Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Starthrowers in Action, A Wedding

English is now my second language, supplanted by Haitian Kreyol. Back in Canada means the challenge of thinking before I speak, finding the appropriate words. It also means becoming accustomed to hot and cold running water and electricity 24 hours a day. Add to the list the availability of dentists,doctors, a personal trainer to get me into shape, and grocery stores packed several shelves high with most things money can buy. Time in Canada also means the freedom to walk everywhere and telephones which disconnect when I decide. Culture shock and adjustment.

However much time I spend in Canada, the old adage is true - you can take a person out of the country but you can't take the country out of the person. Haiti, her young people and their wellbeing are always uppermost on my mind. The price increase for fuel announced in March has created tangible hardships everywhere in Haiti.  Starthrower is no exception  as we have never had the luxury  of  a reserve fund. The ripple effect of this increase has spread from the marketplace to the education system. In addition to our students  paying more to travel by public transit, new fees are being levied by schools - some now require payment for each exam students write, not just state nationals, post secondary as well as secondary. One school has levied a fee for the purchase of library books, others a mandatory fee for class excursions,  fees for preparatory courses for state exams, fees for notes distributed...the list seems endless, is very creative and unfortunately obligatory. When the fee is not paid, school ID badges are taken and students are not allowed back in until payment is received. If this creates hardship for us, what does it do for those with no means of support?

Starthrower's in Action Revisited
The  Starthrowers in Action program was designed (by webmaster Daniel) to provide support by groups of individuals, and it works well so it's time to revisit in light of the recent above mentioned deluge of new fee requests. Incoming support no longer covers expenses, so new donations are being directed to cover the shortfall. There are some young people who are receiving partial support by 1 or 2 Starthrowers with the rest of needed funding being drawn from general funds. With the all pervasive price increases, and attendant need for more funds,  these young people who are not fully sponsored are in danger of losing their placements for the upcoming year.

As an example,  Nicoly has 1 sponsor for $20 a month.  His program, a 5 year university degree in Agriculture (Agronomie) requires approx $330 per month (this included dormitory and cafeteria 5 days a week). For Nicoly and any student entering a post-secondary institution, the need for sponsorship funds preceeds classes. It costs us approximately $500. US per student for the application process.  Every student needs original papers from every year of high school, which means archive searches in Port-au-Prince. The cost of travel plus meals plus fee per search plus fee per paper is just part of the process. Then a medical certificate and police certificate are required. When all are assembled, the student travels to the school, pays a registration fee and a fee to write entrance exams. If they are not successful, and choose to apply at another institution, the process must be repeated, as papers are NOT returned and schools only accept originals  . Nothing is refunded and nothing can be used again.

Nursing students Brunie and Wisly, with 2 years remaining of a 4 year program need more sponsors to provide full support and allow them to enter third year and complete their programs.

 Although Nicoly has not yet begun classes,  we have begun the application process. Similarly, those with no sponsors such as Rose-Guerlande (dentistry), Evains and Valon (Medicine), Louisena and Lunise (Nursing), Edeline and Althega (Medical Technology) and Osner (Agriculture)  have all begun to secure the necessary transcripts and certificates.  We have been sending Rose-Guerlande to school to study Intensive Spanish and have also secured the necessary extrait d'archive for her passport as she will study dentistry in the Dominican Republic.  This alone took nearly a year and many trips to Port-au-Prince.

If you have not already done so, please consider the Starthrower's in Action program and help these young people help themselves. You will never receive a better return on an investment.

A Wedding Courtesy of a Starthrower Extraordinaire

While many of the requests which pass my desk are unusual, this is a first. Paulaine C. was a Starfish throughout her high school years, then a 3 year sewing and cooking program. Thanks to David in New Brunswick, she received a treadle sewing machine and  has been self employed since her graduation last July. Work has been sporadic, depending mainly upon the demand for school uniforms but she manages (l'ap degaje).

Shortly before I left for Canada, she dropped in to invite us to her wedding this summer (late June) and to ask if we could help with a wedding outfit. Traditionally in Haiti, one without financial means goes into debt to rent  a wedding dress, no alterations allowed. While we have no funds for a request such as this, I put out the word. Last night our friend Cindy in Pennsylvania  phoned to say that she had found and purchased the entire ensemble for Paulaine. She is able to arrange for shipping. Starfish growing up with hope and possibilities thanks to each of you. Our community growing. Mil mesi Mme Cindy.

And in closing

In my absence the land for our new 2 story, 2400 sq ft. 'sant soutyen edikasyon'  (education support centre) has been cleared, the huge ancient mango tree has been successfully removed, and we have a healthy well supplying water. Testing  will take place upon my return. The centre will facilitate new programs -  potable water distribution, daily healthy snacks, a place to do homework, group projects, read a newspaper, study, receive tutoring...
As we begin to build our centre, sisters Adminada, Fabiola and Rose-Evenia are being put out of their 2 room mud-construction tikay. They received housing from a cousin in return for looking after their grandmother. After her death March 20th, they were told they had to leave as the shack will be torn down. Their father is dead and mother lives with the challenges resulting from a stroke.

We were able to find a room for Illiomene to enable her to complete her Philo year in the village, but there are so many -- Elines, Wilno, Darline, Vaudre, and Vilsaint to name just a few -- living in uncertain and unsafe conditions.

These are examples of the multitude of challenges faced by our young people, and the frustration we experience being limited in our ability to respond. Their courage and commitment to being totally present to life everyday is a constant reminder to me to respond to the Starthrower challenge of adding one more, then one more, then one more...

In closing, last Friday I had the privilege of meeting with students from grades 4-6 inclusive at Golf Road Jr. PS in Scarborough, On., Canada.  The visit was facilitated by The Girl's Club. They provided an amazing lunch with dishes from every country they represent. Thank you girls, thank you Nancy for taking the time to join us, Mary for your support, Linda for the invitation and organization , and school administration for allowing the visit.  Thanks also to Ingrid our wonderful volunteer bookkeeper who took the day to get me there and back. The present and future of Starthrower is in good hands.

With Girl's Club at Golf Road Jr. PS

Jouk pwochen -an (until the next time)

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Home in Sen Rafayel, Visiting Myriame

When I began working with the youth of Sen Rafayel, there was no thought of a permanent location. But as we have grown, so have our needs. The rental spaces we have occupied   have reflected the market. Our first office (biwo-a) was one room - about 6x8. Last summer we moved into a 2 room space. Each time, structural repairs and several coats of paint were needed to make them presentable, if not exactly safe.  While they put a roof over our heads, there was no room for programs, study, homework, reflection, relaxing, staff development,  no water, no toilets...

Last year we moved up to 2 rooms

Since the New Year,  I've made reference in these blogs to looking at land. We have been searching for many months. Last month we found a little piece of heaven, right in the village. It's a big step - purchasing land and building an education support centre is a commitment to the village and its youth. While we will be able to reach more young people, we will need more funds and more fundraising.  It means more staff and more travel. It also means a place to stay for staff and visitors. For our students it means a place to study before school, after school, in the evening. Imagine, a study hall with lights, a resource centre, project room,  potable water to drink, toilets that flush and a sink to wash your hands.

For several years Starthrower has grown, thanks in large part to the generosity of The Jasmine Foundation, Inc (Canada).  Last week thanks again to the moral and financial support of founding directors Diane and Benjamin Plett, we purchased that little piece of heaven and begin building immediately. This is BIG!! Yesterday Jack travelled to Sen Rafayel with a well technician. Jack cleared the land while the technician set up equipment to dig. We hired several of our students to help clear. Jack phoned and said they are so excited about the project they wanted to start digging the foundation once the land was cleared. They're also talking about a soccer match between Cap-Haitien and Sen Rafayel students. It's already making a difference. As I head to Canada to-morrow, our well will be becoming a reality.  How remarkable is that?

Land owner looks on as notary checks the deed. I  present passport.
But I digress. As I had indicated I wanted the land surveyed, the notary left with staff, tracked down the village 'apante'  (surveyor) returned for the land owner and Auguste  then documented the process on video. I thought some of you might be interested in the process. I learned a great deal.

In the clips you'll see the landowner digging holes with a machete and carrying fairly large rocks in his hand.They are called 'born',  markers identifying purchased land. The owner places them on the property lines in the holes.  Jack can be seen cutting down pieces of 'raket'  (cactus which is used as a fence). A piece of raket is then laid across the borns, and the surveyor uses his instruments to measure the property using the markers set down by the owner. Once he finalizes measurements he puts his mark on the borns. Our new home is 51 x 79 ft. Back at the office after the survey,the apante was paid for his services and  will now complete a form prepared by the notary. All  paperwork will be finalized be the time I return.

We left in high spirits, but 15 minutes outside of the village, a 'reso' (spring) running the length of the undercarriage broke. We called Danius, our university student/mechanic who came by taxi moto. Using a machete, he fashioned a splint out of 2 pieces of hard wood and tied them to the broken piece. Although late, we arrived in one piece. Wednesday morning the notary and landowner arrived at our place escorted by Jack from the station. We finalized the deal, signed receipts, and as the deal was in cash, everyone counted gourdes.

Double checking currency at our dining room table.
Sometimes I have to shake my head. The landowner's son came with him to help his dad sign his name and deposit most of the funds in the bank. He is in Rheto (second last year ) in a Cap-Haitien high school. Before he left, he approached me, holding a bag full of money, and asked if I could pay for him to go to school . I turned him over to Auguste. As Director of Education it is his job to handle inquiries and he does it so professionally.

Although that was the  BIG event, it was one of hundreds that crowded our week. Our medical students Marlene and Elorge came home for a quick visit , as did Jhennie also studying in Santiago, DR (Business Administration). In addition to purchasing land we delivered school supplies, hygiene products and potable water.

Wensky tests his kalkilatris siyantifik
(scientific calculator)

Text books and a backpack put that
smile on Dahendie's face.
In Cap we're trying to get in as many home visits as possible. Auguste has been working 7 days a week so to-day he stayed home and I visited Myriame's home alone. She is within walking distance. She has also been working part time in the office and proving to be invaluable.

Myriame (top left) with her dad, 3 sisters, 2 brothers and mother. One sister was absent.

Myriame is an anomaly in Starthrower. She has 2 living parents, both reasonably healthy. Her dad is a photo journalist but there is no work. The family is from Sen Rafayel, now living here. Myriame was going to school in Port-au-Prince, staying with an aunt, uncle and cousins. Everyone was killed in the earthquake except Myriame. In her letter last Aug. she wrote "I saw life end for me after I saw the catastrophe of Jan 12 which happened in front of me. By chance I did not die, but the ones looking after me did it seems my life is over. ...I was born in a poor family. It's misery which lives there."

Her mother told me to-day that Myriame still does not sleep well and has panic attacks when a large truck goes by, causing the ground to vibrate. Their home is what you see - one room.  Although there is a fan in the corner there is no electricity, no running water, no bathroom, no kitchen - one room. Myriame and brothers sleep on the floor. If the temperature outside was 120 today, it was 20 degrees hotter in the small dark room. Sweat was pouring off everyone. The smell of mold and mildew permeated everything and marengwen and mouch (mosquitos and flies) swarmed us.

On the way back to the house Myriame was more talkative and animated than I have seen her. She was working to-day so we took 30 minutes off, leaving the house in the hands of Joceline, Sherlyne and Rosema. Like Viola's aunt on Thursday, Myriames's parents thanked me for coming and taking an interest in their daughter. I am so privileged to be welcomed into these homes. There is so much to learn.

Well, that was our week - how was yours?

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