Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Last week I sat down to read the 37 letters we had received over a 3 day period. Unsolicited letters requesting support to continue secondary education.  I read for information, highlighting what we need. At the same time in Sen Rafayel, the roof was being constructed and poured on the security centre of our new compound. In the office,  used text books were received and processed.
Letters: compelling, disturbing, sad
In Cap-Haitien, books were also being processed. Tutoring and book repairs simultaneously  happened on the patio, interviews on the gallery and in the office. Hopefuls knocking on the portay, dogs yapping. Others coming to eat, to rest, to enjoy a little shade. We multi-process.  At times it is necessary to block out everything and pay attention to the  task at hand.

Myriame sorts text books by grade & subject
As of  Tuesday 74 letters - numbered to indicate order of arrival not importance. When someone knocks at our potay, we explain the current financial situation. Letters are only solicited  when we receive new money. Every young person is told very clearly that there is no money and leaving a letter  assures nothing. Rather than take them back, without exception they say if we have their letter there is a chance we will read it and follow-up. Letters are coming from new places - Grand Riviere, Limonade, Limbe, Sen Michele, Gonaives, Dondon. There will be a stack waiting for us in Sen Rafayel. The letters are a fraction of the inquiries we receive. I've translated from the original Kreyol.

Letter #1 comes from 12 yr old Bernadia. She writes "I'm orphaned of father. When I had 7 yrs my papa died. My mother begs to solve life. I have 2 sisters and 1 brother. It has been very hard to arrive here. My mother feels she can do nothing anymore. I'm just a kid who has 12 years and loves school a lot. I would like to sit in a classroom this year. I'm writing you to see what you can do for me."  Bernadia is in Grade 8. 

#2 was written by 17 yr old Danouse. "I have a big problem that has happened in my life. I have neither mother nor father to help me in life, just a sister. I have no brother. It is in the 'kay' of my sister I live but she is married, and (her husband) doesn't want me to live inside the house. Because he's not my father, he says it's not he who should pay for my school.  He will pay if I go to bed with him (pou m sevi ak li). If I don't he won't help any more with anything. I can't accept that. For my head (mental well being) I can't do what he wants. He could pay for school very well.  I've finished 9eme and am writing to ask if  you will see if there is any way you can help me with this situation ."

Monday #56 was delivered. Her name is Inea and she is 17. She writes "...I have no mother or father, they're dead, no grandparents. I'm in difficulty in school because I have no one to help me...I have spent a packet of time sitting and waiting. One person I saw asked why I was sitting, did I not like school. I said yes and he paid for the state school this year. Mama and papa left 7 little ones, they don't go to school at all. The person who paid disappeared and after I wrote exams, I cried because I had no one. (note: She has to pay to secure results next month) A  person who was passing asked why I was crying and I fell down explaining . He gave me money for a taptap and told me how to find you."
What Inea's letter did not say was that she had been suffering from a very severe Thyroid condition for a long time and had no one to pay attention to her needs.

17 yr old Inea - enlarged Thyroid area. White area (rt) boil which burst.

After looking at the distended thyroid and the hole caused by a boil which had just ruptured, we brought her in to the compound, fed her, talked about her letter and her life and took her to the clinic.   Auguste is known by clinic staff so they looked her over and recommended she go to Milot for consult. Back from clinic, I covered the  neck wound as clinic staff would not touch it. (Everytime I clean a wound I say a word of thanks to Lesley, Jenna, Pam, Alyse and Peter, the home nursing team who taught me so much during post-op recovery)

 We are  fortunate to have amazing students. Student staff members Camiose and Edwina  are working the book program alternate days, so we offered another day's work to travel with Inea to the hospital. It is a long, uncomfortable day, travelling in open tap-taps, sitting on hard benches.

 They had to catch the 'bus' to Milot at 5 am in order to arrive early enough to secure a card, meaning up for the day at 3:30 am. They arrived back here at 3:30 pm, having spent the better part of the day as expected,  sitting and waiting.  Fortunately Inea had a dossier which we had checked out on our impromptu home visit Monday.Also fortunate that there was an actual doctor able to see her. 

Edwina, Inea, Camiose -home from the hospital. To-gether they prepare
an itemized accounting of funds spent.
Thursday am they repeat the trek for results - another 3:30 am wake-up.  Initial diagnosis: removal of the Thyroid was recommended. We always ask for information -what is the condition  which necessitates this invasion and if  absolutely necessary, what follow up will be available. Teaching our young people that they have the right to ask questions AND receive answers, has been an uphill battle. We send a short form asking for a one-line diagnosis based on lab results. Clinics and hospitals have resisted this for years.

Inea is one of thousands who knock on our gate yearly seeking education support.  Summer is always busiest. Most we turn away for lack of funds. We CAN do the work. As it is, we don't have the funds for surgery for her, but we've used the rent money before for urgent care.  Many, like her, need medical treatment and never let us know. If the thyroid and boil had not been visible, we still would not know. Haitians suffer in silence. All need dental treatment - Inea  smiled for the first time  yesterday when she came back from the hospital and  blackened teeth tell another tale.

Every young person who takes the time to find paper and pen  (no easy matter when you're an orphan without a home) and write to us deserves to be heard - and beyond hearing, each deserves the opportunity to become the person waiting inside. I've only shared portions of 3 letters. Between Danouse's letter (#2) and Inea's (#56) are 54  other young people you don't  know yet. I took a look at letter #57 and it is from 3 teenage brothers whose parents are dead.

 I once wrote that we were experiencing a flood of young people - but floods retreat. I have no analogy  for this phenomenon. I just know that doing something is better than doing nothing, and one at a time is more effective than none at a time. I also know that every dollar makes a difference and everyone can do something.


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