort. But for the poor, there is no comfort, physical or mental.

Starthrower Foundation exists in Haiti to provide educational opportunities for teens and young adults whose parents have died. 

As part of the contract we offer young people who are admitted to our program we ask permission to make a home visit. If we remained in our drop in centers providing food,  text books and tutoring, we would be missing the point.  We are in this together. They suffer more than malnutrition and with out the visits, we would miss what is really important -- how we can go the extra mile.

After first term exams we visited the first 12 new admissions in Cap-Haitien and this week we made the first 23 visits in Sen Rafayel. Every visit is special because we come away with new information.  AS every visit has significance  here are  the first 3 on the first day and one from next morning  which will resonate with me for a long time.

Pre-visit meal

Next truck -- a longer bed. Off for visits --
first visitees sit  inside to give directions..

First to Faudner who had been sitting out of school since 2014. He is in Grade 9, the 4th year of high school. This one room 'tikay' is owned by his gran who had no idea how old she was. A neighbor told me she was 80.

A growth spurt  this summer --

Gran prepares dinner for 5

Gran owns the house and everything in it.
The kids all sleep on the floor.

There is no  water, no toilet, the kitchen is a patch of ground. There is also no window so I use a flash and add as much light as possible with the computer program to show interiors. Everyone needs a solar light. There are also hordes of mosquitoes.

Back in the truck for a 15 minute drive to follow 15 yr. old Castho to his aunt's tikay. His parents are also dead, leaving 5 children. Castho lives with his aunt and her 3 children. Like Faudner he has been sitting out since 2014. He is in 8eme, the second year of high school.

His aunt owns the windowless tikay.

Matant works in the open market selling beans she has gathered. Here they are drying on an adjacent foundation.

Matant counts and packages beans to sell.

Inside, Castho stands under a rusted corrugated
roof pockmarked  with holes. Kids sleep on the floor.

Again mosquitoes galore, no window, no kitchen, no toilet, no water, no bed. Two things our young people have in common : courage and determination. 
 Back in the truck and on to visit 20 yr old Makendy who has been sitting out of school since 2014. Both his parents are dead and he lives with a tonton, his mother's brother. He has a garden he works in the countryside.

Just checking to see if you're still with me.....

As we enter I comment on how clean it is. I didn't
notice the pile of shoes at first

Makendy shows me where the rain comes in

There is a single bed (not really beds - bundles of clothes and rags, papers etc on a frame) for his uncle and like everyone else, Mak sleeps on the floor. Both parents died in a bus accident on the mountain. He has no siblings . No kitchen, no toilet , no water. There is a window which could be opened if it had screening. We will provide that, now I ask about the shoes in the corner as there are women's shoes as well.

He often had no shoes, he explains. So he started
watching the 'kodonye' (shoe repairer) on the street.

He asked and the shoe maker showed him how he repairs shoes.
He tried and tried. Now he's good at it.  I asked 
what supplies he needs to do a better job.

We support initiative whenever possible. General funds in action. We asked him to get prices for the pik, needles, wire, thread etc and gave him the funds next day. We also had some plastic stacking bins at the center which could be used to hold the shoes as well as a variety of chairs. He picked the one that was best for working. We found a table /desk with storage compartment and drawer in the Cap market, cleaned it up and will deliver it this week. He will have a shoe repair shop. Like everyone he needs a solar light.  Solar lights average $30. USD each. They are good quality and last a couple of years. With 162 young people it is an expensive project, as everyone needs calculators as well. There is never enough money but as a staff we are becoming so accomplished at juggling that we could open a circus.

We finished the rest of the visits and by the time we returned to the center all restaurants (outdoor over open fire) were finished for the day so hungry to bed. Next morning up at 5 as the dogs think I'm there to play.

Students on the 'home visit' list arrived shortly after staff and after  breakfast, the only food they would have that day, we again piled in the truck thankful that the rain had let up.Last week in Cap we were caught in a traffic 'blokus' with nowhere to go, 7 students  in the back and 3 inside and the clouds opened up soaking everyone outside. But I digress. 

Our 6th visit of the morning was Widelande. Both parents are dead and she has one sister. They live with a cousin who is responsible. He has 5 children so is unable to pay for 19 yr old Widelande, who has been sitting out 2 years.

Following Widelande into her cousin's one room tikay.

I began asking questions for information
I said hello to the young girl on the bed and Widelande said 'That's my sister -- she's blind and paralyzed'. So I sat down on the side of the bed and spoke directly to Mlle. Widelande said ' She doesn't want to talk". I suggested she let her sister tell me that. I had to suggest several times that the sister speak  for herself. By this time a cousin had joined us who seemed to have family information. She filled in some gaps.

I asked Mlle Love if she had been blind since birth and her story came tumbling out as though she had been waiting for someone to hear her. She attended primary school and began to lose her sight in Grade 5. Both parents died and she was never taken to hospital or clinic for consult/diagnosis. Then she stopped being able to walk .

At that point in the conversation she pushed herself up into a sitting position and I noticed movement in her feet. They were very cold to the touch -- lack of circulation?  When I asked how often she got out of the house to sit in the sun and feel the wind on her face she said never. Her sister said she didn't want to out. I asked what she wanted. Tears welled up in her eyes and she said ' M vle mache anko' -- I want to walk again.

So first hurdle -- permission from cousin responsible to set up trips to Cap-Haitien for vision assessment and mobility assessment.

Mlle has spent at least the last 3 years on that bed
We are putting a team of our grads together to visit
her daily and take her outside.

A cousin who joined us is willing to travel down
the mountain with  us for consultations.

I'm not a nurse but when I saw her sit up and her feet move
I felt certain physio therapy was worth a try.

So here we are at the beginning of a new year and a new week. Staff return Tuesday. We will purchase supplies while Lusnot and Carline hold down the center and Joceline cooks. In addition Auguste and Lusnot will take 2 of our dogs to the'vet' at 4:30.

Wednesday Auguste will travel up the mountain with Gaby our nurse practitioner. He will make a home visit to talk with Mlle Love, perhaps gather more information and do a cursory checkup. If the cousin is not working in the garden, Gaby and Auguste will talk with him. Dieugrand will travel with them as he is starting to mark out the 6 community gardens with students who have signed up.

On  the way up the mountain, they will make 3 stops and implement our new dog food distribution program. If you read my Facebook post of Friday, the dog rescue center I talked about is very much in the forefront of our upcoming fundraising projects. (Because we have nothing else to do.)

Auguste will orchestrate everything including  delivering the work table to our shoe repair entrepreneur and purchase the necessary wood from Dondon for the garden enclosures. There is no room in the truck for me.

In closing, a New Year blessing  from John O'Donohue's Beannacht: A Blessing for  the New Year:

'May the nourishment of the earth be yours
May the clarity of light be yours
May the fluency of the ocean be yours
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.'


PS the work cupboard/surface we found in the market for Makendy's shoe repair business.
Fritman and Rosema gave it a good cleaning Saturday.


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