Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Life in Haiti, Water, Food, Work Programs, and Loren, our orphaned neighbor

Hello, Everyone,

It is midweek and we have (gras a dye) ELECTRICITY. That deserves capital letters. Quite possibly it will be a memory by the time this sentence is completed, but at this moment, it is cause for celebration!

Haiti Culture and Customs
Auguste was thrilled (byen kontan) to see his stories on the new Haiti Culture page of the Starthrower website. When I asked Auguste to write about his life in Haiti, I had forgotten that of course he does not have paper and pen in the ti kay (little house) that he shares with the 2 sisters he is putting through school.

Auguste told me he wrote all weekend. His stories are written on many scraps of paper, each one numbered for my benefit. I will find a plastic box (to keep out rats, mice and cockroaches) and give him writing supplies. (FYI Electricity just went out -- running on solar now.)

Summer Jobs in Haiti
Summer has arrived in all its glory (heat, heat and more heat). That means our student work force is with us. It also means heat rash and vision constantly compromised by salty perspiration. Although our employee numbers are pared down for financial reasons, I was still shocked on Monday morning when 18 young people walked through our portail; Usually, we have 5.

These kids live in the most unsafe, unsanitary conditions imaginable, yet they show up here chattering and laughing, happy to be with each other, knowing they are among the few lucky enough to have work. They keep me grounded. (There are times however, when the introvert in me counts down to the end of the work day and their departure.)

Sponsored Students, Report Card Fees. Wait List
Starthrower had 359 student visitors come through our portail (door) in June. That number will escalate this month as many students are finding themselves unable to secure the release of report cards (kane-yo) due to unpaid fees. Until these fees are paid, no reports or exam results are released to the students.

Unfortunately, we are rarely able to help play catch up; however we do add their names to our wait list in the event of a windfall -- ours or theirs! (Electricity is back -- unplug the inverter- welcome to our world!) When these students are not able to provide us with their reports (mandatory to be considered for Starthrower sponsorship), Auguste does a preliminary interview, and takes down some information.

Then at the second interview (if and when they are able to provide us with their report cards), he takes all their family history and appropriate papers are shared. Auguste does the preliminary screening, and together we interview as we get closer to 'offering a contract' that all our students sign before being accepted for Starthrower sponsorship. Because our work is about doing justice, nothing is handed to our youth. We share this journey, Starthrower and students both having responsibilities.

Programs and Projects
I realize I often talk about programs and projects but neglect to inform you about the difference. When I began to travel to Haiti on a frequent basis, many years ago, I was drawn to the area of education, most likely because I had been a teacher for 20 years, and education seemed of primary importance.

By supporting those first few youngsters in Sen Rafayel, I gained the needed insight into the reality of Haiti. It is a country of orphans, so education by itself wasn't enough. They needed the care a parent provides -- food, medicine, housing, clothing, school supplies, etc.

As we settled into the centre, and more and more young people began coming in to ask us for help, I hired Auguste. And hiring Auguste -- in effect, creating for him an internship program in Administration -- also gave me some much needed time for reflection.

As these "parenting needs" presented themselves, Auguste and I talked about possible solutions. For example, the text book reclamation project was so successful the first year, after discussion with those who had participated, and making tweaks to job descriptions, we hired Rosenie part time to continue throughout the year. A project had become a program.

Project and Program Development
Similarly, as Auguste tutors, counsels, makes home visits, liaises with all school administrations, prepares all lists for Sen Rafayel and Cap-Haitien, and creates displays for both locations, he had insufficient time to oversee those who were in need of medical/dental referrals. And so, we hired Jhennie for a 6 month project -- January to June.

We did the same with food distribution: Hiring Dieugrand full time and Erzilia to assist him with purchasing, packaging and distributing food sacks and potable water. Both projects ended in June and we sat down in separate groups and discussed the pros and cons, successes and failure.

Consequently, the Potable Water project, Food Distribution Project and the Good Health project are now permanent programs. Erzilia has replaced Jhennie, who has gone to help a sister in the Dominican Republic. Erzilia continues with food/water distribution, though they are scaled down for the summer months.

Throughout the summer, we are providing potable (safe) water to everyone, but providing food only to those attending summer school. Thanks to a donation from the UK, Alland and Wisly will begin the premed summer school program next Monday in the hopes of gaining entrance to a Haitian university.

Rosenie and Edwina will travel back to Sen Rafayel on Monday to implement the book reclamation project for 2 months. Claudy has already hired the 3 students we decided upon. We will meet in September to discuss, review and decide on future actions.

Apprenticeship Program Under Review
We continually examine what works and what doesn't. Our apprenticeship program is now on temporary project status as we had four students who were left without work when the "bosses" we had contracted left town in Oct/Nov. We had just paid for the new year, so that money was lost.

The affected students were told to find a new boss in the same field and we would again interview and contract starting in January. They didn't come back until June, saying they were now ready. We never make decisions for someone's life choices. We offer support, discussion, perspective, and the young people know this. We are not scrapping the idea of apprenticeship with a master craftsman; however, we are leaning more toward supporting trade school training.

Escalating Costs for Rice
Erzilia and Rosenie just returned from the market, purchasing supplies for our summer school students. A large sack of rice is now $500.00 Haitian (and rising) or $71.50 USD. If we were to restart our full program in Cap-Haitien now, and begin a similar project in Sen Rafayel, it would require $700 USD per week. Lets hope things settle down by September.

Meet Loren . . .
In closing, let me introduce you to another of Haiti's children. We have a recently arrived neighbour. His name is Loren and he is 4 years old. He began coming to our portail a few weeks ago asking for mangoes. He is quite loquacious -- what some would call an old soul. He told us that his parents were dead -- both killed in a bus accident.

His grandmother was his "paran" now. He loves to colour, skip rope (as only a 4 year old can) and 'read' books. Then 2 weeks ago, he came over for a visit and told us that his gran had been killed in a flood. We had a storm go through and the water near Gonaive flooded (lamer te plen -- literally, the sea was full). His gran was in a tap tap going to visit her son to ask for help. She and many others drowned.

I spoke to the daughter-in-law a few days after the funeral. Like most Haitians, they have no money to cover funeral costs and are at a loss as to what to do with Loren because they do not have 'moyen ekonomik' (economic means) to raise him.

Variations of this story happen day after day here. Every statistic you read is about real people, real children who laugh and cry and just want a chance.

One at a time. . .

lape (in peace)


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