Sunday, December 14, 2008

Haiti News - Christmas Dinners, School Sponsors, Food Distribution, New Bridges to Potoprens

Hello Everyone!

Many thanks to those who phoned and sent cards, flowers and get well gifts over the past few weeks. Your support is very encouraging. The healing process continues and will involve further surgery and recovery time. I hope to have more information after tomorrow's (Monday, Dec. 15) appointment at St Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

Sister Rosemary, who flew to Canada with me on the medivac flight and stayed on to help me, has now returned to Haiti and will continue working with our staff until I return. She will work out of our center two days a week as she did before our rather abrupt departure. Her presence, wisdom and knowledge of the Haitian culture and language provides a link for our staff.

As I am able now to enjoy short walks outdoors in this wonderful Canadian weather, I am taking advantage of the proximity of the library and its internet service. Auguste informs me that school exams finished Friday, December 12, and schools will most likely resume classes the second week of January. Report cards will be ready at that time and our tutoring programs will begin mid January. The date is fluid at this point in time.

The biggest problem in Haiti continues to be malnutrition. Although prices in the market place have levelled off, they are still too high for us to reopen the food distribution program. Thanks to the generosity of Mme Cindy and her community in Pennsylvania, our young people will have rice, beans and oil for a Christmas meal. But that is one meal. Other than that Christmas meal, our young people have no food and no options to get food -- no food bank, no government food distribution program. We continue to purchase and distribute potable water.

The good news is that the bridges between Cap-Haitien and Potoprens (Port-au-Prince) have been repaired and bus service has resumed. Bus fare has increased however.

We are still looking for sponsors for post-secondary students. Vincent Robert is in 2nd year agriculture in Limbe, and Plenitude is in first year telecommunications program in Port-au-Prince. Vincent's sponsor in unable to continue and Vincent desperately wants to finish his 4 year program. Plenitude borrowed the money to register and he is staying with friends to minimize expenses. Both are hard workers.

Marlene has returned from first semester in the Dominican Republic. Elorge has stayed behind for a few weeks. We await their reports.

Will close for now - energy tends to depart without advance notice.

Thanks again, everyone!

Pi ta (later)


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Carol Video Images from Starthrower Foundation

The season of good will to all: Merry Christmas from Starthrower Foundation!

As this challenging year comes to a close, let us remember that for the people of Haiti, every year is a challenging year.

Young adults, especially, have a very difficult time finding their way in the world. Many of them are orphans who are trying to support themselves as well as other family members. Any help we can give them, no matter how simple or how generous, is very much appreciated.

Any challenges we face pale in comparison to the ones that they handle on a daily basis.

Help us give them their daily bread, today and every day.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving USA Update from Starthrower Foundation

Hello Everyone,

Here's a brief update from Starthrower Foundation on American Thanksgiving Day 2008.

Sharon Gaskell
Sharon traveled to Toronto on Monday for her check up at St. Michael's Hospital, where her constant companion for these many weeks, a vacuum pump, was disconnected and removed.

Sharon continues to recuperate at home in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, and, with the help of a physiotherapist and her own doctor there, is working on regaining muscle strength over the coming weeks before her next scheduled surgeries in mid-January.

While access to email is limited, she can be contacted by phone at 519-943-0114. Visitors are welcome, but please phone first.

Sister Rosemary
Sister Rosemary is returning to Haiti as planned on December 10, and has agreed to work from Lakay Fondasyon in Cap-Haitien for the foreseeable future.

Special thanks to her for all her help these past months -- from her care of Sharon in Haiti, and Toronto, and in Orangeville, for the many miles she drove to and from Toronto to tend to Sharon's needs, including driving her to medical appointments and arranging a place for Sharon to stay while in Toronto on those appointments, and her twice daily phone calls to make sure Sharon was okay.

University Students Sponsorships
With the exception of a few post-secondary students who currently have sponsors for the near future, Starthrower will no longer arrange any post-secondary student assistance, but instead focus on sponsoring students in high school and apprenticeships in order to make the best use of limited funds.

Thank you, Everyone, for your support these past few, difficult months. Starthrower is most thankful for your help, donations, and words of advice and encouragement as we work together to support our students in Haiti.

Starthrower Foundation 2008-2009 Board members are posted at

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lakay Fondasyon, Cap-Haitien Haiti News, Shipping to Haiti, Christmas Project

Hello Everyone,

Auguste, who continues to operate Lakay Fondasyon, Starthrower Foundation's center in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, while Sharon Gaskell is in Canada recovering from surgery(ies), sends this news about sponsored students.

[Sharon had gone into hospital then returned to Toronto prior to completion of students registrations for school for the fall term; Haiti's summer of hurricanes and resulting storm damage had prompted Haiti school authorities to extend enrollment dates one month.] Auguste has been studying English, so he is able to communicate with non-Kreyol speakers.
This year we have 97 students: Girls 46; Boys 51
  • Cap-Haitien: Girls 22; Boys 23
  • Sen-Rafayel: Girls 22; Boys 22
  • University : Girl 1; Boys 3
  • University waiting list*: Girl 1; Boys 3 *These 4 students are not good for enter in the university [They did not pass exams.]
Yes, I distributed the bag food to students.

About the students they are no good, no bad, only they are not sick. They are going to school, but for eating, it very difficult for Haitian people.

I am praying for you and I wish you a good job.

Blessings !

And news from Sharon Gaskell:
Thank you, everyone, for your support and kind words, and for your continued support of the students in Haiti. This [unexpected illness and return to Canada] is precisely why I have been training staff over the years to take over in my absence and continue to operate.

Starthrower Foundation is not about me. It is about the students and the center in Haiti. I know Auguste will do a good job. As nice as he sounds in email, he is twice as nice and caring in person.

And thanks to Mme Cindy and her 'helpers' in Pennsylvania for their Christmas project for Starthrower. I have every confidence they can work with Lakay Fondasyon staff in my absence.

If you wish to donate to the Christmas project or to help with the food program, you may do so using the Canada Helps or Paypal donate buttons.

Shipping to Haiti
We received news that CASCO now has a minimum charge for shipping to Haiti. If you are planning to ship goods to Haiti, please phone or fax them for details as it may be more economical to wait until your shipment reaches the minimum (i.e. send 3 boxes for the same cost as one box):
CASCO website: CASCO
Mail: 1801 SW 1st Ave,Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315 USA
Phone: (954) 525-1717 | Fax: (954) 525-1317
Posted by: Karen
Starthrower Admin.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Starthrower Students in Haiti, Hospital Update Sharon in Toronto

Hello Everyone,

Week Two in St, Michael's Hospital: Sharon's health continues to gradually improve. Even though the crisis period has passed, her condition is still very much day-to-day, with some days much better than others, if she's had energy-draining testing and scans and various procedures to track issues following her surgeries.

If you've ever been in hospital yourself, you will recall that institution life is not the most conducive to rest, and you sleep when you can. Because of this, Sharon is not up to receiving visitors while undergoing active treatment and recuperation, but I did pass on your messages. Thank you for your support.

And many thanks, too, to those of you who have been Starthrower's 'memory' of details large and small: Donors who continue to sponsor our students in school and university; Maureen, who thought to ask us about the ongoing need for cat food (Natural Choice for Cats, not available in Haiti) and will include it in the box of vitamins, etc she will ship to the staff in Cap-Haitien; Sister Rosemary for stepping up to the plate in timely fashion then and now, and when she returns to Haiti in a few weeks.

Rest assured that Sharon has arranged for Starthrower's center in Haiti to continue operating in her absence. If you have any questions or happen to think of something we may have overlooked at this time, please do not hesitate to email us at the Starthrower address.

When Sharon and I set out to establish Starthrower Foundation, we were determined that one of the things is was NOT to be was yet another charity that worked in Haiti for a few years, then left when the going got tough. Sharon had witnessed the lives of these 'abandonded' kids, and resolved then and there that Starthrower would be in Haiti for the long haul.

This is one of those tough times, tougher than normal as, more than usual, it involves Sharon's own life and health. In addition to trying to recover from her illness, she is also worrying about those left behind in Haiti. Though she is here in Toronto, the needs of the kids in Haiti continue. They still need food, water, shelter and support, medical services and tuition. Please continue to help us help them.

These are trying times for Starthrower, and for the global community. When you have a minute, see this excellent post on Ireland-based Blog, written by one of their staff for blog action day to give perspective to the current economic situation.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sharon Gaskell Visit St. Michael's Hospital Toronto

Hello Everyone,

It was a great relief to visit with Sharon yesterday afternoon at St. Michael's Hospital (picture) in Toronto. She is still heavily medicated and undergoing treatment for three (3!) bacterial infections, as well as continuing treatment following her surgery, but her responses are most encouraging. I even managed to elicit several good smiles from her!

At this time, however, like most post-surgery patients, Sharon is really not up to visiting. In the coming few weeks, as her health continues to improve, this will likely change. For now, cards and letters of support and news would really help boost her spirits. The mailing address is:
Sharon Gaskell
Patient Room 96
30 Bond Street, Toronto, Ontario
M5B 1W8
Sharon and her family, Sister Rosemary and doctors are deciding how best to arrange Sharon's recuperation phase. As soon as plans are made, I will let you know. Though it is still early days (hard to believe this time last week she was flying to Toronto from Cap-Haitien!), and the situation can change, at this time Sharon is slated to have another operation just after Christmas. Following her recovery from that surgery, she plans to return to Haiti to continue her work, likely in the Spring.

Prior to going into hospital in Cap-Haitien, Sharon made arrangements for the staff to continue administration at Lakay Fondasyon, Starthrower's center in Haiti, and the staff has been in regular contact with Sister Rosemary in Toronto.

I passed along to her your good wishes and prayers. I will let you know as soon as Sharon is able to receive calls and access emails.

Thank you all for your support, and please keep it coming. Sharon is as committed as always to continuing her work with Starthrower Foundation in Haiti.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Starthrower Foundation On Poverty Blog Action Day 2008

Hello Everyone,

Starthrower Foundation joins the blogging community in focusing on world poverty issues today, October 15, 2008.

That Sharon Gaskell, Starthrower's founder, is currently seriously ill from complications borne of living in poverty conditions in Haiti (see Haiti hospital post and Thanksgiving Day post) dramatically underscores the urgent need to help ensure everyone, everywhere has access to clean, safe water and food, and to medical care. These are some of the goals of Starthrower Foundation's work in Haiti. Lofty goals to be sure, but attainable with your help.

On this day of action, take a few minutes to read again Sharon's words on the Starthrower home page, and about social justice issues and donations. These are not easy concepts to internalize. You'll know when you really 'get it'.

Most of us want to right the wrongs of this world by 'fixing' them the way we think they should be fixed. And this is a very natural response when we want to make something better. But this response is patronizing, a colonial mindset, a Father Knows Best attitude that diminishes the ones we are trying to help.

Sharon has listed, on a page on the web site, a recommended reading list on Haiti and social justice issues. Take the time to find a copy of one or all of them. Most are available through Amazon online, or check your local library. The more you know about these issues and learn what others are doing, the more effective your support will be.

And it's already been pretty amazing!

I'll post an update on Sharon's condition in the next day or so, when there is more definite news.


Friday, October 10, 2008

A Happy Thanksgiving in Canada - From Cap-Haitien to Toronto By Air Ambulance

Hello Everyone,

Good news! Sharon arrived in Toronto close to midnight Thursday after a 6 hour flight on a Fox Flight air ambulance from Cap-Haitien, and is now in St. Michael's Hospital.

Sister Rosemary (Sisters of St. Joseph Toronto) has been by her side from Haiti to home, with the hospital providing a cot for her last night. She told Sharon's sister this morning that just to be in cool air, on the flight and here at hospital, made Sharon more comfortable, and she was able to rest. Sharon is able to talk, and taking part in her treatment. She even sat up for a few minutes last night.

It's been a worrying 36 hours trying to get definite information about what was happening, which Sharon's sister ultimately did at 2 a.m. She plans to drive into Toronto later today, so we should have a better idea of what happens now.

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, and is a very special one for Sharon's family and friends, and for Starthrower. Thank you all for your support and prayers, offers of help and fundraising initiatives to handle this emergency. We are very grateful for our Starthrower community.

As soon as we have more information, we'll let you know.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Canadian Government, Sisters of St. Joseph Working to Bring Sharon From Haiti to Ontario

Hello Everyone,

Once again, I could not reach Sister Rosemary this morning to get an update on Sharon's condition. Update 10 a.m. I spoke briefly to Sister just now. The line kept breaking up, but I was able to hear that Sharon is awake and aware of what is going on, and talking to them.

Here is a report from Sharon's sister as of last night.

"Sharon is on two different antibiotics and meds to keep her blood pressure up so that she stays out of shock from the infection. Sharon has a fever that spikes from time to time, but appears not to be in pain.

"The Canadian government doctors are in constant contact with her doctors in Cap-Haitien, and the Department of Foreign Affairs are in contact with me and Sister Rosemary.

"DFAIT is looking into bringing Sharon home if possible, and Sister Rosemary is arranging for one of the Sisters who handles hospital administration to help determine which Ontario hospital is best able to treat Sharon's condition, be it in Toronto, Hamilton or London.

"Mark from NC and Sister Rosemary have arranged for access to Starthrower's monies in Haiti to see her and the kids through this crisis. Everyone has been so kind and helpful." . . . B.L.H.

Thank you to everyone who has emailed with prayers and wishes. I will try to reply ASAP. With Sister Rosemary attending, rest assured that Sharon will have whatever is needed at this time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

News Haiti Hospital Justinien Sharon's Progress Tuesday Morning

Hello Everyone

I was not able to contact Sister Rosemary this morning, but Sharon's sister just sent this message:

"I spoke with Sister this morning at 8:00 a.m. She was sitting with Sharon then and said she was stabilizing.
"Doctors seem surprised at her "progress" but are going to watch carefully for infection over the next few days as she is still very critical." . . .B.L.

I should perhaps explain who Sister Rosemary is and what a blessing it is that she happens to be in Cap-Haitien at all, let alone at this critical time.

Sister Rosemary is a nun of the Sisters of St Joseph ( in Toronto Canada, who has served in Cap-Haitien for many years. She speaks the language, knows well the culture and the hospitals, and many of the residents and has a great support network. Sister Rosemary and Sharon have been friends and colleagues for many years.

Sister Rosemary retired last year, and returned to Canada. I asked her last night how it was she came to be in Haiti at all. She said she had returned to Haiti only a few weeks ago to work on a special project, but had spent the time taking care of Sharon.

Something Sharon said to me years ago when I asked her why she was in Haiti came to mind this morning. [They appear in the Starthrower brochure, and in my story about meeting Sharon at] :

"Realizing that sitting and crying was not doing any good," she says, "I started asking myself, 'Where do I fit in? What can I do?'"

And she committed herself to work with the kids in Haiti. I cannot do what Sharon does, as much as I may want to, and I am thankful that she is willing and able to do this work that sorely needs doing. But I could learn to do websites, so I did, for Starthrower.

All of us can contribute in some way to keep Starthrower a vital force, and support the work Sharon does, and God willing, will be doing again, and for a long time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Update Sharon Hospital Justinien Cap-Haitien Monday Night

Hello Everyone,

Sister Rosemary called a few minutes ago to say that Sharon is just out of surgery to repair a perforated bowel, as well as having had two colostomies. Surgery ended about 7:30 pm EDT

The news is not good. Sharon is gravely ill. Her condition is not stable, and two doctors will stay with her through the night, as will an experienced nurse.

Sister Rosemary says that everything that can be done, and that could have been done, has been done, down to bringing in meds from other centers, and that Sharon has been getting the best care possible.

Sister Rosemary also said that Mark from NC has been there today, and Jack, one of the staff, has too. As well, two of the girls are again staying with her through the night,

Several of the kids have been staying with Sharon in shifts at the house all last week, and continue to sit with her. As well, last week Sharon had IV meds at home, and an internist came by twice a day to check her.

The Canadian Embassy has been consulted, and will medivac her home, at a cost of $35,000.00, but she was not, is not, stable enough to make this an option, and it hasn't been an option for several days.

Prior to surgery, Sister Rosemary says that Sharon was conscious and talking, but as of when we spoke, was still in the OR. The doctors will not allow her to see Sharon as yet, though they did come out to tell her about the surgery and her condition.

If and when Sharon is conscious, Sister Rosemary will pass on the prayers and messages from those of you who have written to her.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sharon Surgery Cap-Haitien Hospital Justinien Today

Hello Everyone,

I just got a phone call from Sharon. She wanted me to let you know that she is going to Hospital Justinien in Cap-Haitien hospital for bowel surgery this afternoon.

I'll spare the graphic details, but she is very ill, likely from the E. coli, and the surgeon will check for abscesses or perforations.

She has no idea when she will be released from hospital, or when she will return to Canada. It will NOT be next weekend as planned.

Sister Rosemary has been taking care of Sharon the past week and will phone me when Sharon is out of surgery.

Her voice sounded very weak, and she has been in constant severe pain for several weeks now.

Prayers are needed, Everyone.
Update 9 pm EDT

Sister Rosemary just phoned from the hospital in Haiti to let us know that Sharon is not having surgery until the doctors deem her kidney function sufficien to handle the anaesthetic.

Their best estimate for surgery is later tonight or tomorrow.

Sister Rosemary was heading home for the night, but said that a nurse and two of the students were with Sharon and would stay the night.

If anything changes she said the hospital will call her, and she will call tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

No Celebrity Endorsements, No Aid Flowing in Sen Rafayel, Cap-Haitien Haiti

* * *
Hello Everyone,

There are times when I am at a loss for words. That doesn't happen often but lately, I have fewer words and many more moments of reflection. Wrackspurts, as J.K Rowling's character Luna Lovegood calls them in the Harry Potter series.

With the exception of last Thursday, we have had rain every night since Monday, September 15. The rain has added to the misery and danger in many places, including Sen Rafayel. [Ed. note: See this page on Hurricane Center for current storm activity.]

Dieumane's mom died yesterday morning in Sen Rafayel. She was 43. Her house was flooded when TS Hanna went through and she had been sleeping in a ditch ever since . She became ill last week, probably a combination of malnutrition, typhoid, pneumonia -- you name it.

Dieumane's dad was drowned in the river 2 years ago during a storm. The victim list continues to grow here. Many of our kids are still unaccounted for. News from Haitian radio this am brings word of more flooding last Wednesday as a result of the daily rains.

The village of Dondon is just south of Sen Rafayel. It experienced flooding, loss of gardens, animal, houses, people as well. San Michel above Sen Rafayel was all but wiped out. Sen Rafayel sits mired in debris, illness, hunger, and renewed flooding. And still no support.

A friend of mine said in an email last week, "Hope the aid is flowing and things are returning to normal."


I can only shout the message with capital letters and hope that awareness emerges. The only aid in Haiti is in the places that make the news, either by celebrity endorsement or misery caught on video.

Still no electricity or gas, ice
One tanker of gas arrived at our gas station in Champin on Sunday. The rest of the city was shut down. Vehicles were lined 3 abreast and police as well as private security were on duty. By Monday morning, every drop was gone. No ice anywhere. Apparently there is no gas for the delivery vehicle.

While we can do without ice and refrigeration, we cannot do without potable water. Let's hope that is not the next victim of this crise. Many stores are closed completely. Cost of a school uniform is doubled now as material is scarce, marchands unable to replenish stocks so doubling prices.

We will supplement for the kids who are coming in this week with results for State exams for 9eme. We are sending more to the clinics daily as hunger and illness grows but the Clinics are unable to perform many tests as generators are gas driven.

Cap-Haitien, Sen Rafayel roads to Port-au-Prince closed

We are completely cut off from the south now. The secondary route through Sen Rafayel and Hinche was extremely dangerous but people tried to navigate it. Another died trying yesterday so the route has been closed.

We have kids stuck in Port-au-Prince with insufficient funds, and we have kids stuck in Sen Rafayel who want to start university but they cannot get to Port-au-Prince.

The cost of a gode of uncooked rice (one cup) is now 40 gds ($1.00 US) up from 11 gds about a year ago. The same amount of charcoal for cooking it is roughly the same price, for a total of $2. US to buy and cook a cup of plain rice -- without oil, beans, spices, water, matches, cooking pot. [see convert USD to HTG info]

We will get through this. My mother always says that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. She was talking about her many cancer surgeries and treatments. She is one tough lady. But I digress.

Keep us in your thoughts . . .


Monday, September 22, 2008

Convert USD to HTG - U.S. Dollars to Haitian Gourdes

Since the Haitian gourdes (HTG) is not one of the world's most valued currencies, it can be difficult to find an up to date exchange rate online. I did find one source at Exchange, which shows the following conversions to USD as of early September 2008.

Click on image to view larger size.

Since currency rates do fluctuate, please check the above posted site for latest information, or try this currency exchange rate site : conversion; keep clicking Additional Currencies on currencies menu until Haiti gourde HTG appears, then calculate.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

College Jean-Claude Mondesir High School in Cap-Haitien Haiti Fees and Post Secondary Sponsors

Hello Everyone,

Folks have asked about the cost of sending a youth to high school in Haiti for a year, so I am going to provide the fees and associated cost for one high school in Cap-Haitien, the College Jean-Claude Mondesir, at 143 Rue 23F, where we have 2 students registered and 3 more waiting for sponsor funds.

As you may recall, I've mentioned in earlier posts that high school fees vary according to grade level and school. These fees below are specifically for Marcellus and Rodney, who are in 3eme, which is the 4th year of high school. I hope this information is helpful.

The fees are listed in Haitian dollars (5 gourdes = $1 Haitian; about $7 Haitian = $1 USD)
  • Enskripsyon fee: $50.
  • Frais Scolaire: $950.
  • Iden. Card. $30.
  • Mois Sept. $220.
  • Informatique $300.
  • Ecolage $650 par trimeste X 3 trimeste =$1950.00
  • TOTAL --- $ $3500. Haitian OR 17,500 GDS OR $500. USD
Associated school costs include:
  • text books: 11 text books plus 3 dictionaries, about *$2500.H or *$357. USD
  • school supplies
  • uniform (including shoes and underwear) and hygiene products: about $700. H or $100. USD
  • medical
  • dental
  • housing
  • food and potable water
Total cost for 1 student, NOT including medical, dental, food, water, housing: Just under $957 USD per year.

*Text books costs would be much higher if not for our intensive textbook refurbish program which runs from July1 to August 31.

College Jean-Claude Mondesir is a medium priced school; for other schools, we pay more; for some, less. We have NO students attending any of the 4 top schools in the Cap-Haitien, as they are beyond our financial abilities. However, if we could afford to send students to the top schools, it would guarantee better teachers, equipment and placement in post secondary situations.

Special request for Post-secondary sponsors

Mechanique Auto-Diesel at Universite Internationale de St-Gerard.

Johnley P. and Danius J., our 2 boys from Sen Rafayel who want to study Mechanique Auto-Diesel, have brought in the pertinent information from Universite Internationale de St-Gerard.

This school has an American - Canadian affiliation, as flags for all three countries are displayed on the information page, and are shown in the photo of the university entrance. We phoned the university and spoke with the director of admissions. There are no entrance exams required, because proof of Philo (attestation; High school diploma) serves the purpose.

Fees and living expenses would come to close to $2000. USD per year, per student, which is a little lower than other post-secondary schools, as Universite Internationale de St-Gerard is one of the less expensive post secondary facilities. Classes begin October 6. This is a 3 year program plus a year of internship at the end.

Medical Technology Program

Frantzy has been accepted into a medical technology program with a demi-bous of half fee. He needs $1000. per year for 4 years (school only - help with living expenses would be appreciated).

Our other University hopefuls are writing entrance exams this week. Plenitude wrote last Saturday and has yet to hear her results.

Thank you all for your support with these students.

I am staying on in Haiti longer than planned so I can try to get the students settled. With the aftermath of the hurricane and severe storms, school opening has been moved from September until early October.

I plan to return to Canada on October 11 (Canadian Thanksgiving weekend) for a few weeks.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sen Rafayel Haiti News, Shortages and Storm Damage Reports


Bonjou tout moun (Hi Everyone)

Although we are still cut off from the South, Claudy and Louisena managed to make it down from Sen Rafayel on Tuesday. The 28 kms (17 miles) trip took them 6 hours, and the same to return home.

The bridge that is needed to facilitate the trip has been out for almost 2 years now. With this track record for road repair and maintenance, I fear for length of time it will take to repair or replace the other 3 major bridges that were washed away during the recent storms.

We are being told it may be months before they are restored. Meantime, traffic to the Dominican Republic continues as Haitians head there to get gasoline and vehicle traffic here has been trimmed to 'manageable'.

From Sen Rafayel, Claudy and Louisena brought news of devastation and loss. Claudy estimates that about a third of the houses in the village were completely destroyed, and that about another 25 percent sustained heavy damage.

He said that people are sleeping in the ruins, that gardens and animals are all lost. This is a replay of the devastation of December 2006 that took out the bridge.

Claudy had decided to keep the backpacks in the office and then distribute after the storm. Unfortunately the office is small, only one table. The 11 back packs placed on the floor under the table were beyond salvage. We have begun to replace text books etc.

Since the village spreads over a huge geographical area, we have no idea of the number of students who have lost uniforms and shoes. The good news is that the 3 students in Cap-Haitien who rewrote Rheto exams were all successful (bon).

Because Louisena is entering Philo this year, her work with us will finish next month. The school year work load is too heavy for her to also have work commitments. Her job will be taken over by Fabiola C.

Next year Claudy enters Philo so we will be looking for his replacement as the year progresses. In this way, these young people get a bit of training in administration and workplace practices, which can only help them as they move on through school.

Unfortunately the gas shortage is impacting on necessities. The Culligan water purification plant and ice making factory in Morn Rouj has not delivered this week as they have no gas for the trucks.

We have not pumped water for the house for 2 weeks as our generator is gas driven, and of course we have no gas. We have asked Jackson (our driver) if he can sell us a gallon of gas next time his brother brings some back from the Dominican Republic.

In addition to having no gasoline, we ran out of propane on Saturday. Jack spent 3 hours in town going from place to place trying to find a refill. Half of the businesses were closed.

He finally found one tank for which we paid $700 Haitian, or $100 U.S. This is a price increase of about 50 percent, but we desperately need a reserve. Propane is our main cooking source. We must boil all water before using. We are using rain water until the generator is working again.

We are still waiting for the miracle of electricity although the state sent a boat of gasoline which arrived yesterday. Apparently it is for police, electric company (EDH), government offices etc.

I will head in to town later this morning to try bank Fonkoze again. There are donor funds we could not access last week. I'll let you know how I make out.

Pi ta (later)
Update Thursday evening:

We have had fierce thunderstorms for 3 consecutive nights, compounding the misery.

Just back from town, and the staff has departed for the day. Fonkoze able to access account, so I have some money now.

Gas scams abound. Price for DR gas is now $120 Haitian per gallon (over $17USD a gallon). Folks are selling urine in gallons. Many abandoned cars because motors have been compromised by bad 'gas'.

No way can we purchase many foodstuffs with these high prices, but many kids are becoming ill. A lot of standing water so mosquitoes plentiful. I am waiting for the first case of typhoid.

Jack said his parents place (in Sen Rafayel) still half full (half empty?) of water and they are sleeping beside it. His damage estimate is higher than Claudy's; Jack has talked to family who say about 75 percent of Sen Rafayel homes destroyed. We await word on replacing uniforms etc.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Starthrower Students Haiti Home Visits in Cap-Haitien

Alexander P. is a student at King's University College in London Ontario Canada who travelled with friend and student Laura to Cap-Haitien Haiti to visit Starthrower Foundation. (See earlier post from Alex).

In this post, Alex writes:

On Friday, August 22, we visited the homes of five students who are currently attending school thanks to Starthrower.

Home #1 - Weby
The first visit we made was to the home of Weby. When we arrived, Weby and his father came out to greet us.

His father had to sit down right away since he has recently had several of his toes amputated and finds it painful to stand.

The doctor never explained to his father why he had to have his toes amputated, just that [the amputation] had to be done.

Sharon told us that after asking a few questions, it was evident that he had diabetes. Diabetes is an epidemic in Haiti since the only food that many people can find and afford is sugar cane and fruit.

Like a lot of Haitian homes, this one has three rooms with cement walls and floors and a corrugated tin roof. The first room, devoid of any furniture, functions as Weby's bedroom and the living room. Like a lot of Haitians, he sleeps on the cement floor.

The second room was his parents' bedroom; They are fortunate to have a bed and a mosquito net, but not much else. The third room acts as their kitchen. The family has put a great deal of effort into their home to make it clean and presentable for the family as well as for visitors.

Their water for washing comes from a contaminated well belonging to the house across the street, and he is able to pick up a gallon of clean drinking water from Starthrower everyday.

Outside Othanes' home in Cap-Haitien

Home Visit #2 and #3 -- Othanes and his sister, Willa.
The second home we visited belonged to Othanes. The place where he lives is the front room of someone else's house. The woman who owns the house lives in the back room with her children. They are fortunate enough to own a bed to share between them.

Outside the front door, there is a pool of sewage. When it rains, the sewage floods the front room where he sleeps on the floor (I can't imagine what his home would look like after a hurricane!).

Laura and I had brought two hammocks with frames from Canada with us on behalf of Starthrower, and we were able to give one to Othanes to get him off the floor at night.

He pays to get water from a tap across the street; they don't know where this water comes from and the source often dries up.

Othanes in sister Willa's house
Othanes then took us to his sister Willa's house; she is also a student sponsored by Starthrower. Her place was a small room that she shares with her friend and her friend's children; It is separated into a bedroom and a living room by a sheet hanging from the walls.

Sharon taking little girl to hospital

Home Visit #4 - Family with Baby
Our fourth home visit took some unexpected turns. The fact that nine people sleep on a floor that was barely large enough to seat four of us was not what captured our attention.

There was a 17-month-old baby girl sitting on a chair by herself. She was obviously weak, malnourished and ill; her head was bobbing up and down like she was about to fall asleep; moments later she passed out and did not regain consciousness while Sharon held her.

The student, whose name escapes me, informed us that this little girl's mother was in the market trying to earn money to take her daughter to the clinic. We knew this poor girl may pass away before her mother got home if she didn't receive professional medical attention immediately.

The student said he was planning to go visit his mother in Sen Rafayel but Sharon explained to him that he was the oldest in the house and he was, therefore, responsible for looking after the youngest; he was oblige as they say in Creole.

We took the student and the little girl to the new hospital in Cap-Haitien. Sharon paid for the girl to be admitted and gave the student some extra cash to pay the doctor once they were seen. Once we got there, the hospital was very busy and they had run out of numbered cards so the student would have to defend his place in line without one.

Sharon said he would probably be waiting all afternoon and maybe into the evening, and all we could do was hope that she received the proper medical attention before it was too late.

Guilene' mother, Mme Philippe, with children

Home Visit #5 - Guilene
Our fifth and final home visit for the day was part way up the mountains. We were greeted at a corrugated tin gate by Guilene, who was wearing her best pink dress to meet us. We were led into a small, crowded, dirt courtyard which was shared by several families.

Their bare, cement block home has one large room divided into two with a bed sheet. Guilene's mother, Mme. P, was sitting on the bed in the first room.

This photo gives you some idea of how little they had before the hurricanes took their toll, and now they have almost nothing.

As Sharon mentioned in her September 6th blog post, Mme. Philipe, sick and injured, came to the compound after hurricane Gustav passed through to ask for help since her family lost nearly everything.

Guilene and her brother lost their books, shoes and uniforms. Starthrower will replace these items and also sponsor Guilene's brother to attend school.

Visiting these homes of Starthrower's students was very enlightening, and made us realize just how fortunate we are to live in Canada where everyone experiences an ultra-high standard of living by comparison.

Sharon Gaskell and the Starthrower Foundation make a huge difference in the lives of these young adults, working for justice every day.

It is these young people who are going change the unfortunate situation in their country and ultimately the world.

I urge everyone to support the work of Starthrower in whatever capacity you can, especially in this time of need.



Friday, September 12, 2008

Haiti Gas Shortages, Soaring Food Costs in Hurricane Ike Aftermath

Bonjou from Cap-Haitien

The aftermath of Nature's devastation seems to take as much if not more of a toll on life here as the actual event.

Tense could best describe the tone of the past few days. As the 3 major bridges are still out, effectively cutting us off from the South and the capitol of PAP [Port-au-Prince], gas reserves dried up completely last Saturday.

Vehicle traffic is down to about a third of regular. Folks with a little gas and papers have started driving east to Ouanaminthe on the border and purchasing gas in the Dominican Republic. Some who wanted a quick buck cut gas with water, sold it for $90 Haitian ($13. US) a gallon and then disappeared.

Police have begun to crack down on street corner sales. Jack and I went by tap-tap to Champin on Wednesday to buy ice. Two tap taps (half full) refused to stop for us. The full tap tap that did stop had a riot break out as the collection boy insisted on charging 10 gourdes fare (in good times we pay 5 gourdes).

The woman across from me began swinging her baby, using the poor mite as a club. There is an air of desperation everywhere. Although the gas pumps were closed, the white gas (kerosene) pump was just selling its last drops.

Crowds were pushing and shoving, the one security guard was ready to fire his gun. In town for market, several stores we frequent are closed, as is the laundromat .

This morning I called Jackson to take me to the bank. He was not working but had a gallon in reserve for our house. As we stopped at our corner to navigate the mountain of garbage (fatra-a) the guard at the CAM money transfer place next door fired his gun and it was just a little too close for my comfort.

Once in town, our little bank Fonkoze was open but not working -- no gas, no generator, no internet, no access to accounts.

Will try again next week. Sogebank was open and working.

Here at home we sent 3 to the clinic today for Malaria testing (if possible). Everything needs gas to operate as generators are the staple of power here.

Alex, Rose-Martha and Esmann will come back Monday for results (we hope). All live in Petit Anse where the flooding was worse.

Slowly we are clearing away the detritus and resuming our lives. Jack is still burning branches and leaves. There is so much it is difficult to dry everything. We have repaired (not replaced -- none available) our wires leading in to the house.

We are now ready for the miracle of electricity. The huge tree which was struck down on our street has been cut away (hand saws of course -- took days!). We can now drive down our street but the mountain of garbage on the Rue Nasyonal is so large that there is a 2 to 3 foot space for turning onto our Impasse. One must drive through the garbage.

Still no word from Sen Rafayel and we are concerned. With the bridge out, the river up, no gas for generators or machines to ferry passengers, all we can do it wait.

Results from state exam rewrites are coming in slowly. Should have word by next week. Two more in who lost everything including back pack with new text books and new uniforms.

Kesner and Camiose were devastated but very accepting of the fact that this is life in Haiti. We start again. The delay in start date and the loss of textbooks means Rosenie and Erzilia are available to work, searching the market for backpacks and text books we need. Pencil cases are impossible to find. Good size backpacks are also rare but the kids will use anything in a pinch.

Don't know what will happen re: food distribution. Today Carmene priced rice at $540 Haitian ($80. US- we buy 3 a week) and a marmite of beans at $35. Haitian ($7. US). We buy 19 marmites at a time for our weekly distribution.

A gallon of oil was $80 Haitian ($11.50) We use 3 gallons per week. Then there is the cost of small sacks for each, large sacks for distribution plus the cost of transport. This puts a weekly distribution program over $400. US per week now. This would double if we added Sen Rafayel. We continue the water distribution program in Cap.

Staff getting ready to leave for the day - more later.

stay safe

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hurricane Ike Skims Haiti, No Water or Gas, School Opening Postponed, No Word From Sen Rafayel, Kids Sick

Hello Everyone,

It's Monday a.m. Weak sun, light breeze, very humid. Solar amps incoming less than 2.

Saturday p.m. I travelled to the airport with Jackson as Lynx had found missing luggage.

No gas anywhere. We are unable to pump water for the house as our generator is gas driven. All gas stations were closed, empty.

A few enterprising folks were selling reserves of 'gas' in dirty plastic gallon jugs for $80 Haitian (11.50 US) a gallon. Apparently, they were boiling zaboka (avocado) in water to get the color of gas, mixing with a small quantity of gas, and fooling a lot of people. One man's misery is another's opportunity.

The entire day was overcast. Wisky arrived for work at 6 p.m. He is working security here on the weekends from 6 p.m.- 6 a.m. We scurried around putting away everything that might lift off in a wind and IKE blew in about 6:20.

It was very fast -- no warning -- just overcast skies and light breeze all day. Wind and rain all night. Neighbours had been busy replacing tol (corrugated metal) pieces which had blown off roofs when Hanna passed through. All night one heard the tol ripping off and flying around.

Sunday -- overcast, light rain, no solar amps. Today we are back with all staff. Still no word from our students in Sen Rafayal after the initial call post Hanna re gardens and animals swept away. (See earlier post).

There has been a steady stream of kids in this a.m. with fever, diarrhoea, congestion etc. Our canal at the side of the house is still 'bouche' (stopped up) and the mosquitoes are multiplying.

As school now officially will start 6 October (thank goodness - if new funds come in we will be able to send more without losing our inskripsyon money), we will hire a few of the students to help clean out the trench. The owner cemented up the flow hole for some reason so we have to deal with that first.

Several people have stopped and asked if we can charge phones for them as they have seen our solar panels. Although our batteries are straining to fill half way, we are charging phones for those we know in the neighbourhood.

The gas problem appears to have no resolution -- no way to truck it up from PAP [Port-au-Prince]. Cost of everything has risen dramatically. We found phone cards after 5 stores and paid 50% more for them.

NO electricity as EDH [power company] uses gas generators. We are walking everywhere and using our trusty wheel barrow. We did find ice this morning -- that was a celebration.

Auguste is calling - he is alone in the office as Rosenie and Erzilia are in town trying to find textbooks.

More later


Saturday, September 6, 2008

No Gas, Shops Closed, Post TS Hanna Cap-Haitien Haiti Update from Sharon


Very little juice in batteries. Will try to track down missing luggage again today. No luck yesterday.

Went to town with Jackson for food and ice. He rose at 3 a.m. to arrive at the gas station at 4 a.m. to wait for his 3 gallons of gas. He was very tired.

We passed 2 stations with lines which had no end as well as hundreds gathered around the pumps with containers. Police were out in full force trying to keep everything calm.

Two other stations had no gas. Soon the reserve will be gone then we walk, I guess. Many businesses still closed. Yesterday was like Sunday from that perspective.

Out of the 25 kids who showed up yesterday, five lost everything in the flooding including new uniforms for the school year.

We pay inskri to hold a place, then we repair text books and prepare and distribute backpacks. At the same time we distribute funds for uniforms.

The last thing we pay is the frais scolaire, first trimests and any other fees the school might request ie student identification badge, September entry fee, infomatique (computers), mayo (school Tshirt), activity card etc.

In addition to the 25 students, one mom came yesterday. Alex and Laura (see this post) will remember Mme Philippe as they videotaped the home visits. She was the one sitting on the floor with the baby.

She had been injured and unattended. Had a scar from outside left knee to hip, broken bones not set. She came here in a nightgown (clean) using a very stout piece of wood for a cane. She probably weighs about 60 lbs.

What little they had was washed away and she was very sick with a fever and congestion. We provided food, meds, money for kamyonet and said we would also take on her son.

Her daughter, Guilene is one of ours. She lost uniform, shoes etc. Mom had scrimped to pay for son to attend lycee but his books and uniform were swept away. We will replace them and pick him up as well.

Yesterday we decided to take the rent money and purchase rice, beans, oil to do a one time emergence distribution. We are unable to restart our full food distribution program.

The kids are coming today even though we are closed. School opening has been delayed providing some breathing space for staff.

Joceline offered to help make sandwiches as everyone was busy. She started to make them one at a time. Having grown up with a mother who made sandwiches in quantity for any and all occasions, I showed her how to do a loaf at a time.

As she was leaving, she shyly asked if she could help Carmene in the kitchen as she would like to learn how to cook. First she learns to read and write, next a chef. It was really endearing.

I 'm in tears for just about any reason or no reason. This is just so overwhelming at times. However, staff and kids provide perspective. I 'm just tired.

Without the white noise of electricity, every sound is magnified in the night and sleep is elusive. Have decided to add security on the weekends starting tonight until I leave as desperation and robberies are climbing.

We are so behind now we can only go forward.

Thanks to Mme Cindy in Penn. for the running shoes on my list.
See also Hurricane Ike Map - will be passing north shore Haiti today and overnight.

See also previous post about TS Hanna Damage in Haiti


Friday, September 5, 2008

Hanna Does Damage in Haiti - No Hydro, No Supplies, No Gas

Hello Everyone,

I arrived yesterday (Thursday) about 2 p.m. Cap-Haitien time after a somewhat turbulent trip. The descent was made from a different approach necessitating a very steep turn. One could see the devastation.

Petit Anse looked to be half submerged. We have 15 kids there. Fosenmichel [Ft. St. Michael] was as bad - we have another dozen kids there. People were just wandering through the long grass surrounding the airport, or sitting in small groups. How much more 'mize' (misery) can these people process?

Gas Lineups in Cap
Jackson [cab driver] met me with his taxi but my luggage didn't arrive. After a trip down to Lynx to be told to call tomorrow [Friday], we headed for home. As we passed a line-up about a kilometer in length at a gas station, Jackson told me he had waited 4 hours in the morning to get 2 gallons of gas to pick me up.

Bridges Out
As the bridge to the south at Gonaives was washed away (our bridge to Sen Rafayel has been out for 2 years), we are essentially cut off from the south, so no supplies, including gas, are getting here. Traffic was greatly reduced due to the gas shortage. Driving through the streets was a navigation test -- greatly enlarged pot holes, tree limbs and whole trees provided the obstacle course.

Storm Damage from Hanna
Our street (Impasse Soeurs Missionaires) was cut off by a huge tree which had been uprooted. It had fallen across the street and rested on the roof of the corner house. Jackson managed to brush underneath it and we arrived at the house.

Inside the compound looked like a war zone. Our garden area was covered with downed branches as the staff had been busy cleaning up. The largest tree on our lawn had the top removed. It landed on our hydro wires in to the house.

There is no electricity anywhere so we'll try to repair today. Our banana tree was uprooted as well, and most flowering shrubs are gone. The water which came into the house entered the office and soaked the backpacks we had just prepared for Sen Rafayel.

School Supplies Lost
Mold and mildew are already growing so we will have to burn most. Replacement cost will be enormous and the back packs we just cannot get here. Although we have not yet paid school fees due to shortage of funds, we did inskri (register) many so had sent the first load of backpacks (with text books, notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers, pencil sharpeners, hygiene products) last Wednesday with Claudy and Louisena.

Haven't heard an update from Sen Rafayel as it is difficult to charge batteries with no gas for the generators. I had Jack charge our solar batteries to half using the generator in order to check weather this morning. Gas is almost gone so next update may be some time coming, unless we have enough sun to charge from the solar panels.

Hurricane Ike Coming
We had overcast skies and rain last night. Can only hope Hurricane Ike takes a hike north. Will try to get to town today for supplies as the cupboard is bare. So much clean up to be done and we need to try to check on our kids in the hardest hit areas. With no gasoline we may have to wait for them to make their way to us. Housing has always been a challenge and this will compound the problem.

Will touch base when possible.

Be safe

P.S. Deb and Stan In USA : So good to hear from you. Your shining faces were missed on the shuttle yesterday to the airport. Glad you arrived home safely.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

TS Hanna Battering Northern Haiti Flights from Florida Canceled

Hi All

A quick update as I sit in Ft. Lauderdale hoping to return home to Cap after a weekend of meetings here. Hopefully we can do an end run around TS Hanna [see National Hurricane Center for tracking map, and location of Haiti from east coast Florida]

It was good to see Alex and Laura's blog post. Another perspective is always enlightening for me. I look forward to their impressions of our home visit program.

I just talked to Lynx Air about the flight back to Cap-Haitien scheduled for this morning (Tuesday), and Lynx says to show up at the airport in any event, as no decision reached yet. Don't see how we can go, though, as all flight paths are contaminated.


Just talked with Lynx rep again. The flight is delayed and may be cancelled but I need to show up as per ticket. If cancelled, I will come back to the hotel.


Just arrived back to the hotel from the airport. Flight cancelled as Cap-Haitien is being hit hard by TS Hanna, and the Cap-Haitien airport is closed. According to one American with whom I am travelling, there are reports of bodies (10) floating in the street in Cap.

He had been speaking to folks in Cap who were waiting for his flight to arrive. They strongly advised against travel in the event the flight was not cancelled. Lynx is prudent and would not risk anyone. I have confidence born of 10 years of travel with them.

Apparently Artibonite and Gonaives flooded again as well. Will try to contact staff to find out how they are doing, and let them know that maybe tomorrow I can get a flight out.

[With the coming storm / hurricane] I think I am the only guest in the hotel so have the computer to myself. Will check in every few hours.


Just got through to the house in Haiti. I spoke to Auguste, who said they had some flooding at the house and they are cleaning up. The kids couldn't get home last night, so they stayed at the house; I told them to stay again tonight if necessary. They have had no hydro, and no solar, so soon, the phones will lose charges. Hanna is still blanketing North Haiti.

If I am unable to inform them of future flight change and arrival time, I will take my chances at the Cap-Haitien airport. Lynx not certain which day we will get out. Apparently, Ike and Josephine are following Hanna. I hope we find a window. I am glad the kids are safe (as far as we know).

Pi ta
Wednesday, Sept. 3 2008 update:

Hello again,

I will fly out on Lynx to morrow (Thurs) at noon. TS Ike is set to hit Haiti on Saturday, so that gives us a day on Friday to buy groceries, purchase cleaning supplies and help clean and repair as many ti kay yo as possible.

Here is the email I just received from Auguste in Kreyol, with translation. Reading between the lines, Sen Rafayel is again all but wiped off the map. This happened a year ago last Christmas too. They were just rebuilding and replacing animals etc Status quo has a very different meaning here.

Bonjou, Mme

jodia gen sevis internet paske gen piti soley. Dlo antre nan kek kay okap si tou moun ki rete Petit-Ance ak Fort-Saint michel.

Sen-Rafayel riviere desann li pran jaden ak bet.
Mesi, Bondye beni-ou.

Today we have a little sun so a little internet. Hardest hit with flooding are many of the houses where our kids live in Petit-Anse and Ft. St. Michel.

In Sen Rafayel the swollen river came down the mountain and washed away gardens and animals (once again)

Thanks - Blessings

Monday, September 1, 2008

Social Justice Peace Studies King's University College Student Visits Starthrower in Haiti

Alexander P. is a student at King's University college in London Ontario Canada who travelled with friend and student Laura to Cap-Haitien to visit Starthrower Foundation. On their return, they plan to produce a short video and pictures of their visit. Alex writes:
Laura and I flew into Cap-Haitian late Tuesday afternoon on a full seventeen-seat propeller plane. On the way over, one of the other four blanc passengers had said to me, "I read your T-shirts; I think we're on the same team."

He wasn't quite right however. Like many aid workers who come to Haiti from the Western world, he was with a group of other travellers who were part of a religious team coming to save Haitian souls. I was not.

From my perspective, Haitians don't need charity or saving. They need, and deserve, justice. The poverty and inequity experienced by all majority world countries is a form of modern colonialism perpetuated by the Western minority.

Ever since Sharon came to speak to my Social Justice and Peace Studies class at King's University College, I have realized that the Starthrower Foundation is an organization that understands the current world order more than most, and I that could learn a lot from them.

At the Airport in Cap-Haitien
Our senses were immediately assaulted as we stepped off the plane. The smell of pollution, garbage and human feces permeates throughout. The airport was a small two-room building with a bare light bulb and fan, neither of which were operational since there is rarely any electricity.

The immigration officer dutifully stamped our passports without making any record of our visit or asking any questions. The customs officer rummaged through the bags of donations that we brought and claimed a back-pack as duty.

Sharon met us at the airport with Jackson, Starthrower's trusted and reliable taxi driver. Our drive back to the compound was an obstacle course around holes in the road and piles of garbage.

All along the way, raw sewage either ran down the road or in small canals beside it. It was immediately evident that this is a country that has had its wealth sucked out of it.

At Lakay Fondasyon
Sharon told us that the staff was really happy that we were here to visit and to learn from them. When we arrived at the compound, it was evening so the staff had already gone home, but we were greeted with welcome signs Auguste had made, and Carmen [cook] had left a hot meal for us.

After our first glimpse at the poverty and conditions in which people live, we started to get an understanding of Haitian life. Despite these conditions, it was amazing to see the staff start work the next morning.

The first thing they did was go straight for the water cooler. Safe drinking water is a rare treat in Haiti, and cold safe drinking water is an even rarer treat.

You could immediately tell that these young adults were happy to be here and to have a job that pays well by Haitian standards. The first couple days that we were here, we were fully staffed and worked on reconditioning books for the coming school year. Now we plan to accompany Sharon on home visits. I will tell you about that in my next post.
Laura McIntosh travelled from London, Ontario with Alex to visit Starthrower. Laura writes:
This trip to Haiti is my first time placing myself in another country that's not as privileged as my own, and with a different language and different customs. How we ended up in Haiti of all places is quite easy to tell.

When Alex first heard Sharon talk about Starthrower's work in Haiti, he was quite intrigued by her passion and her ideals. At the same time, I was researching Haiti for a case study I was working on for school.

The idea of visiting and experiencing this wonderful country with its rich and powerful –- as well as disturbing -- history made my heart just jump. Sharon's organization sounded perfect for us; being activists, the chance to meet these people, not to help them but for the opportunity to swap knowledge and to get to know them are humans was really important to us.

Meeting the Staff
The Haitians I have met are some the most welcoming people I could ever meet. On my first morning with them, I was bombarded with names I couldn't pronounce and I found it difficult at first to communicate with them, besides Hello (Bonjou). I was amazed, however, with the speed and teamwork they presented when setting about their tasks.

The majority of them were working on the textbooks for the kids this year: cleaning them up, making sure they had the proper number of pages, and making sure that the books were securely held together (if not they fixed them with white glue), as well as many other things.

No one person was in charge; each one seemed to know which tasks needed to be done. They were efficient, and still managed to gossip and talk about everything, just like your average teenagers.

For the first little while, I worked with them in silence, studying them and learning from them what they were doing. Then body language took over and I would tell them what things meant in English, with them giving the Creole names. They found most of the English words funny to pronounce, and things went on from there.

Another group of students was inside preparing backpacks with pens, pencils, erasers, mathematic sets, paper, etc. Throughout the day, Auguste met with students, counseling them and seeing how they were and if they needed anything.

There was a separate group working on renovations to the house and the yard wall. It's almost a 24 hour job, just maintaining the house. Sharon was inside working on books and paperwork, as well as conversing with the senior staff about what needed to be completed and worked on; making sure she always received their input.

Haitians love to sing, so of course there was music. These students were like those everywhere, but I've never seen such hard workers. They may joke around, and sing and gossip, but they're productive and focused. They seemed always to show respect for each other and take pride in themselves.

For people who barely have a home, and certainly no clean water, they arrive every morning on schedule, washed and wearing clean clothes with smiles on their faces for everyone. It's all just amazing to me how these people do this day in and day out.
Update from Alex:
Fortunately, Hurricane Gustav missed us, but unfortunately Port-au-Prince was hit again. We had some dark clouds come our way. It has been overcast for the past couple days so we didn't get much power from the solar panels. Also, this is the first time we've had electricity in several days except for a few minutes or an hour or so in the middle of the night.

We leave today (August 27). We had hoped to send another update before we left for home, but it will have to wait. Laura and I have quite a few photos and some video which we hope to incorporate into a future blog post.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cap-Haitien Feast, Tropical Storm Fay, Charity, Social Justice, Medical Bills, School Sponsors

Hello Everyone,

Where to start?
Last week passed in a blur of noise and celebration. It was Cap-Haitien's patronal feast celebration (Notre Dame Cap Ayisien). The actual date is August 15th but celebrations begin a full week in advance. Many expats return for this feast. Hotels were full and music was everywhere, 24 hours a day. Sleeping was interesting. Gave new meaning to 'lullabye'.

Still no electricity and it's becoming more difficult to find ice. Our visitors arrive today (Tuesday), so I will have to take a taxi out to the Culligan factory in Morn Rouj to purchase ice. I'm using solar power for a few minutes just to send this update, then I'll get offline and reroute solar to the fridge.

On Friday, Tropical storm Fay blew in to town, ripping roofs off ti kay yo during the night, sending garbage flying in all directions and flooding many houses. On Saturday during the rain, Soeur Ginette dropped in from Sen Rafayel to deliver our students' medical bills and bills for pharmaceutical services. Last year we owed her 35,000 gourdes ($1,000 USD). This year we owe 103,350 gourdes ($2,953.00 USD) and this is money we don't have as yet to pay her. She is, however, extremely patient. The information she provides is so valuable in getting a clear picture of life in the village.

If we can find the funds to begin a pilot program of food and potable water distribution in Sen Rafayel (not to mention enough to restart our program here in Cap-Haitien), I am certain we would see a dramatic decline in the number of clinic visits. Sherline is working on the receipts, grouping them by month and checking the number of visits by each student. Afterwards I will prepare a list of illness, the number of times they occurred and the months when the most illness occurred.

School Sponsorship News
Marlene and Elorge set off Monday morning for Santiago, DR, to begin university life. Their courage is amazing. They also have intelligence and common sense so should be fine. Only Deles, Elorge and Marlene currently have sponsors.

Here at home we have a large number of students waiting to go on, and time is quickly running out for registration deadlines. Half of our kids from last year will sit out the year, as will our high school grads who want to go on.

Due to lack of funds, the graduating and current students NOT continuing this year are:
  1. Micheline 2nd year of Medical technology program
  2. Vincent 2nd year of Agriculture (his sponsor is unable to continue)
  3. Rosenie first year kindergarten teacher
  4. Alland - first year medicine
  5. Brunie - first year nursing
  6. Wisly - first year medicine
  7. Osner- first year agriculture
  8. Gabriel- first year agriculture
  9. Lebrun - first year agriculture
  10. Johnley- first year Genie Mechanique
  11. Danius- first year Genie Mechanique
  12. Frantzy- first year Medical Technology (he has a half scholarship for the 3 year program)
  13. Plenitude (Jean Baptiste) currently in Port-au-Prince studying for entrance exams to study agriculture.

We won't even get to our waiting list of 140+.students this year.
So basically, the bottom line is:
  • No money for food
  • No money for school
  • No money to pay the medical bills
The sad truth . . .
Starthrower received a sizeable donation prior to Christmas 2007 that has yet to be transferred to us here in Haiti. We can't feed these kids here in Haiti, nor can we send them to school or house them while this donation is still sitting in a U.S. bank.

This is another very real example of the 'Arrogance of Charity (see article on the web site). Many well intentioned folks have visited Haiti then left for home without really SEEING, smelling or feeling the misery of the lives of these young people. The lives of the most visitors are comfortable, so they can't see the urgency, the very real need, so why move with any speed?

I shake my head and sigh. Power and control over the poor is such a 'charity' mindset. 'Justice' wouldn't hesitate; a justice minded group would have had those funds here for last Christmas.

Please help if you can. Those who already have, thank you so much on behalf of these amazing young people. They more than deserve a chance, they are owed a chance..

Like Martin Luther King, I too have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have 3 meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.

Please be audacious and justice minded. Help us save this year for them.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Exam Rewrites, Waiting Lists Sen Rafayel and Cap-Haitien

Hello Everyone,

Sorry it's been a while since last I wrote, but I've been fighting multiple infections, and simply had no energy to handle email, etc. on top of everything else.

As I write this, it's 6 a.m. on Monday: The house choir across the street (enfas nou) is practising; we had much needed rain last night; and at this current minute, there is electricity. In Haiti, it just doesn't get much better than this! And if we had television, I would be glued to the Olympics coverage.

Yesterday I was cleaning cupboards and drawers in preparation for the visit of Alex and Laura (who are coming from Canada next week), when I came across a newspaper clipping from August 2004, of a letter to the editor of a Toronto newspaper, written by our intrepid web wizard Karen. It is entitled Haiti: Things so much worse. The cut line reads:
"Food supplies are low, electricity limited, garbage is piled up, people are sick and riots, murders continue."
Seems old news is still news four years later.

Last week, Claudy and Fabiola came down the mountain from Sen Rafayel. They left the village at 6 a.m. and arrived here at 2:30 p.m. -- 8 and a half hours to make the 28 km (17.3 miles) trip. The vehicle broke down (enpan) and the bridge is still out. Fabiola came in Louisena's place, as Louisena was preparing to rewrite Rheto exams.

After they had used the facilities, and had something to eat, and stretched a bit, we met in the office. They brought report cards, and reinskripyon dates as well as new book lists. We prepared envelopes and lists for each school. We also made a cursory pass at the waiting list they brought. There are 72 in Sen Rafayel and 70 in Cap-Haitien on the waiting lists alone.

Please keep our kids in your thoughts this week as they retake their exams. We have 3 from Sen Rafayel (who have to go to Grand Riviere Du Nord to rewrite), and 3 in Cap-Haitien.

Claudy and Fabiola told us that during exams, nobody in Sen Rafayel slept, they just studied. If someone had a candle or a wind-up flashlight, several students gathered around the light to study together.

Around 5:30 p.m., Claudy and Fabiola left to return to Sen Rafayel. As we were concerned about their safety and wanted to make sure they got home, Auguste phoned several times throughout the evening. Finally Claudy called him at 2 a.m. to say that they had just arrived in Sen Rafayel. I will be so very glad when we find a vehicle. Putting staff at risk like this is a nightmare.

Although there are no funds, I have again juggled the rent money in order to send Alland, Brunie and Wisky to Port-Au-Prince (Potoprens) to write entrance exams to study medicine. If I am going to be awake anyhow, worrying about kids travelling in unsafe conditions, I might as well be awake for several reasons.

We have outgrown our space as many of you who visit us well know. We were offered a lovely house in Audecap which the owner was willing to repair for us; However, lack of funds and no vehicle make this an unviable option. We found a smaller apartment here in Cap-Haitien where we could move our Text Book Program, and free up space here at the house. It was beyond filthy but had potential and good location.

So we made a deal with the owner that we would first go in and clean from top to bottom, then he would paint. But when we arrived, in Jackson's 'old' taxi, ready to clean the place, everything -- filth and all -- had already been painted over. Today we meet with the owner to (hopefully) get our deposit back.

The choir is finished, and the hydro gone (now on solar). Will plug in fridge. More later.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Haiti State National Exam Results, Sponsors for University, Med School

Hello Everyone,

Last night we had rain and electricity arrive in tandem. They each visited for approximately four hours, losing intensity before they finally bid us good bye. It took electricity (kouran) four tries to grab hold, the thunder (loraj) rumbled all day with promises.

If you have read the new page on the website 'A day in the life' [new page - see Cap Haitien Haiti News], you know something of our daily quest for ice in the absence of hydro. Yesterday all our ice was melted, so I phoned Jackson (our cab driver -- he is treated like staff although he calls me his mother). We made the trip to Champin to get ice only to be told 'glas-la fini net' (no ice).

A kind gentleman waiting to check out his purchases asked me what I did, how long had I been doing it, did I like the country. He then suggested we go to the ice making factory in Morn Rouge if we were desperate. We were.

Following his directions, we arrived after a 30 minute trip over the wonderful Rout Nasyonal. We checked in with two armed guards, arrived at the plant and were greeted by yet another well-armed guard. After an hour wait, our precious ice arrived. Nothing is easy.

Re: State National Exam results Sen Rafayel:
By Friday we had heard from all our students in Sen Rafayel. Of the 5 who wrote Philo in Sen Rafayel, ALL WERE ADMI. Bon. Everyone passed! This is such a BIG THING. These are kids who eat maybe once a week, have never had a bath or shower, no access to clean water, never been to a dentist, live in misery you cannot imagine. Yet they wrote the same exams as the wealthy and well-fed, and passed!

State National Exam results Grand Riviere du Nord:
Plenitude was also successful. As I said on the website, he had come on Friday full of joy at his success and sorrow as his dad had died Monday. He lives a fair distance but I kept him on as he was one of the first children I met 10 years ago. In primary school, he walked 4 hours a day to attend school. Since his high school is in Grand Riviere du Nord, he would periodically borrow a neighbour's cell phone to touch base with us. He said Friday it was our presence that gave him the courage to go on every day. Although he couldn't get here physically, whenever he called, Auguste was there to provide encouragement (li te ankouraje-li).

A similar exam results scenario in Cap-Haitien.
From about 75 percent of our kids in Cap Haitien. Osner just arrived from Lycee Boukman, grinning from ear to ear. He has had most of the teeth on the right side of his mouth pulled, so he looks like a little old man. He was also 'bon/admi' for Philo (7th and last year of high school). Auguste is beaming! He tutored most of these kids throughout the year. We had 100 percent success in Philo in both Sen Rafayel and Cap-Haitien! We are 10 for 10! Absolutely UNHEARD of!!

Out of the 10 who wrote Rheto, we had one ajoune in Sen Rafayel and 2 in Okap (Cap-Haitien). That means they were close enough to a pass that they rewrite for 3 days beginning August 11. Only one did not pass, Martha whom I mentioned (nursed her brother through 2 major illnesses. HE passed.) The other 6 were admi/bon.

This is a brilliant achievement!
I am in awe of these kids. These young people are the ones who will change their country IF given the 'soutyen' (support). If they don't receive it, yet another generation wastes away. And what a perfect birthday gift for Starthrower's birthday celebration!

Currently we have 2 students in second year university in Limbe (Agriculture), two beginning pre-med in the Dominican Republic (and they had to pass Spanish language fluency classes first!), and one in second year medical technology. Four of these have sponsors. Of the nine new grads, 3 want to study agriculture, one to enter nursing, two to study medicine, two to study master mechanic at university in Port-au-Prince, one to study for kindergarten teacher in Cap-Haitien.
  • Osner wants to study engineering. Maybe a group of engineers will sponsor him along with Danius and Johnley.
  • Maybe the nurses federation will support Brunie
  • Maybe the medical association will pick up Alland and Wisky
  • Maybe the teachers federation will sponsor Rosenie for teaching kindergarten
  • Maybe the agriculture association will sponsor Plenitude, Lebrun and Gabriel
  • Maybe the medical technologists assoc. will pick up Micheline.
Could happen!! If you know anyone in these associations, please pass this blog post on to them. These young people have gotten to the upost-secondary stage with your support, and can only succeed with your support.

Speaking of support, we are very grateful for the boxes which were delivered this week from Pennsylvania. Thank you Mme Cindy and company (Mme Paula also I suspect?) The protein powder will be put to use this week after we make our peanut butter.

All for now -- I need to switch solar to the fridge.

Beni-w (blessings)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Trip to Santiago DR, Exam Results Due, and Obits

Hello Everyone,

Still no electricity (since first week of July) but finally got on internet server with solar power. Hot and humid -- much thunder, no rain relief.

Last week was a time of sorrow for us . . .
Two of the young people on our waiting list died. Claudy (student and staff member in Sen Rafayel) lost two family members on the same day. Tayo, his 14 year old cousin, had been living with Claudy and his mom since both his parents died in 2006. Claudy had been scraping together the money out of his meager salary to help Tayo complete primary school, and he was waiting for exam results to start high school.

Tayo was very hungry, so he climbed a mango tree to shake loose the last stubborn pieces of fruit. He fell and was dead upon arrival at local clinic. Claudy's uncle died the same day. He was 30 years old, married with 2 small children. He had been bitten by an unidentified insect (ti bet); his body swelled to twice normal, and he died in great pain. There was no coffin or clothing large enough to accommodate. Claudy is now responsible for paying for both funerals.

Paulaine is one of our girls studying sewing (kouti). Her sister, Marie-Djazmeen was 17. She died of unidentified illness. The symptoms were swollen feet and difficulty breathing. She was also waiting for state results to begin high school. She wanted to be a nurse.

It was also a week of adventure.
Elorge and Marlene travelled to Santiago, Dominican Republic to to write entrance exams to study medicine. They had a day of written exams and a day of orals, to judge Spanish fluency. Both were accepted and arrived back here yesterday exhausted and elated.

They were in awe at the size of the university campus and at the equipment in the lab for students. University regulations now require a transcript for every year of high school so they immediately headed for Sen Rafayel to acquire the necessary papers. Then it's back to Santiago for final registration and find reasonable housing.

Exam Results Due
State results for Philo and Rheto are being posted today so we should know by this weekend who passed (admi), who has to write again in August (ajoune) and who will repeat the year (elimine).

Special thanks to Jackie McV. and all her guests in Ontario, who celebrated Jackie's 60th birthday with a combined party and fundraiser for Starthrower. What a great idea! Thanks one and all!

Auguste has added a new installment to the Haiti Culture page.

Plis pi ta (more later)


If anyone is fundraising for tuition and school supplies for the end of August, please let us know.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Haiti Life - Phones, Animals, Sen Rafayel Clinic, Text Book Program

Hello Everyone!

Thanks for the response to the column Auguste is writing on Haiti life for the website. He was "byen kontan" to receive emails especially as they were in English and afforded him practice opportunities. Hope you have had the opportunity to read it, and exclaim over the creative genius of our webmaster. What Auguste neglected to mention was that last year when he studied and successfully passed state exams for Philo, he worked full time for us, choosing to attend school each day from 3-8 p.m.

Long time listener, First time Caller . . .
Sometimes you have to laugh. Friday morning Joceline was getting ready to go to the laundromat, so Auguste continued her How to use a Cell Phone instruction. He has the patience of Job! To give Joceline some practice in using the cell phone, he asked her to call Jack, who was working out in the corner of the yard getting the patio ready for use as a work station for the text book recycling program. When Jack's phone rang, he answered. Joceline seemed to get a case of stage fright, as she spoke in a whisper so he had no idea who was calling him.

Joceline seemed slightly fearful of the whole cell phone operation, so she passed the phone to Auguste, who explained to Jack that they were practicing. Everyone laughed, then hung up. Then Joceline called Dieugrand', who was working in the garden, and the same activity ensued. Then Joceline rang the Digicel phone in the house, and Auguste answered. Then she called the other house phone. As Joceline was gaining confidence in this cell phone business, Auguste and I asked her to phone Jackson, the taxi driver.

But when Jackson answered his phone, Joceline reverted back to whispering. By this time, everyone was laughing, including Joceline. When she returned from the laundromat, having successfully laundered everything and then phoned Jackson for pick up, she was feeling very proud of herself. What a difference from 5 or 6 years ago when there were no cell phones and I was walking downtown to Teleco central to phone Canada!

About Joceline
If you have been following our blogs, you may recall that Joceline is a widow with 7 children. Auguste taught her how to read and print her name last year. Imagine the challenges she has faced and overcome in performing what we consider routine tasks, such as setting dials on washers and driers, and scrolling through a cell phone address book!

These are all foreign activities to her and she is only just beginning to use her new reading skills. What a trooper! I think the way the staff here support each other is one of the reasons our young people like to visit. This warm welcome and support is extended to everyone who enters.

Animal Kingdom, Haiti Style
This morning I received my usual 4 a.m. wake up calls from the roosters and cats. As I wrote to a friend earlier this week, I have been trying to train the roosters to provide a 5 a.m. wake up call, but they are stubborn old birds. So, after half an hour of yoga and meditation under the mosquito net, I got up, and fed the cats, then began to fill the pots with water to boil. Then the screech of the pentads (guinea fowl) began -- more stubborn old birds!

For some reason, pentads like our cat food and I spent the next ten minutes chasing them out of the food and trying to send them back to their yard, clapping my hands (pretty tricky with my wonky left wrist) and calling out in Kreyol (guinea fowl don't speak English, nor do the roosters or the cats). Every time I stopped clapping and calling out, they came up to me honking in their unique way. The thought crossed my mind that this was a very undignified start to my 63rd birthday. No respect from any of them.

Sen Rafayel clinic, text book program
On a more serious note, Soeur Ginette came to visit yesterday from Sen Rafayel. She has operated a small clinic there for over 30 years. We provide an updated student list every September and she provides consult, diagnosis and meds for our youth. Once a year we do an accounting. Her concerns were 3 fold:
  • number and extent of dental needs
  • the worsening malnutrition ( as if it could get worse)
  • the debilitating anemia everyone suffers.
All these health issues are related, of course. We will do our best to implement food and water distribution for the school year. We really have to wait until we have a vehicle in order to transport up the mountain.

Lack of vehicle affects book program Sen Rafayel
The hunt continues for our own vehicle (see vehicle safety post), but good used vehicles are very scarce. Also because the public vehicles which travel the mountain are so unsafe and frequently anpan, not to mention targets for robbery, at our weekly meeting on Friday, staff decided to delay implementing the book project in Sen Rafayel until next year when we hopefully will have a vehicle. Rosenie and Edwina travelled yesterday to pick up the books which Claudy and Louisena packed. They will return today.

Auguste just phoned to say that Brunie Gilles in Sen Rafayel has managed to find a place to stay in Cap-Haitien, and will come down Monday morning in order to take the summer Premed course with Alland and Wisly. She wants to enter nursing.

And on that note, have a great July 13th! (sandwiched in between Bastille day and Orangemans Day)

Ala pwochen

A thought about poverty and the poor . . .
I overheard a conversation last week in which "the problem of the poor" and "the poverty problem" were being discussed.

The poor of Haiti (and by extension, of the world) are the most innovative and creative people on the planet when it comes to solving seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all adjusted our consciousness to see 'the poor' as the resource needed to solve 'the poverty problem' rather than the problem itself?


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