Thursday, November 21, 2013

Up and Down the mountain: Nursing students, Violence resurfaces

I have good news and not so good news. Which would you like first? The good news? My choice too.
( Sorry about the technical difficulties with this blog regarding underlined words.)

Last week our three nursing students at Leogane graduated with honors from the 4 year nursing program. They are still in the south on campus, preparing to write State National exams for their nursing license. In Haiti, there is always another hoop through which to jump and it always carries a price tag in US dollars. 

Congratulations Gaby, Alland, Wisly
We are so proud of you.
Against all odds, they have endured and succeeded. There were many occasions when we did not have sufficient funds, or couldn't find the supplies they needed, or the computer they shared seized on them. If you haven't realized it by now, Haitian students are some of the most committed, dedicated, stubborn on this planet.

Gaby created this thank you card which belongs to you, to everyone who supported Starthrower thereby helping him on this leg of his journey. I hope that each of you will take to heart a share of Gaby's gratitude and know that this could not have happened had we not worked to-gether, each doing our part. This is the only way to change the world - working to-gether.

Gaby's thank you - in English!!

In Cap Haitien, Camiose and Myriame are beginning the next phase of their journey. After successfully completing State National exams for Philo in July, they secured all necessary support materials and transcripts, wrote and passed entrance exams at Universite Roi Henri Christophe and began classes at the end of October.

Camiose (above), Myriame (below)
 - first year nursing

Fourth year nursing student Brunie has entered her final year and Edwina and Sherlyne have begun  year 2 of the 4 year nursing program. Our other university students are scattered - 4 in Santiago, 2 in Port-Au-Prince , another 3 at other post-secondary institutions in Cap.

This year we had 14 high school graduates, (91% pass rate for Starthrower students - all grade levels) amazing when you consider the odds against, but only 2 have sponsors which allows them to continue post-secondary.

We began this school year with 160 students, 46 new faces. There are still 150 on our Waiting for Admission list. In Sen Rafayel, new admissions  are quite comfortable using the center on a daily basis, and those who have been with us for a year or more are making them feel at home. Auguste sent along some recent pictures which also show the different uniforms for the schools we feed.
Newcomer Benet and senior Milfort
chat at Tigger's Corner

(uniform - College Le Genie)

Newcomers Sylvina and Asline relax after 
 a meal and a day of school
( uniform - Ecole 3eme Cycle Lamartiniere)

Newcomers Ralph and Irlande
(uniform- Lycee Charlemagne Perault)

Now for the not so good news. Auguste emailed at 1:40 this morning. I have copied and pasted his Kreyol and added my translation.

Bonjou Mme
Jodi a Mekredi 20 novanm , bandi ak zam te voye roch, boutey et yo te tire sou Lycee Charlemagne Peralte nan Sen-Rafayel kek elev blese  sa lakoz jounnen lekol la te paralize.
Nou pa konnen kile lekol yo ap rekomanse paske se tre danjere nan moman sa-a antre lapolis et bandi ak zam nan S.R..


Good Morning , Madame

To-day, Wednesday the 20th of November, bandits with weapons threw rocks , bottles and fired bullets into Lycee Charlemagne Perault in Sen Rafayel. Several students were wounded and for this reason the school day was paralyzed.

We do not know when the schools will reopen because it is very dangerous at the present time between police and  armed rebels (bandits)  in Sen Rafayel.

During my visit to Canada, I have been receiving reports of similar activities in Cap-Haitien involving Lycee Philippe Guerrier and Lycee Boukman. Gas bombs were thrown into each school, causing pandemonium and wounding many, sending dozens to the already crowded Hopital Justinien.We have students in both schools. Violence reappeared in Sen Rafayel last month between police and armed bandits and has continued sporadically. We have over 60 students attending Lycee Charlemagne Perault. Our young people know that violence solves nothing. This is why education is so important to them. They want a country of opportunity not oppression.

Country wide anti-government protests have been escalating over the past 2 months, with state supported schools often targeted. Last Monday saw huge demonstrations on the anniversary of the Battle of Vertieres. Another large protest is scheduled for Nov. 29th.  The Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince does a very good job of keeping Canadians in the country informed.

I head back to Cap-Haitien next week, new passport in hand,  new glasses on my face and new orthotics in my shoes. I also go back  in the middle of a Chelation cleanse ( a 3 month process) as blood tests showed that mercury levels in my blood were too high. It is the country which keeps on giving.

While I am concerned for staff and students, given these new rounds of violence, I have the utmost confidence in Auguste's decision making capabilities and I know our coordinators will keep the kids inside the compound should it come to that.

As in the past, we will be present and provide whatever support we can. Safety first. A closing thought:

Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
                                                                                               (Oliver Wendell Holmes)


                                                        Junior Starfish

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tigger's Corner, Back to School

Today I received the last anti-Rabies shot in the series of five. For the first four I traveled to Santi Publik in downtown Cap-Haitien. They were free of charge and administered by an employee of the ministry. For many reasons, among them:
                             1) my passport was up for renewal,
                             2) one of the pups (Senkyeme) destroyed my glasses,
                             3) another of the now 6 month old puppies (Sablo)  ate my orthotics,                  
                            4) a crown fell off one of my teeth and
                           5) I desperately needed the services of a chiropractor,  I changed travel plans and came to Canada 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Rabies shots are NOT free in Canada - cost $263. per injection. As a senior  on a limited income, it is a good thing I received the first four in Haiti.
Lethal combination - eyeglasses and a teething puppy.
We will never know what killed Tigger, but because he bit me, the injections were strongly advised. His symptoms were more in line with poison than Rabies but no vets and no facilities for tests created a frustrating, heart-breaking situation.
Tigger in January - just over 1 year old

Dieugrand created a little memorial garden
in the corner Tigger loved. He carried the plants
and decorative stones from Cap-Haitien.

The first day of school for secondary students finally arrived after a month long delay. Because of the change of school opening date, I was not in Haiti for opening day. Some of our students  began October 2nd while the rest started Monday Oct. 7th. No group picture this year - too many new schools and faces, as well as staggered entry dates.  All of our nursing students are still waiting for final results.  Our senior nursing students continue clinical / hospital work while waiting. No holidays for them. 

Camiose,  Edwina and Sherlyne shelve some of the 
newly covered textbooks in the Cap-Haitien office

After shelving, we prepare  book lists for each student
Every school uses different texts.
Although our Book Renew program refurbished almost 2000 textbooks (and created summer jobs for 20 students), there are still many textbooks  to purchase. We found out the day school began that teachers had been found and there was going to be a Philo class offered in the village. Consequently all Philo  (7th and final year of high school) students began without supplies and uniforms. Backpacks are another challenge - expensive and difficult to find, so some of last year's crop will have to wait a month or so before receiving their new backpack. Fortunately Myriame and Camiose had a month to work before travelling to Port-au-Prince to secure legalized copies of all transcripts and other supporting papers necessary for university application. It took them 2 weeks in the capital, and they wrote entrance exams this past Monday the 14th. Results are due the 21st but as always that is subject to change.

Backpacks and textbooks everywhere.
The visitor's bedroom had no room for a visitor.

Contents of each backpack are given a final check before being packed
 in suitcases for the trek up Granjil Mountain.
Unfortunately, Inea (both parents deceased - responsible for a younger sister) did not get to start school with the rest of her class. She is back in hospital in Milot for a 4th surgery on her Thyroid - the scar continues to swell  and split, opening up holes and weeping. It is both itchy and painful at the same time. A series of very expensive injections just caused more pain.  She is at the top of our list for a sponsor. As she has special needs, this is a case where multiple sponsors would be beneficial to help cover her medical, housing and school expenses.

Inea - back in hospital for 4th Thyroid operation in 
less than a year but she always summons a smile.
Students pick up their backpacks and sit down with staff to again go down the checklist in case we have missed anything they need. Some items we have not yet found and continue to check the marketplace weekly throughout the year. Photocopying is legal in Haiti - in fact many of the textbooks for which we pay full price are photocopies. 

As we were heading out on home visits in Sen Rafayel, we dropped off several new admissions who were leaving after picking up their supplies. Our new truck is great - no more wondering if it will get us there and back. 

Students love a ride and would rather travel outside in back
than sit inside. New backpacks are proudly worn.
We dropped off new admission Fabiolla J. and visited her one room
home at the same time. Backpacks are hung up to keep the rats and other 
unwanted wildlife out.


With only new admission Junior left in the truck, I naively figured we would be back to the center by 4pm when coordinator Edeline is finished for the day. After 15 years, there are still so many surprises. Junior was admitted when Ilna was sponsored (thank you Beth ).  General funds were freed and he was in. His home is about 19 miles outside of the village. We stopped the truck at least a half dozen times to get out and check to see if we could proceed. This little Nissan knows what 4 wheel drive means. 
Auguste checking one of half a dozen mud pits which
forced us to stop and check for the path of
least resistance.

After going where no vehicle has gone before, we were forced to park the truck and walk the last 2 miles. Again mud, mud and more mud. Junior's mom showed us her ruined garden - too much rain had destroyed all plants. There will be no crop this year.
Junior leads the way

Junior's mom is about 30 years younger than me and completely worn out.

We are waiting for the bicycle dealer in Cap-Haitien to secure bikes for our new Borrow a Bike Program,  but for young people like Junior, a bicycle will not help. He must leave home at 9 am to arrive for classes at 1 pm. This includes crossing the river on foot. When school finishes at 5 pm, he heads home, arriving about 9 pm - no street lights, no roads.  Student housing in the village for those who are worn down by their daily travels is on my new list.  They would stay in the village Monday to Friday and return home Friday evening. 

Junior with his siblings

This journey I'm on  has become filled with responsibilities I never wanted, frustrations I could never have envisioned and demands for which there are more often than not no resources.

But the gifts I receive daily are unsurpassed in their beauty-- the quiet moments of understanding when I get it - when I know that it doesn't matter if there are frustrations and no resources. Being here is enough.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Visiting Ilna

Following Ilna - she wears her new backpack with textbooks

Entering Ilna's yard. The gate is made of bamboo, the fence is a cactus called 'raket'.

Entering the courtyard (lakou-a) of her aunt and uncle. Auguste follows.

The house is mud and stick construction, so there are many holes in the wall and the rain comes in.

Her aunt was at the market, so Ilna unlocked the door to let us in.

Inside, Ilna stands in the everything room 'grand sal'. I am standing in the bedroom doorway. The 2 rooms are separated by an ancient, flimsy curtain.

Ilna sits on her aunt and uncle's bed to answer questions. Her bed (which has no mattress) is directly across. She shares it with a cousin. Two other cousins sleep on the floor in between the beds.

This is the kitchen table/cupboard - utensils and plates for 6 people,  an empty toothpaste tube. We distribute toothpaste/brush/kotex/bar soap and facecloth. Note holes in wall.

Water for drinking/bathing/cooking is carried from a well many miles away. It is untreated. We distribute Aqua Tabs free of charge to all students, no limit.

I pulled the cover back on the bed Ilna shares with a cousin. It is a metal/barbed wire/stick frame covered with rags. assorted old clothes underneath.

These are a few of the neighbors who followed us in. There wasn't room for everyone. Visitors are an event.

This is the 'kitchen' where meals are cooked, when there is food available.

Ilna poses in front of her aunt and uncle's home. Windows have no screens, which would help alleviate the mosquito (marengwen) problem.

Ilna lives about 8 miles from the village and must cross the river, so shoes and socks come off and are replaced on the other side. She would benefit from a bicycle or from a place in town to stay Monday to Friday. We are looking into both bike programs a

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tigger, Rabies, New faces

It has been a terrible week.  Our big, brave, beautiful, bouncing 2 yr old dog Tigger began exhibiting unusual symptoms last Sunday, nipping at my throat upon our arrival. Monday he bit my finger, so before heading down the mountain we closed the center and called the only person in the village with a course in Veterinary care. He said there was rabies in the village and told us to quarantine so Auguste returned the next day with Dieugrand, our new Security Coordinator, to construct a safe place for Tigger. Our newly prepared bike garage was the only available space, so it became his prison.

There have been many experiences in Haiti which have made me empathize with Britain's Queen Elizabeth when she spoke of her "annus horribilis" in a year end broadcast. While the year itself is not yet over and there have been joyful times, this last week will be remembered as our "septimana horribilis"

Tigger always thought of himself as one of the staff.
Despite a severely broken leg at 6 weeks,
Tigger healed, and didn't walk, he bounded, hence his name.
We usually traveled up and down the mountain once a week as our truck was near the end. This week when we really needed a reliable vehicle, we were able to travel back and forth 3 times with peace of mind - not even a thought of a mountainside breakdown. No, the road surface did not miraculously smooth out, but thanks to Benjamin Plett and the  Jasmine Foundation, we now mountain climb without worry, because of a generous gift in memory of Jasmine co-founder Diane Plett, who died in January. No more eating dust or being drenched from the heat, just quiet comfort when taking the bumps.

Our new Nissan Frontier-no bells and whistles
just basic comfort.
Tigger's condition deteriorated, so Auguste returned to Cap for me. We drove back up Thursday and I was shocked at the change in our once happy, healthy dog. He had refused food for a week, but did take liquid vitamins which I fed him on a spoon (Thanks Dufferin Veterinary Clinic, Orangeville). Thursday night he paced and howled, gnawed the metal bars. I sat outside his cage fighting off the mosquitoes and talking to him. Our neighbor's wife, twenty years my junior, died during the time I sat with him, and the wailing from family and friends mingled with his cries. It seemed the whole village was in agony. It is a good thing hearts don't really break. I find it more difficult to witness suffering than to experience it.

After the church bell tolled at 5 am to wake the village,  a nearby house choir began to practice, soothing me and easing the sadness. For the first time I can remember, the women took their practice "repetisyon"to the street, processing around our "katye" and back home. No religious holiday, not taking it to church, just a spontaneous act of joy - human voices joined in song, sharing with all in range.

As  seen from our 2nd floor gallery - Singing to soothe the spirit - a spontaneous pre-dawn procession
Friday morning at a staff meeting we decided to open the cage and clean it out. Instead of bouncing out, Tigger shakily walked toward the pile of construction gravel to do his business, then lay down in the sunshine. The staff did not want to approach him, it was up to me.While attempting to close the cage door after cleaning, he took a last good bite out of my foot. Not his fault. We left him out as he had no energy to hurt anyone who didn't bother him. He died in the courtyard. Night student staff St.Luc was sitting beside him. This was my first encounter with Rabies. I hope it's my  last.

Back in Cap-Haitien, Saturday morning we took our male pup, Senkyeme to the 'vet' for neutering. Afterwards, I stopped at Santi Publique and made an appointment for anti rabies injections, 5 spread over a month. Our puppies here receive their Rabies vaccine at 3 months of age. A vet friend of mine in Canada cautioned that it's too young.  Antibodies in mother's milk are still working and can interfere with the vaccine. So the dilemma now is do we re vaccinate all? Tigger never ran free - he lived in the compound. Twice a day he and his kennel mate Granjil went for a walk on their leashes with staff members. There were no skirmishes with wild dogs, just barking and posturing. The only possible contamination that we can think of is a bat bite (chat-sourit).We'll never know for sure.

Closing the center was the only responsible action. Schools are scheduled to open October first so we still have time for interviews and registration. We will reopen the Sen Rafayel center Wednesday. While our "Waiting for Admission" list still sits at over 200, we have added many new faces using general funds.Here are a few:  In Sen Rafayel:
Alexandra - 8eme
Odette - 8eme
  Myka - 9eme

 Rose-Tania - 7eme
                Estepha - 8eme
Wilbrode - Sec. 4(final year)

Jonathan - Sec.4 (final year)

Jasmine - 8eme

Myrlande - Reto (second last year)                  
 Sylvina - 8eme 
           Merline - Reto
Dieuner - Sec. 1

Marguerite - Sec. 1

Fabiolla - 9eme

 Irlande - Sec.1

Paulene - Sec.3

Adeline - 3eme            

Ketteline - 2nd
Dupy - 9eme
Lilia - 3eme

Rose-Darline - 8eme

And in Cap-Haitien:





There are always lessons to learn and new experiences. Haiti is a surprising teacher. Some lessons I would like to avoid, others I embrace. When I look at the faces of the young people who arrive on our doorsteps and watch the changes in them as they grow, I am grateful for everything life throws this way, even the pain.

Let's make this new school year an "annus mirabilis"(amazing). Working together, we can accomplish anything.



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