Monday, December 5, 2011

Travels, New Faces and Gifts from PA

According to our local radio station, the government is experiencing a 'kriz gaz', in other words a fuel shortage. This is the first time in my memory we have been given a reason for no electricity.  Thankfully its a macro problem not micro - no problem purchasing fuel for vehicles - this time. Although it's inconvenient and frustrating not being able to communicate with you, we continue to be as busy as the proverbial bees.

Since Jack's departure from the Sen Rafayel project at summer's end, Auguste and I have become the conduit for purchasing and delivering any and ALL building, plumbing, wiring materials up the mountain. We could probably rebuild the National Palace with our new skills. Our poor truck is paying the price. A new starter is on my list of  "Things to purchase in Canada". Danius is coming to-morrow to check the tires/brakes.

Joceline, Auguste and Lusnot loading doors and framing materials.

Lusnot has become a valuable member of the  team, keeping the office open and functioning efficiently when we travel to Sen Rafayel. He will rewrite his Philo exams in July. For those sponsoring Gaby, Lusnot is his brother.
Lusnot working on text-book distribution lists.

Up the mountain

Yesterday we travelled up to Sen Rafayel to deliver hand made cement balusters for the privacy wall. Last week it was porcelain toilets and sinks. Torrential rains have rendered the already treacherous mountain track almost impassable. Ruts are now deeper and mud-filled , more crevasse than crevice,   pulling the tires in unthinkable directions.  We crawled up and back the last two trips. Everything arrived without a scratch. The only damage was to the nerves of the occupants of the truck.

Last week we moved from the depot into the new office. Although not complete, it is far enough along to accommodate staff and programs. Because of the increased space, we have added staff members. All are drawn from our current and former student lists. In the midst of the upheaval, support programs continue to function and we have begun work on programming for our students sitting out the Philo year due to teacher shortage.

Note door behind Guerlande. New staff Wilno and Solange (to my rt)
Guerlande(coordinator), Vilsaint, Edeline, Kesner
If our yard looks foreshortened to you, it is. We have lost 5 feet of frontage to the village, as the magistrate has decided to widen the path in front of our centre  and anything in the proposed way will be razed.  On the bright side,  we don't have to plant grass now,  one less chore. 

Down the mountain

In Cap-Haitien, in addition to providing support for the 100+ young people on our list, we continue intake. In November we added 7 new faces to our roster. There are several stages to our process. Initially, students come calling, asking for support. We request a handwritten letter detailing their situation, including school history. Once we have read the letter, we make a decision. If we continue  an appointment  is made with the students. Depending on  age and living arrangements, we may ask for a parent/guardian to be present. At this stage we check all appropriate papers: birth certificate, report cards. payment cards, attestations for state exams... After papers have been vetted we make a home visit to ascertain there is at least a chance for academic success. There is always something we can do which isn't too invasive to further support - ie mosquito nets or window screens...

Let me introduce brothers Jean-Woody, Fritzman and Raymond-son. Both parents are dead and there is no relative able to take 3 young men. They want to stay to-gether.  After reading their letters, we made an appointment.

Perhaps I was hiding...
On their first visit, instead of the papers requested, they brought book lists. I had to laugh when I saw the body language Auguste captured digitally. Nothing is easy here, nor does it go smoothly. After explaining again what we were requesting and why, the boys left to find the papers we needed. It took them a few days as their living conditions are fluid to say the least.

Mme Marie-Micheline
The latrine (full to capacity) is on an island -
They have been given floor space to sleep by Mme. Marie-Micheline, a friend of a sister of an aunt. After visiting the one-room home and speaking with Mme., we admitted them to the program for the year.  The room which houses Mme., her 5 children and the 3 brothers, is about 8X8. No kitchen, no running water, no privacy. There is a latrine out back, however IF it could be reached,  it is full and in need of expensive cleaning . Cleaning is a non-issue as it is inaccessible,  swamp which surrounds it never dries. This makes mosquitos (marengwen)  and by extension malaria a big issue.

                                                   Raymond-son and Fritzman - new uniforms, new hope

The boys were admitted on the understanding that we pay one trimeste at a time. Thanks to your donor dollars, distributed through our Education Support Program, these boys have 'possibilite'.

First trimeste exams are starting this week, which means the Christmas break is just around the corner. Our weekend staff have been sprucing up tables and chairs for the holidays with a coat of paint. Boxes filled with assorted gifts are arriving daily from Mme. Cindy in PA. We'll package and label them  for students when I return.

Auguste arriving with boxes-Jolie supervises
On Wednesday, I head to Canada for a week to attend the fundraiser at Acheson's in Orangeville.  We're one staff member short as Mme. Carmene is off for the month of December. Last week she received notice that her house has been marked for demolition by the state for the new airport. It is located miles from her house, yet the katye is being razed, with little and more often than not no remuneration. After losing both sons, now her home is going.   The new tikay we are renting for Inea and Dina is also marked for demolition. With so many already living in makeshift tents, the number is swelling instead of dwindling. Many in Fosenmichel have already had their homes destroyed. It is a nightmare from which there is no waking.  If this is prosperity, the price is too high.

It will be a difficult Christmas  for many.

Kembe pa lage

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day One down, day two

Homecoming was worth the frustration. After arriving at the Provo airport at 6:30am for a 9am flight, I was informed that the flight would depart at noon. Noon became 2:30 and finally the plane arrived and I was home in a mere 35 minutes.

Auguste was waiting with 2 of our students - the starter has gone on the truck and we needed a push to get it going. We picked up Sherlyne on the way, heading to our place on foot. Once in the compound the dogs  barked and danced their welcome. It was quite a joyous time.  Joceline has Malaria so her welcome was less enthusiastic.

In addition to my 2 overflowing suitcases (a tip of the hat to WestJet for the second suitcase) Auguste had picked up 3 boxes which had arrived from Mme. Cindy in Pennsylvania, so we unpacked and sorted until about 7 pm. Mil Mesi (a thousand thanks) Dan and company for the backpacks - what a windfall. Cindy also sent backpacks and shoes - it was like early Christmas.  I don't know what we would do without Cindy.  Carmene hadn't shopped yet, so a litre of water and a handful of almonds became supper and I fell into bed at 8 o'clock.
Auguste unpacks and counts (kontwole) backpacks.
The night was noisy - gunfire at our gate, and voodoo drums complete with a huge bonfire and much revelry in the cemetery above our property.  I forgot that it was Fetdesmort and Fettousens (All Souls and All Saints day). Thankfully rain began about midnight, the heavy, driving rain of autumn complete with strong gusty winds. It dampened the celebrations and allowed sleep. 

Morning arrived too soon but the roosters will not be denied. I think they have radar which tells them when the job is done and everyone is up. They are persistent. Dogs and cats fed, water boiled, oatmeal cooked, there was electricity so time to check email. We were scheduled to meet Sylvia at the airport at 8:30 to pick up a laptop she was donating for Bruni.  From her Blackberry a message saying the plane was 30 minutes ahead of schedule. A plane ahead of schedule??? Thankfully Auguste is always a early for work and Lusnot arrived at the same time. Lusnot works security while I'm in Canada.  He's just finished writing Philo (last year of high school), and is filling in here where needed. This morning we needed him to come with and push the truck to start it.

Perfect timing - we drove past a truck filled with blans  (non Haitians) and a voice called out my name. Sylvia had already passed customs and was heading for Milot.  Sylvia, thank you so much for the laptop and carrying case.  Bruni was beyond happy to receive such a necessary tool. To add icing to the cake, she picked up a pair of new shoes which Cindy had sent (as did Jimpson!!) What an amazing support team  growing.

From the airport we headed to town with the knowledge that perhaps we couldn't go to the bank as it was possible they were closed. Yes - all banks closed, most schools, many businesses as well. We changed some US currency at a hardware store and headed to the grocery store. Realizing that schools were closed meant we had very little time as that always signals a busy day.

True to form it was non-stop. Venise had moved down from Sen Rafayel because her parents are dead, there is no Philo offered in the village and she had a friend who would put her up. She came tell us she had secured a place at Lycee Philippe Guerrier  so we pulled to-gether backpack (thanks again everyone), school and hygiene supplies and, thanks to the hardware store, funds for her uniform.

Venise-in the big city and headed for Philo
Bruni arrived as Venise was leaving. She is enjoying the new University and grateful to be close to home. The nursing program runs 6 days a week from 7am to 4 pm. It takes her 2 hours to get to class and 2 to return home to her aunt's tikay. Long days.

Bruni - 2nd yr. Nursing - Elated with laptop and shoes
Camiose (background) covers textbooks
Jimpson in for shoes and a meal - Fresnel dropped in to read the paper and have a snack. Weby- Schneider brought in his year end report and we put to-gether a budget for his second year of university. He looked so tired. His dad died 2 years ago of Diabetes related problems. Now his mom is ill.   He struggles between wanting to be in Cap to help out and going to school so far away (Port-au-Prince) A year seems to go by as quickly as a day.

Weby-Schneider - 2nd year university

Camiose came in at noon to cover 3 new text books she had picked up, and stayed to work the afternoon as we had other books in need of covering. She is recovering from Typhoid and H Pylori infection so was  a little tired. She perked up when I gave her the birthday present her sponsors had sent. Thanks Cathy and Ian. She told me it was the first time in her life (except for the small gifts we distribute) that someone had celebrated her birthday.  Everyone of our young people will relate the same experience. Birthdays go by unacknowledged. Edwina popped by then Myriame, and the drop-ins continued. It was really great to see so many and be welcomed back so warmly.
Camiose unwraps birthday gift from sponsors
Danius came down from Sen Rafayel to work on the truck. His university program is also demanding , his time is now limited. I'll have to look for a starter in Canada. Truck patched to-gether we sat down for an update on the building project in San Rafayel. The cost of a bag of cement has jumped $5 in the last week, so we'll buy in Cap on Friday and deliver up the mountain Sunday.

In addition to Malaria, Joceline sliced her thumb quite severly so I changed the dressing on it. In my spare time I set up the ledgers for our new fiscal year which began October 1st, then entered expenses for the past month. Did I say spare time?

Auguste and I conferred several times when young people who had written letters asking for support followed up to see if we had funds. We made an  appointment with 3 brothers (Fritzman, Jean-Woody and Raymondson) for 9 am. That's now to-day as the internet did not co-operate last night. Their mother died 4 years ago and dad went to the Dominican Republic to look for work. He has not been heard from since. They stay wherever they find space for as long as they are allowed.  

During the quiet times (again hah) we began to plan the group study sessions for those in Rheto and Philo who are unable to attend school this year in the village. Curriculum will be two-pronged as about half are studying Nouvo Secondaire, the rest Secondaire Traditional.

As Carmene left for the day she mentioned that her 2 daughters have Typhoid, one in tandem with Malaria the other with worms. I have experienced the Typhoid/Malaria combination and it is debilitating to put it mildly.

Timing is everything. Heather and the CLM team in Canada donated another case of the natural supplement Allimax, which I picked up and repacked the day before I left. Joceline, Camiose, and Carmene's daughters Magda and Feri were our first customers.

Students gone, gate closed, staff filled me in on the political situation. Our newly elected president (February) still has not convened parliament. His primary goal seems to be establishing a new military. He has also accused a senator of being a thief and had him hauled off to prison. The senator is now free, after police checked the accusations. Who needs television?

Day one down, day two has begun and the rest will blur -- I'm really home.

Kenbe fo

Monday, October 24, 2011

Going Home, Updates, Funraiser

Monday I return to Haiti.  A month goes by in the blink of an eye. I'm just settling into the Canadian lifestyle, revelling in the crisp Autumn weather and able to string to-gether a couple of sentences in English without lapsing into Kreyol.  Much has happened in Cap-Haitien since my Oct.1st departure.  Construction continues in Sen Rafayel. Gone are the hundreds of bamboo supports and interior finishing (krepisaj) has begun. Septic tanks are ready to go.  The privacy wall has been extended across the front.  Eventually we will be adding a gate for visitors and vehicles to enter and will top the wall with decorative iron work. Doors will open for student use in November and work will continue on the second storey. Although it has served the purpose, staff will be glad to move out of the depot.

Kahlil Gibran wrote:

" I prefer to be a dreamer among the humblest with visions to be realized..."

Thanks to the Jasmine Foundation, the  vision  of an education support centre, long held, is fast becoming tangible. I am in awe when I think of what  we are  growing to-gether in Sen Rafayel.

Looking like home.
On a recent trip up Granjil Mountain, it seems our truck was parked in the wrong place at the wrong time. A truck belonging to the company doing road work in Sen Rafayel damaged both the passenger side of our vehicle and the  hood.   Fortunately no one was inside. Insurance in Haiti is a mandatory government program which unfortunately covers nothing. We are depending on the word of the driver for repairs. If they don't materialize, we will live with the battle scars.

Bruised but not bowed
The new center is going to be a busy place. Currently in Sen Rafayel  there are 21 senior students enrolled with us who  are ready to enter Philo, the final year of high school.  Unfortunately the village secondary schools have been unable to find teachers, so our seniors will sit out the year. To facilitate this crisis, we are grouping students who wish to participate and setting up daily study sessions, with a resource person on site.  As we have already purchased materials and text books, we'll add a light meal daily for participants.  At the end of the academic year, we will support those who want to write state nationals as they travel to Grand Riviere du Nord for 4 days in July. Those not wishing to write will return to school full time next fall if a teacher is found. Given that there are still 300 letters from July requesting support, several of whom want to finish Philo, the number of participants will grow once we begin interviews and make the move.

Auguste is qualified to mentor this program, so he will be spending more time in Sen Rafayel. That leaves me to operate the Cap-Haitien center. I will also be making repairs to our rental center as we suffered some damage from the magnitude 6 quake which took place in September off the coast of Cuba.

As usual, Auguste is doing a stellar job in my absence. He sends reports via email every other day so I'm in the loop. I have also added a new skill to my repertoire - texting. It is a surprisingly quick and easy way to touch base.  Should it be necessary, it also means Auguste does not have to be at work for us to connect. The portability is a great plus.

Auguste at work(with Valon, Evains, Dieugrand)
Last week  senior student Camiose was in hospital with typhoid and H-pylori infection. Typhoid is a very debilitating illness, so I have notified her sponsors as it can affect  academic success.  Mme. Joceline is off work as she is  experiencing abdominal pain, leaving Auguste on his own throughout the day. On my advice, Inea has delayed surgery  (Thyroidectomy) until I return. After speaking with an endocrinologist here, I am aware of the critical nature of on going  post-surgical  support.  The 3 letters I have sent to the hospital have gone unanswered, which makes me think she will be sent home post-surgery with no one to follow her.

Inea's initial visit, July 2011 - courage comes at all ages

September -a  smile that says  - I'm going to high school!
So next week, we'll go to see Dr. Jerome to-gether and ask him to take her on.  Replacement thyroid hormones are a life-long commitment if the entire thyroid is removed.  Once everything is in place, we will reschedule the surgery. When she knocked on our gate in July asking for school support, I had no idea we would be connecting for life. At age 16, with both parents deceased and no living grandparents, aunts or uncles, we are her only possibility. Once her Thyroid is removed there is no going back. If possible, I would like to delay the surgery until she has completed the meds for Tuberculosis. She could need support through high school and whatever career path she chooses in order to be able to continue the hormone replacement therapy which would  keep her alive.

This is roughly an 11 year commitment - 7 years of high school and perhaps 4 post secondary (ie: nursing, medical technology..) Additionally we are covering rent and food costs for her and younger sister Dina. One starfish at a time.

In Closing...

Thanks to all who have helped me get around during my stay - Cindy, Jane, Terri, Betty-Lou, Brandy, Daniel and anyone I may have left out. The universe knows.

Mil mesi ( a thousand thanks)  also to the Orangeville unit of the Canadian University Women's Club for  the opportunity to share our work.  Everyone made me feel very welcome and questions were so insightful. It was an exhilarating evening.

Thank you also to Linda and the amazing members, past and present,  of the Golf Road Junior Public School Girl's Club. You are my heroes.

Last but not least, Acheson's of Orangeville will again be holding a Starthrower Funraiser,  Thursday Dec. 8th.  Details to follow.  Our web admin Daniel will be there to sign his graphic novel and do sketches.  I will be there as well -  taking a week to come and support the hard work Diane and Cindy do in putting this day to-gether.  It's also a great opportunity to speak one-on-one with folks who have questions about what we do.

And finally, also from the mind and pen of  Kahlil Gibran:

"Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh
 and the greatness which does not bow to children."

A guide  for life's journey : remember to laugh and cry and honour the young.
Profound simplicity.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

On the road again

Although leaving Haiti is always emotionally wrenching, a four-month absence provides surprises upon arrival in Canada which briefly take my mind off those I have left behind.  For example,  I forgot that I had been to the laundromat the day before I travelled, and all my "Canada clothes" were clean. Good surprise.  On the kitchen table, a vase filled with beautiful cut flowers with a note from friend and board member Jane saying "Welcome home." Crisp fall weather and clean breathable air. On the down side, four months worth of mail to be sorted, opened and dealt with. The  new phone company had not resumed service as directed, following, disappointingly, in the footsteps of my former provider. Surprises of a prolonged absence.

But  the ups outweigh the downs - electricity, running water, and a library across the street. The abundance of Canada makes me more aware of the poverty of Haiti and my small apartment seems palatial. Rain welcomed me the first night, making the transition easier. In September in Cap-Haitien, we  experienced heavy rains and thunderstorms nightly. Last week we paid a home visit to Ednie, new intake. Once out of the truck, always a source of curiosity to any neighborhood, we navigated narrow passageways and puddles to arrive at the  6 x 8 ft tikay (small house) she shares with a marenn (godmother) and her two young children. It was necessary to duck heads and step down about 18 inches to enter.

The heavy odor of mold/mildew assaulted us and the 2 inches of water puddled on the floor was disconcerting. A water mark from the morning was visible - level with the  top of the step. Because of the area in which they live (Fosenmichel) the rain water was mixed with salt water and erosion of the cement blocks was very evident.   Ednie and 'family' were used to the inundation and  moved through the water as though it was not there.

It doesn't take long to inspect one room. Usually Ednie and the younger children sleep on the concrete. However when the rains come everyone huddles on the single bed normally reserved for Mme. No toilet, no kitchen, no electricity, no running water, no personal space.

Visit over, we headed a few blocks away to Aviasyon  to visit Inea and sister Dina to drop off rice, beans and Inea's new backpack filled with text books and other supplies  for the upcoming school year. We didn't get far. With nightly storms, there isn't enough drying time and some areas could not  be reached by truck. We were able to pay a driver to deliver the supplies by motorscooter. The storms continue - unprecedented  for September/October. It will be interesting to see what the rainy season brings.

Puddles everywhere-small children were swimming
and adults  were bathing.
Last week brought good news for Inea. She is tuberculosis negatif. Meds will continue for 3 months then she will be retested. If negative again, she's homefree. Unfortunately the cyst on her thyroid continues to grow, causing difficulty swallowing.  She is scheduled for surgery at Sacre Coeur hospital in Milot on October 28, so my time in Canada will be cut short. Whenever one of our students undergoes surgery, we bring them back to the house for a week to 10 days of post-op care, minimizing the potential for further infection. The caveat is, of course, if a doctor shows up on the scheduled day.

We also visited new intake Suzeline, who lives in the same zone. Another orphan, the single room she shares with brothers, sisters and cousins was so dark, it made videos impossible to view. I used a flash to take some pictures. The only source of illumination was the flashlight in the cell phone I'm holding. It was 10 am on a brilliantly sunny day. The absence  of any light source was  disturbing. I can't imagine living in a state of sensory deprivation day after day. Most disturbing was the open well at ground level in a room across the hall. There was no cover for it and without a light source, a child could easily fall in.
Light from cell phone flashlight

Same space with camera flash - Suzeline (lt)

Sen Rafayel

On our last trip to Sen Rafayel before my departure, we stopped to talk to some of the young people who try to make a living filling in the pot holes. When shovels break down, they work with bare hands.  There is little monetary return for the hours of back breaking labour. We pass the same kids every trip and always pay them something on our return.  One young man now looks for us and gives us a gift of freshly picked oranges and grapefruits. Occasionally we give him a ride down the mountain to visit friends. We took a little more time and stopped to talk with Frandzy (12)  and  brother Wisly (10). Their parents are dead and they live with 8 brothers and sisters on the mountainside. Frandzy had a large gash on the his leg which needed medical attention. The urge to 'rescue' is overwhelming at times. I sent bandages, baseball caps and sunglasses with Auguste the next trip he made after my departure.

Orphans Frandzy and Wisly on the road to Sen Rafayel
In the village, work continues on the centre. Danius, 3rd year university student (Bus. Admin.) and a master mechanic has taken over supervising the project in tandem with M. Franck, master mason.  Friday the roof was poured (koule dal-la) by a konbit (work group) of 23 which included masons, cement mix master  (met pel -literally master of the shovel) and students. The bamboo supports will remain in place for 15 days. In the interim the septic tanks are being finished and work is starting on the security wall which fronts the property.

Bamboo supports will stay in place for 15 days while the roof dries
The office is still operating out of one of the new storage depots and co-ordinator Guerlande is calm, organized and efficient in the midst of the chaos. We are still waiting for end of school year results for about 2 dozen students in the village. Schools did resume for most this week. Some marks are coming too late for us to register students for the coming year, so if possible,  we will again play catch up in January.

I know the time in Canada will fly by, but it always seems too long,  too much time away.

In my 'Orangeville' purse, another surprise - a scrap of paper on which I had written the quote "Coming generations will learn equality from poverty and love from woes". I don't remember why that particular quote from Kahlil Gibran spoke to me, there are so many.  I can only hope that it is a process even now taking root and growing  in the world. Learning from poverty is a  life-long education.

Kenbe pa lage

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Round National Exam Results, Sen Rafayel Plans and SNOW

Hi Everyone -

Finally some exam results to share, although 30% of our students must rewrite as many as six exams each. Some results were available (for a fee) last Thursday in Cap-Haitien while those in the village had to wait until school administrators came down to pick up results. Still waiting for results for Nouveau Secondaire - don't ask. Opening of the new year has been bumped from September to October. Thank you to all sponsors for your patience. I'll be able to get some results out this week.

In Cap-Haitien, we break down like this: 58% pass , 18% ajoune (must rewrite later this month), 24% elimine (must repeat).

Edwina - BON for Philo!!!

Inea - BON in spite of Tuberculosis and
a cyst on the thyroid.
Sen Rafayel numbers not all that different although we have a  much larger student population as well as a larger group attending State National schools. In the village: 68% admi,  12% ajoune,  20% elimine.

While the long wait is over for many,  those 'ajoune' still wait to find out what, when and where they will rewrite. After the rewrites, we wait  again, delaying school opening for everyone.

Almost home
In tandem with construction on the new center, we have begun to register returning students,  and home visits continue.

Visiting Daline (background)

While visiting both Dahendie and Daline last week, the usual joyful procession of 3-6 year olds formed around us, sometimes leading, sometimes following, always questioning.

As a former kindergarten teacher, I couldn't help but see  yet another use for our new home.  Once peak time usage is established, we'll find the quiet times at the center and set up a pilot early start program for a few 4 and 5 year olds.

A service component will be added for senior students registered with us and I'll provide initial training. We'll ask them to give a half day a month with the little ones.

Sen Rafayel staff members Guerlande (bureau coordinator) and Kesner (book program ) took turns coming to Cap and working with us for a few days. Continuity and community are both important. Hopefully both offices will provide service in a similar manner, while reflecting the unique community in which they are located. As well, staff members reported that the experience helped them feel connected to the larger staff community.                                                                 

Guerlande takes over Auguste's desk

Mona, Carline and Edwige take a 'snow break' from
 the book program. Our old  fridge is a blessing in disguise.

Sherlyne and Myriame begin Phase II, assembling
text books from new lists.

Although the calendar tells us it's September, nature hasn't caught on. Temperatures (inside and out) continue to cause discomfort. Fortunately we have a manual defrost refrigerator which makes copious amounts of snow. Twice weekly we have snowball fights  -- we call it Canada time.

Bits and Pieces

Inea has been given the green light to attend school, but will undergo removal of her Thyroid on October 29. Thank you Peg for providing the means for her to obtain results.

Auguste travelled to Santiago this weekend to deliver emergency funds. Last week Marlene and Elorge returned home from classes to find their building locked down by police as the owner had begun to construct a 4th floor without permit or safety measures in place. They lost their deposit and had to scramble to find a new place.  The cost of his travel was almost the same as a transfer and provided  a much needed weekend away.

Intake continues -meet Ednie (5th yr. HS) both parents deceased.
Micheline has passed all courses and practicum and qualifies for graduation. Our first Medical Technologist.

Nicolly (here with Auguste reviewing transcripts) has been accepted into the
 5 yr agriculture program at the University at Limbe.
Thanks to sponsor Joan for helping us get him this far. Now he needs a few more Starthrowers in Action
 to join Joan and see him through.
Jeff- thanks for dropping in last Saturday - it was so great to catch up (Marlene's sponsor from Texas). Congratulations on the impending arrival Jess, Mollie and Anna. Mil mesi for the laptop for Deles and Vincent. Now they'll be able to complete their thesis on time. We're going to have 2 university graduates this year.

Marjorie ( Elorge and nursing student sponsor) - thanks for the phone call Friday - I was in Sen Rafayel in the middle of a difficult discussion and your timing ( as well as wry sense of humour) was perfect.

Daniel -(web guy, sponsor Consienne)  thanks for taking my call early yesterday and letting me vent.

What would life be without friends?

Much more later

Kembe pa lage

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sen Rafayel, Kinston, Some statistics


Although this keyboard lacks  accents and  punctuation marks, I'm certain  you get the idea. Am brushing up what little Spanish I have --we're heading for Santiago in the Dominican Republic with  dental student, Rose-Guerlande. We travel by bus, a great way to see both countries as this will be her first trip outside of Haiti.

She will settle in with medical students Elorge and Marlene for this trimeste. Saturday we'll purchase a bed for her and  check on Jhennie (completing 2nd year Bus. Admin., UTESA). We'll also shop for erasers, pencil sharpeners etc. The quantities we need are easier to find.

Sen Rafayel

Sunday we arrived back from Sen Rafayel about 6 pm., not so fresh from our second trip this week. Although we still await results from the Ministry of Education, we were advised Friday that reinskripsyon  for all other grades took place last week at the Lycee.  Our new co-ordinator paid a visit to the school and requested an extension. They know us, now they know her, and no problem. Before we pay school fees, we meet with students for the purpose of reading and signing the student contraact. Auguste and I worked all day Saturday revising the contract  as well as preparing payment envelopes for each grade level.
Auguste distributes contracts and answers questions. Students are sitting in
what will become covered study/parking space.
In the middle of the job, a call came in from M. Franck, Mme Carmene's husband. They have become surrogate parents for our orphans Dina and Inea. The cyst on Inea's thyroid was swelling and she felt unable to breath. Could we please do something?  Hospitals and clinics do not function weekends and this was a long weekend  as August 15th is the Celebration of the Patron Saint of Cap-Haitien.  Patronal feasts are long and loud, with expats returning to celebrate, filling hotels and closing businesses, banks and hospitals. As we couldn't take her to hospital, I sent some Rescue Remedy by taxi with Auguste and it seemed to calm her panic  and the sensation. Work resumed.

In addition to supplies for inskripsyon, we packed much needed shoes/ work boots which arrived from Mme Cindy this week and baseball caps and sunglasses which arrived from Peg in Virginia via Cindy in PA. Thank you both so much. One of the boys working on our center was wearing runners held to-gether with wire. Shudder.

New hats-Djohn, Jack.New shoes-Wilno, Thony. New septic- everyone.
While Auguste and I met with center staff and the students, Jack and the team worked on the fos pedi (septic tank) as daily rain delays again plagued construction efforts. We function regardless of circumstances: inclement weather, no building...  For the fourth consecutive visit, rain sent us down the mountain. We are becoming abitye sa-a (accustomed to it).

After securing lists, Sen Rafayel staff phoned with book lists  so we began the second half of our summer program. The repair phase of our Book Program is winding down and we move into  preparing personalized backpacks from school lists and searching for,  and preparing books new to lists. We had planned a visit for Guerlande here to work with Auguste in the office however as of this writing, our truck is out of commission as is the pump in our well, so no transportation, no water. We have been trying to find a plumber since Thursday and now the toilet is leaking as well. There has been no electricity for several days but we have solar power which operates the fridge (alas not the fans).


In Cap we are also starting reinskripsyon for those who have results. Home visits are an integral part of our school program. As we did not visit him last term,  Friday we visited Kinston, after driving around for 45 min. looking for potable water to purchase as well as air for one of our tires.  Although we have visited zone Konasa with other students, this neighborhood was new to us and vice versa, so there was a great deal of interest in our presence.

The parade which followed us into Grann's tikay
Wood in corner to build security door
Kinston and his cousin live with their Grandmother. Grann is a survivor. At the age of 87 (or thereabout) she has buried all family with the exception of 2 grandsons. She wants to come and visit us someday. Auguste and I have talked about putting to-gether a day celebration to honour the caregivers who do their best  to provide for our young people in the most dire circumstances.

Kouzin, Grann and Kinston
I've never watched  reality television. Interestingly,  a cousin of mine once accused me of coming to Haiti to escape reality. I wasn't available for enough family functions. While it's probable that family functions  provide fodder for 'reality' shows, life doesn't get more 'real' than Haiti  -- it is unique and original, filled with  heroes like Grann. She is a hero - making a home for her grandsons in a dark 6 x 8 shack which lacks windows, water, toilet, kitchen.... Somehow she manages to feed them once or twice a week -- yes, a week not a day.  The difference here being nobody swoops in with supplies and a helicopter to  airlift one 'off the island'. 

Our farewell party
And in closing...

Kesner hunts for Gregory's letter in the cache
In keeping with the reality we live, last Tuesday's visit to Sen Rafayel brought a surprise -- a drawer filled with 150  letters requesting school support, received during July but somehow misplaced during the move from the old office and the transition to a new coordinator.  If I hadn't stopped to talk to a young man sitting beside the office (Gregory) I would never have found them. When asked about his letter, I consulted my list.  His name was not on it.  Kesner remembered receiving it so we began hunting.

Of the 300 plus letters we received in Sen Rafayel in July (same volume in Cap) I was able to whittle the list down to 171, moving requests for university, trades and transfers to Cap-Haitien schools to other lists. Of the remaining 171: 
- 38 both parents deceased
- 61 father deceased
- 24 mother deceased
- 13 had been sitting out of school for at least a year
- 14 had lost parents to kolera which began end of October and continues to tear apart families and the community.

In this small sample,  72% have  at least one parent deceased, 22% with both parents gone. There are still 98 names on our list from Christmas, plus we provided support for 170 during the school year. 

Now I'm really closing...

Two weeks ago I sat in the back driver's side of a taxi heading to town for groceries. In the front another female passenger. The driver stopped for a young girl holding an umbrella to shade her baby. She was going to the medical centre just a few blocks away so they made a price and she got in beside me. The passenger in front took the umbrella as Haitians are helpful in the extreme.

 I looked at the child she was holding and started to make a comment. After several seconds I realized the baby was dead. He looked like a perfect doll, no breath, no movement, just a  lifeless doll.  Instead of commenting on the baby, I told the girl she looked too young to have a baby. She replied that she was 15.

With that, the taxi drew up to the centre and she left, being careful to arrange the umbrella over the infant. It continues to play over in my mind night and day. I'll never know her story, but if we can provide support and encouragement to one more teenager to allow them the opportunity to grow with dignity of choice, they will change their lives by the decisions they make and the ripples will spread. Sunday as we bumped along over the mountain track up Granjil, Auguste mused on how  totally his  life has changed since knocking on our gate 7 years ago. One at a time.

Thank you for your partnerships
Lape (in peace)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Weather, Sen Rafayel and Okap

I am only writing from personal knowledge of my little corner of Canada when I say that weather always seems be a topic of conversation, regardless of the season. Too hot, too dry, too cold, too wet, just right, favorite season, too much snow, not enough... Even given the possibility that Tropical Storm Emily might come calling early to-morrow, there is no weather talk here. Perhaps that is due to the absence of the Weather Channel, and by extension most forms of informing media. Even the small, traditional battery-run transistor radio is difficult to find in the marketplace.  If not for the National Hurricane Centre advisories on our computer (thank you again Jackie!!) we would be in the dark, so to speak. With that advance, we are able to inform our staff , their families and friends. So they have been apprised of Emily's potential path and  ability to create havoc. They also have a little prep time and know not to arrive for work.

Sen Rafayel

In Sen Rafayel, the weather continues to be a conundrum and a hindrance.  Instead of the parched , dry weather typical of the summer months, heavy rains persist, instantly turning roads and paths into mud which challenges travel by vehicle and foot. A week ago we headed to Sen Rafayel to visit the constuction sight, continue home visits, complete interviews for a coordinator for our new center and meet with 2 of the young people we considered in crisis after reading their letters.

The building sight was really coming along, although slowed by the all too frequent rain. The roof on the security center was drying, held in place by bamboo poles, the trench had been dug for the center,  ready for footings and posts. I could picture each room as I walked the marked off ground.  The process unearthed some massive roots from the giant mango tree we had removed, creating  more work but saving us headaches in the long run.

 We hired Guerlande Cherfils, one of our Philo students this year, as
co-ordinator of our new center, here with senior staffer Djohn.
Three home visits were packed in: Wilnise, sleeping on a bed of  broken cement blocks, Chalanda and family  living in a 6x8 tikay with earthquake cracks running from floor to ceiling, and Rose-Evenia's family in a one-room temporary loaner after the death of the family matriarch. They have to move again in October.

Chalanda stands beside one of many large cracks
 from quake - the owner will not repair.

Wilnise - sleeping space for 8

Back to the office to meet with Denouse, parents dead, living with her only sister and  an abusive brother-in-law and Darline, orphaned, no siblings, slowly dying of malnutrition. Temporary housing found, rents paid, we were on the road as the sky had turned black in minutes and the deluge began.

It semed as though the rain was pushing us down the mountainside. It was amazing to watch the road in front and beside the truck. The rain was literally carving it. Shortly after arriving in Cap, a phone call from Jack. The pounding rain had washed the fill back into the trenches, and sent a load of rocks in as well. Last week was spent digging out the root system and moving the rocks. Saturday we headed back as our lease on the rental space expires this week. The security centre was now free standing (bamboo supports removed) so we packed up everything in the truck and moved into our new space. Staff had cleaned Friday so the move was a piece of cake - 2 loads - easy peezy as the gang on The Big Bang Theory would say.

We set up the office in the utility depot and the text book repair program in the food storage depot. Sherlyne, our student program coordinator travelled up with us to demonstrate book repair techniques. As the mango roots had been removed and the fallen rocks and gravel moved back, once again we measured off the center and staked it for a second dig.  Again the day was cut short by darkening sky, strong winds and fierce rain. Again we were washed down the mountain, the mud so strong we crawled for safety sake.

And now Emily is dropping in...


In Cap, tutoring for upcoming rewrites and text book repair programs continue.  Paudeline is enjoying her summer school, Micheline is beginning final co-op for her diploma in Medical Technology. Althega came in with a school bulletin as well as severe dental pain. We sent him to Milot for dental work. His end of year report was a joy to read - he began Medical Technology at the Polytechnique in January. He completed first year a semester ahead with an 89.9% average.

Talien arrived Monday for his tutoring session with Camiose appearing very distraught so the 3 of us sat down. Last week our new President was in town and during the trip through Talien's zone, protests broke out. Rocks, bottles and bullets flew and protestors turned into a gang of thieves, ransacking every tikay. He lost everything. We'll be making a home visit later to-day to see what we can do temporarily and have given him the go ahead to look for another place in a safer part of town.  All this and he has to rewrite exams next week for 5 days.

Inskripsyon began for some, and results began to filter in for post secondary students.  Still no news on results for State National exams.  Our focus however was on Inea and younger sister Dina: finding, renting and setting up a decent tikay for them, setting up cooking/ feeding regimens, hiring senior students to monitor Tuberculosis medications. We happened to be present for a home visit by a staff member from the clinic to follow-up with the woman who was transmitting the TB.  We deposited the girls and nurse in their old neighborhood and left as our list of jobs to accomplish was long.

15 yr old Dina sits on the new bed in the  tikay she will
share with sister Inea. It is basic but clean and safe, with well and latrine.
Monday, we sent Dina to the hospital in Milot with senior student Edwina for Tuberculosis testing.  After 5 consecutive trips, each beginning at 5 am on a tap-tap, we finally had results Friday.  No tuberculosis but multiple vaginal and urinary tract infections. Edwina said it was almost funny to listen to the nurse tell Dina that she had to make certain she bathed with clean water - an orphaned 15 year old with Grade 2 education and no living adult relations - only a 17 yr old sister who is seriously ill.

As Inea had a serious allergic reaction to the TB meds and the doctor at Milot hopital told her to keep taking them, I made a trip to the Tuberculosis clinic in Fort St. Michel to follow up with clinic staff. While there, I spoke with the nurse who had made the home visit. She reported she was able to find the girls' former landlord and do preliminary testing in the home, as Mme refused to go to hospital. Thankfully she did agree to the tests and will receive help.

Everyday we have frantic young people knocking on the portay wanting to know if we will be able to send them to school. We won't know how many we can take on until September, once the 170 from this past school year have been placed. After that we'll respond to the letters according to the priorities which have emerged. Then we'll interview, check papers, make home visits, register with schools, provide funds for uniforms and shoes, prepare backpacks, text books with school and hygiene supplies.

In two weeks time, we' ll be taking Rose-Guerlande, our dentist in waiting, to Santiago for intensive Spanish. We'll take it a semester at a time and the universe will provide sponsors. With the murder of a Haitian university student in the Dominican Republic 2 weeks ago, we are more aware than ever of the responsibility we have to place our students in safe surroundings. The student killed had gone to look for a student apartment. Makes the idea of a Foundation house in Santiago very appealing, as we pay rent for each student.

In the meantime,  good to touch base with you.

Pran swen

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Following Inea

It's 2 am and there is both electricity and an internet signal. Unfortunately the battery on my computer died so if I am to take advantage of this unique occurance, I am obliged to sit in the dining room and give the marengwen (mosquitos) free reign. 

Wednesday I introduced you to Inea. We had sent her to Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Milot with senior students Edwina and Camiose. Student advocates are selected carefully, in this case Camiose plans  to study nursing and Edwina wants to be a doctor.

Thursday Edwina and Inea returned to the hospital. Camiose was unavailable, taking on tutoring duties to help Talien through his rewrites in August.

Camiose tutoring Talien -what does BIJECTIF mean?
They arrived back here with the gift of a  diagnosis. It has taken years of personal visits and sending request forms to clinics and hospitals to arrive at an understanding with each organization that we need accurate information  not only to serve our young people but to get a handle on the illnesses they suffer and the causes. Only then can we take appropriate action. This is how our potable water distribution program came into being. We tracked the number of water-born illnesses for a year. But I digress.

She has a battle ahead of her- - tuberculose ganglionnaire et kyste thyroglossal. (Lymph node tuberculosis and thyroglossal duct cyst) In addition to meds and monthly follow-up appointments at Milot, because active TB, she was also referred to l'hopital Fort Sen Michel for dressing changes on the open wound, more meds, and information re: the role of Sante Publik in tracking her disease. Tuberculosis should be a thing of the past.

Edwina explains regimen for TB patients

Edwina is turning into a fine advocate, asking the right questions, getting the answers and passing all information on to us. As Fort Sen Michel is in town, it only required half a day for a consultation.  The ultimatum that she move from her tikay immediately caught us off guard and completely unprepared. What a bombshell - Inea was told at the TB clinic that she had to move from the place she was staying as the kind woman who had taken in the 2 sisters has active TB and has not sought treatment. She is the reason Inea is ill. The ultimatum was laid down because someone who is infected and receiving treatment has no chance of recovery if the source of the infection is still present and untreated.   Sante Publik would not provide meds unless she moved. Meds must be taken at 6am with food and again at 5 pm.  In addition as she is underage, the person delivering the meds must sign a daily log and present it weekly at the hospital as medication is provided for 7 days. There are also mandatory monthly follow-ups at Milot.  This is a 6 month regimen at which time she will be re-assessed re: surgical intervention. What do we do now?

Boss Serafin at work with machete - clean up!!

Before the dilemma presented itself,  Boss Franck and Boss Serafin had arrived at 7 am Friday to cut down trees (with a single machete of course)  and help us clean up the compound.  In the midst of this chaos, there is  a now- homeless, sick teenage girl (with a younger sister probably in need of TB testing as well) sitting on our gallery looking like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. Parents dead, and now told she has to move - immediately. There are no easy solutions in Haiti - no support for communicable diseases, no respite programs...

A quick conversation with Mme. Carmene cooking in the kitchen explained the situation. We ask - if we can find a clean room or 2 to rent in her neighborhood, would she consider cooking and delivering the food morning and afternoon. Her daughter Markdalina is one of our students and could help. It would increase Carmene's work load but also her paycheck. The bonus - she could work from home. Yes she knew of a place. We sent Inea and Edwina to her place to pack her meager possessions. As we needed temporary quarters,  our security apt, only occupied when I am in Canada, was torn apart, cleaned from top to bottom. Bringing the girls here is not my first choice but given the time constraint, it was the only option. It's a temporary measure but gives the girls a clean place with safe water, a toilet and shower as well as the support of our staff. Unfortuately I am the 6 am cook. 

We loaded the truck with wood cut from our trees and delivered a load to Boss Franck's brother, who will make cooking charcoal out ot it. Auguste took a quick look at the potential rental space at the same time, then returned for me.  Myriame and Jean-Ricot agreed to work late to accommodate.

The rental space was as expected - a single cement block construction room - new but unfinished. The tol roof has holes, which the owner says he will fill with mastik. He will let us finish the walls (krepisay) add a screen door and cover the windows with screening. Location is ideal - about 10 feet behind Carmene's house. Now we need furniture, bedding, etc.

After the look-see, we headed to pick up Inea and sister Dina, a precocious 16 yr old  terrified of our dogs.  We spoke at length with Mme who had taken in the girls and asked her to please get tested at the hospital, as Sante Publik would pay for her meds. She was obviously very ill and depressed, and explained that she just has bronchitis and it will go away. How many more  people will be infected by contact with her? We promised to keep in touch and returned to the house by 6pm, at which time everyone left me with 2 hungry teenage girls who were now, in their eyes, living in Paradise (except for the hounds from hell!)

Sisters Dina (16) and Inea (17) - first meal at Lakay.
I do not remember this being in the job description.

Pi ta (later)

PS It's now 7:40 am. Inea took her meds for Tuberculosis and ate at 6am. She is now covered with an itchy red rash, getting itchier by the second. She also said she feels as though her throat is closing.  I've given her Benadryl. Sante Publik is closed for the weekend so Monday early we'll head to the clinic and explain why she stopped taking the meds. It just keeps getting better. 


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