Monday, December 7, 2015

Living between two worlds

Next week I head back to Haiti. My time in Canada always makes me grateful for the abundance here. That gratitude argues with the intimate knowledge I have of the lives of Haitians. The only abundance in the lives of about 80% of the population is absolute poverty. That doesn't mean having nothing -- it means having the pain, discomfort, illness, fear, frustration, hunger, bewilderment that comes from living in a situation not of one's choosing. An accident of birth. Example: while here I developed bursitis in my left knee with possible meniscus tear. After weeks of limping, the pain grew too intense and I couldn't walk resulting in a trip to Emergency at Headwater's Hospital. THERE WAS AN ACTUAL DOCTOR WORKING--not in Haiti. Usually a nurse or two. Two hours later there were  xrays and a diagnosis, a prescription and a recommendation to get physiotherapy. MRI recommended as follow up. Not in Haiti --no xray machine, therefore a guess as to diagnosis. No Physiotherapy clinics for rehab. Try to fill the prescription in Haiti. One could go to 20 small pharmacies and still not find it.

Available healthcare -- such luxury. During the first physio session, the therapist asked what I  most appreciated when I returned to Canada. Without hesitation or thought I said "Water - safe water  -- for showering, drinking, cooking. Hot and cold!" The healthcare system which had led to my diagnosis I took for granted. It didn't even enter my mind. The money to pay the physiotherapist comes from my government pension. Didn't think of that either.

Again luxury.  It is a challenge to live between two worlds and find balance. Every shop I have been in over the last couple of weeks has had a clerk who asked if I have finished my Christmas shopping. Usually I just smile and move on but occasionally I say that I don't shop for Christmas as I won't be in the country. With the exception of 2009 when I had multiple surgeries for perforated colon, I have been in Haiti for Christmas since 1998. Christmas for me is a day by myself with the dogs and Lucy the cat. I eat oatmeal for breakfast and have a boiled egg mid afternoon. And drink copious amounts of tea.The staff have holidays. So as I prepare to head back and savor the abundance for the last few days, a reminder of the reality that is Haiti and many other places in the world. Although physically in Canada, Haiti dominates my thoughts and heart.
We often drive for hours in Sen Rafayel searching for
a water source. Untreated yes but we have Aquatabs.
The mountain track to and from Sen Rafayel is a vehicle killer. We are now on our third set of new tires THIS YEAR. The  rocky track shreds them. The challenge is not just finding funds as this is a major purchase, it's finding the tires!
The water source, the canal, is very contaminated.

We reuse all water in our drop in centers. Water from washing dishes
is used to flush toilets as is water from handwashing.
Both drop in centers are staffed by our grads but students are responsible for cleaning up after themselves. They do it joyfully, grateful to have a safe place where they can study, eat, drink and find community, companionship, discussion.
We  purchase reverse osmosis water for drinking
but its very expensive.
Heading for a home visit along the canal, animals
and people cool off, bath, toilet. Laundry is washed
in the same water. 

The same water is used for cooking and drinking.

Because the once free state- provided water has
been locked up and now costs, held hostage by bandits with guns and 

machetes, everyone young and old
walks miles to find water.

Containers of all sizes are prized. All are unsanitary.

Young and old wait -- sometimes patience wears thin.
Sometimes the canal dries up.

Buckets are often too large and too heavy
for the carrier. 
When we make home visits, about half the time we see latrines, often in need of cleaning out. The other half there is just nothing so folks make do with plastic bags or other containers for body waste. We have never yet made a visit where there was water on site. Dirty buckets sit empty  as distance and weight make carrying water an onerous chore. Perhaps because of the scarcity of the most fundamental needs for living, our young people are filled with gratitude to all who give them "possibilite".

This year we have 136 in high school and 14 in post secondary. THERE ARE STILL 260 ON OUR WAIT LIST FOR WHOM WE HAD NO FUNDS. THESE YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SITTING OUT OF SCHOOL FOR ANYWHERE FROM 1 TO 3 YEARS, unable to continue as their source of support disappeared, often it is parents who have died.

The  lucky ones admitted picked up funds in September for uniforms and shoes.    In addition to the contract our people sign, they also sign whenever funds are received. They take the responsibility very seriously.

Although school began a month early catching everyone unprepared, as always the kids, the tailors and seamstresses rose to the occasion. As did you the donors who provided emergency funding which made the opening of school possible. Here is a sample of some of the new uniforms for this school year. With school beginning a month early while temperatures were still well above 100 degrees every day, many of our young people suffered from painful boils under arms. No soap or clean water for bathing plus uniforms with mandatory long sleeves and undershirts is a dangerous combination.

It has been a year of turmoil and  loss, but also of joy and growth. Although it seems as though Canada and Haiti are two different worlds, we all have the same basic needs. Availability and accessibility is the difference.

How can one have so much and one a few thousand miles away have so little? So no, I don't shop for Christmas. If I only lived in this world, life would be  different. But I don't. I live between two worlds.

Every time I hear of someone on our waiting list dying I am saddened. It happens every year. If 2016 is the year we are able to develop and enclose the property  we purchased in Sen Rafayel, we would be able to dig a healthy well, install a system of solar panels and distribute water to our kids and staff, alleviating some of the problems. We could even develop a delivery system..

So much to do, never a dull moment.  I am, however,  a fan of dull moments. They allow me to recharge my spiritual batteries. To those who have supported our young people, thank you, thank you, thank you. Now that you've been recognized, don't rest on your laurels. Please do what you can to help us admit those who sit and wait yet another year. As many of you DO prepare to celebrate the Christmas season, keep our kids in mind -- those in our programs and those who sit and wait yet another year. Become more involved. Tell another person about Starthrower, about the amazing youth of Haiti. Your cup will overflow. May you be blessed.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We're Still here

It has probably been the worst summer I can remember in the 18 years I have been here - deaths, the mutilation of one of our pups with a machete, having to let a staff member go over the incident resulting in death threats against my staff, soaring temperatures, insufficient items for purchase, being targeted for an extortion attempt by the family selling the house to us and on and on.

So I could use a good laugh. We could all probably use a good laugh from time to time.  Here's the joke. We have been without electricity for 9 weeks, with temperatures somewhere between 36 and 43 c. TODAY thanks to the generosity of Jasmine Foundation 4 new solar panels (giving us 8), 4 new batteries (giving us 16), space age regulator and a super charging inverter were installed. What a treat - the possibilities - COLD WATER, ICE CUBES, FOOD NOT SPOILING, being able to leave the fridge plugged in. The joke - not a minute of sunshine all day due to the offshore presence of Hurricane Joaquin, so batteries not charging.  And according to the weather channel, there will be no sun until next Tuesday. Now where did I put my sense of humor? It must be with my glasses. I can't find them either.

Sunday we traveled up Granjil mountain to Sen Rafayel. We owed 22 home visits to new admissions between Cap and Sen Rafayel . We managed to pack in 13. The first 5 visits were posted on Facebook. This is a continuation. The rest will be first on the agenda when I return. The staff problem we had to deal with was very distressing and took more time than expected but the kids are always patient. Monday morning (after a thrilling view of the eclipse from my second floor gallery) we waited while the next group of 'visitees' ate breakfast. 
Breakfast - egg, kasav with peanut butter or
cream cheese, a banana and potable water

I can't say enough about the passion these young people put into their school work. While others ate, Estepha worked in the library, saying he would eat later. We left him in peace and headed out for the next group of visits.

The library is always in use - the morning sunlight is great
and there is no competition for space.

We thought we were off but the truck apparently did not have a good night and needed coaxing. 

Thank you volunteers. Everyone likes to be involved.

First visit to Jackenson who has been sitting out for 2 years. His dad died 8 years ago and he had been doing odd jobs for very little money to put himself through school but the work dried up. Thanks to Kim, the staff of Euphoria and everyone who has purchased her world famous Haiti Dirt Cookies, he has the opportunity to complete the last 2 years of high school. What we didn't know was the distance from the parked truck to the tikay he shares with his manman and younger sibling - a 4 to 5 kilometer walk. 

Following Jackenson 

 Talking with Manman. She owns the house and

One room for everything

The room was wallpapered with dozens of posters for the upcoming elections (Oct). I jokingly asked if the candidate was a relative. No. Somebody came around giving them out and he took them all. There is no latrine but a makeshift tent provides cooking space.

The kitchen was being used so we didn't intrude.

Jackenson points out the location of their water
supply - a  spring on the mountain top. 
On to visit Laurence, who has also been sitting out for 2 years. Her mother was ill so we sent potable water, Allimax, Vit. C and B complex. Laurence and her siblings sleep on the floor beside manman's bed.

Laurence opens the door for us.

Manman was not able to get up.

No kitchen but a latrine perched on stilts and rocks.
It needs to be emptied.
Like most families in the village (bouk la) they have been using the village water supply which is provided by the state free of charge. However while we were there, the pipes delivering the water were enclosed in a tin and cement block hut with razor wire wound round it. It is no longer free, being held for ransom like many things in the country. Adding to misery which is already too much to bear.

Moving on to our next visit, we are now in the village. 12 yr old Daiska was orphaned 2 years ago when she was about to start high school. She was taken in by her mother's sister who does commerce in the marketplace but doesn't make enough to pay for school.

Following 12 yr old orphaned Daiska
Auguste talks with 'matant' while Daiska and ti kouzin look on.

A place to bathe but no privacy
The 'bouret' (wheelbarrow) used for komes
(commerce) has a place of honor in the only room.
Privacy is non existent if one is poor. Personal space means nothing. Onward we go, to our last visit of the morning. Then we can try and find potable bottled water for the center.

Evenel has also been sitting out due to death of his parents.The house he shares with relatives is new, built by his uncle. What a positive note. Built for multiple families, it is functional and clean.

We talk construction

The only table in the house covered with textbooks
a kerosene lamp and a battery operated boom
box that lacks batteries.

There is a latrine and shower stall but no kitchen. If one has a latrine, no one  has the luxury  toilet paper.

Morning visits over, we drove around to every place in the village where potable water could be purchased but no luck. So back to the center, Lakay Jasmine and a little time to catch up with some kids I haven't seen for a few months. They had dropped in for lunch and were heading back to school.

Ralph, Sterlin and Dieuner model the new Lycee uniforms for
Secondaire 4 (Philo) the final year of high school.
It was 40 degrees and they were wearing undershirts, long sleeved shirts and ties which they are not allowed to take off, nor can sleeves be rolled up. There is no electricity therefore no air conditioning in the school and no drinking fountains. So 8 hours of classes in the sweltering heat with no re-hydration.

Marc-Arios, Isaac and John-Steevenson had dropped in. Each was at least a foot taller.

Wilnise, Tamara and Ema also arrived for lunch as did the new admissions who had afternoon visits coming up. It was  gratifying to see the way in which new admissions fit in, being welcomed by 'seniors'  who have been around a few years.

In addition to the new admissions, there are still 260 young people who wrote letters and did not receive an interview. I knew funds were limited and false hope is worse than no hope. So we do what we can for those we can accommodate.

A very heartfelt thank-you to sponsors and Jasmine foundation for coming to the rescue during the uniform crisis. Now we work on getting text books and back packs.

Patience as one of my first students here told me many years ago when I became impatient over something not worth high blood pressure. Patience.

Thank you for your patience. This blog is long overdue but no electricity and no internet have conspired to keep me offline. It has been amazing to sit here for 5 or 6 hours and have the electricity to persist. The internet connection has been lost 5 times but our solar batteries are doing the job.

I can't wait to get a solar panel/inverter system in Sen Rafayel. Yes I can so wait. I have patience.




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