Friday, July 27, 2018

Day 5, Backpack Day!

Yesterday we finally gave away the backpacks that families from Rye collected for Gampson’s school children. The storage room at the Midwives for Haiti house that housed our 600 pounds of donatables is finally looking sparse. Over the course of the week, I gave away school supplies and tooth brushes to Mitial, another man with a small orphanage/school. I gave purses to my midwife friends. Magdala’s kids got back packs, dried mango and more duct tape to make flowers and wallets. Backpacks were given for the children of the kitchen staff and the drivers. Special gifts were carried for good friends. Guerlie received a pair of high heels that were miraculously the perfect size. My midwife friend, Esther, got a beautiful beaded bag. Miss Genette received toothbrushes for her nieces and nephews, a small purse, a bag of dried mangos and a Maria-made zipper pouch. Sofia, Viola’s teenage friend who got “kicked out” of the orphanage, received new clothes including underwear, long dresses, a pair of leather sandals, and one mini skirt. We have backpacks full of clothes for Jubelle, another teen, and Mitsushi, the baby of a midwifery student from last year that Viola fell in love with. Magdala received the best of all: a pink bonnet with a flower and ribbon that I had to carry from San Francisco on my head so that it wouldn’t get crushed.

So, yesterday, the boys loaded the 3 big bags of backpacks and tarps onto the three-wheeler. It pulls a covered trailer that can carry 6 people. It’s great for those days when we need to bring larger items that won’t travel well on the back of a motorcycle. The ride in the three-wheeler is our least favorite mode of travel. Everyone here calls it the “washing machine,” such is our rough and tumble ride.

When we arrived at Gampson’s, over 100 children were waiting for us. They were seated in the school benches to overflowing. They sang us songs and welcomed us with in-unison greetings. I was sure that there were more kids than we had backpacks. Gampson said not to worry. We decided to give out toothbrushes once we ran out of backpacks. Viola, Matthew and Daniel organized the backpacks by color and size. Two at a time, kids came in and chose their favorite. They also received 2 pencils and an eraser. It was a pretty smooth operation, and by noon, all the backpacks were handed out. Small victories.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Day 4 - A mural, a row boat and a goat named Viola

It’s 10pm on Day 4 of our trip and I am finally able to sit down and jot down a few thoughts. It is hot. Haiti hot. Hard-to-fall-asleep-at-night hot. Two-showers-a-day hot. Sticky. Sweaty. Hot.

A good morning at the Azil. Tyler is working on a mural of a church that will be scenery for a play. The tall, slender, French nun, Sister Schwe, is full of ideas. She wants to do a play. When we had arrived, a young boy named Stevenson was putting together some flattened cardboard boxes to make the wall for her theatrical church. Man, good thing we brought 10 pounds of duct tape with us! You just never know when it will come in handy. Tyler used the duct tape to shore up the cardboard backdrop. If you glue brown paper bags to the cardboard, voíla - a blank canvas. Sister Schwe was so pleased to learn that Tyler makes murals. I am sure she thanked God for sending this lovely young man to her at this very moment.

We mostly held babies and younger children because that is what you do at the Azil. We have grown fond of the little one that was rescued from the latrine. We learned that a woman passing by heard some crying and convinced some others to help her rescue the newborn baby girl. When she was brought out of the latrine, she already had areas on her body where the worms were starting to eat her flesh. We decided that our name for her should mean value and, thus, we named her Valerie. There are 110 children at the Azil. Even the staff and nuns who totally know each child’s story don’t always remember or know their names. We are happy to name them for the short time that we will know them.

In the afternoon, we went to visit Magdala and Pastor Jude. They live off a rocky, dirt road, on the outskirts of town. They have a lot of land, including 2 man-made lakes, one of which includes a fishery. Their own children are grown but they still care for 10 orphans and support a school of 200 children. In the past, they have offered up part of their land to use as a Cholera Quarantine Encampment. They have plans to build a birth center on their land next  year.

Magdala is one of the original Midwives for Haiti midwives. I haven’t seen her in a couple of years because last year she was sick and had traveled to the US when we were in Haiti. Pastor Jude is committed to the notion that she was sick with a “Haitian problem.” He thinks that someone hates her and put a curse on her but since he believes in God and has faith in God, she got better. Magdala tells me that she had a bone infection and thyroid issues. Nonetheless, she is on the mend and we were very happy to spend the afternoon together. We all made duct tape wallets and flowers for the kids, Matthew and Daniel attempted to row an inflatable boat around the lake, and we hiked to see Viola, the goat. 4 years ago, Pastor Jude named two goats after Viola and Tallulah. We’re happy to say that Viola the goat is doing very well!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Day 2: An Introduction to Hinche

Mother Theresa’s order of nuns run feeding centers and orphanages around the world. In Hinche, they have a feeding center where they take in malnourished children, nurture them back to health, and then send them home to their families. Some children are there for 6 weeks, others could stay there for a year. If they have family close by, they can come to visit once a week. 

The Azil, the feeding center, is an enclosed compound, which also contains a school and a small chapel. Graceful women, in Mother Theresa’s white and blue flowing cloth, care for the children. They seem to know each child’s story by heart. Dina was horrified when the nun told her, with little affect, the number of children whose mothers had died and the one baby that was found in the toilet. The children are grouped by age with rows of metal cribs or small cots – the babies have their own room, toddlers in the next, 3- to 4-year-olds up front. We are allowed to “take a child” from their bed, but must remember which bed they came from so that the child can be returned to the correct bed. The importance of this became apparent to me when the nun, Sister Shwe, pointed out to me which children were being treated for tuberculosis. 

We played with the children and helped to feed them all morning. Their 10am snack is a quarter of a hard-boiled egg, half a banana and half of a special nutrient bar that is made for malnourished children. The bar reminds me of a softer, vanilla PowerBar; the children know how to squeeze out every bit of its contents. Some children do not want to eat, and that’s where we come in, encouraging and cajoling a bit of protein into their swollen tummies. The babies are fed formula; Viola and Dina worked the bottles along with the Haitian staff. 

Playing with the littlest ones is like being in a corn maze: the sweet soul of a child is deep inside and yet finding it through the malnutrition, the abandonment, the loneliness, is often hard to find. Matthew rolled a ball to 4 standing 2 year olds with no squeals of joy or even movement on their parts. That is, for the first 5 minutes. When I returned to the room, Matthew had worked his way through the maze to find their playful selves. The children were running around the room, rolling the ball and running after it. The pursuit of little victories is why we are here. 

It was easy for Dina to encourage the 4-year-old girls to dance with her silly, ukelele songs. Daniel played with the children with ease, creating a spontaneous finger puppet show, playing catch with the older kids and lining up Nicholas’ donated matchbox cars for the toddlers. Tyler held some sweet children until he realized that the nun was trying to create a cardboard mural of a church. This is his jam and what he will be helping with for the rest of the week. 

Only one thing: no pictures allowed in the Azil. Hopefully we can take a picture of Tyler’s creation at the end. 

So, here are a few pics from our afternoon orphanage visit. 10 children stay in a small, cement house. We were able to donate enough money for Mitial, the director, to buy 5 new cot mattresses so that fewer children needed to sleep on the floor.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

The adventure begins!

As I sit on the veranda at the Midwives for Haiti house, all is right with the world. Let’s just say, all is right with my world. After postponing the trip due to a fuel hike that caused rioting and protests in the streets in Port-Au-Prince, we got the green light last Monday that the roadblocks were cleared and it would be safe for us to make the 2 and half hour road trip from PAP to Hinche, in the Central Plateau.

Still, even though our State Department had lowered their travel advisory from 4 (the highest – DO NOT TRAVEL) to 3 (Reconsider non-essential travel), there was still some obvious concern about us going. We even consulted my sister’s neighbor/psychic to see if there was a black cloud over the trip. He only saw a friendly man with an aqua blue shirt, perhaps a helper who would bring us important information. For me, my mind was quiet, without the usual buzz of anxiety 
that precedes travel. We traveled to NY during our now-free week and a chance encounter with the volunteer coordinator from Midwives For Haiti felt like a good omen. As we left a small bodega in Brooklyn, we passed by Bisma, who we had met in Haiti the summer before. Dina recognized her and reflexively turned and shouted, “Zamni mwe!” “My friend!” Bisma turned and recognized us immediately and we all had a good laugh over the tiniest of probabilities that we would meet up at 10pm on the streets of New York City. Our good feelings of Haiti and the Midwives program washed over us, comforting any uneasiness about the trip.

We (Dina, Viola and I) arrived in Port Au Prince on Saturday morning, a half hour before my two nephews, Matthew and Daniel, and their cousin/chaperone, my son, Tyler. From years of hearing about our travels to Haiti, Matthew, who is 11, decided that he wanted to come too. 

So, all year, Matthew, Daniel and my sister, Laura, collected 100 backpacks, school supplies, 360 pairs of underwear, 6 giant traveling duffel bags, over 300 tooth brushes, tooth paste, 100 reading glasses, 8 tarps and assorted odds and ends that would be appropriate for the children of Hinche. It felt easy and exciting to meet the three of them as they descended the escalator to the baggage claim in Port Au Prince.

We loaded up our 600 pounds of donated items on 6 carts and played follow the leader out of the airport. For our part, we brought medical supplies, clean birth kits, 80 Sunday-best dresses for the girls at Maison Fortuné, supplies for our Friday night dance party, bug repellant, baby clothes, purses for the midwives, money in you-better-believe-I-sewed-them zipper pouches, balls for the toddlers at Mother Theresa’s feeding center, hair extensions for the teens, barrettes and colorful hair ties for the younger ones).

Our trip along the road to Hinche was oddly more peaceful than usual. Maybe it was that we had a more mini-bus type experience; 13 people traveling without luggage is a Haitian luxury. Our bags traveled alone in the Land Cruiser that usually carries us as well. Maybe it was that we took a different route out of Port-au-Prince, I feel that we were farther to the east, circumnavigating the heart of the city. Maybe it was the calm after a contentious week of political unrest; the Prime Minister resigned which was one of the demands of the angry mobs. Matthew fell asleep immediately and in 2 and a half, easy hours, we arrived in Hinche.

We visited the girls at Maison Fortuné after dinner, learning that almost all of the children, boys and girls, would be going to an overnight camp for the whole week, leaving the following day. Seeing as just hanging out with the girls was high on our agenda list, we needed to pack in our connections and salutations into 2 short visits. Viola passed out the photos that we had taken in 2017, Daniel handed out Skittles and Starburst. We introduced Tyler, Daniel and Matthew all around. A good time was had by all.

We fell asleep last night fed, showered, exhausted, and content. We are all here - safe, sound, and ready for an adventurous Haitian week.
Checking out last year's photos
New dresses!

Duct tape wallet
Daniel meets Wawa

Matthew finds other entertainment with duct tape

Off to camp!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Faces of Haiti

Somehow, this trip has gone by in a flash. We are committed to 2 orphanages and the Midwives for Haiti program. So, it seems, every moment is filled with some activity or other. We've loved every minute of it and the consensus is that we wish we could stay longer. We said goodbye to the girls at Maison Fortuné tonite with another party. We sang and danced and the girls were treated to popcorn, sweet dried mangoes, Jolly Rancher candies and birthday cake! It is Miss Genette's birthday today. We cut up 4 birthday cakes and fed 85 girls. Miss Genette is one of the lead midwives in the program that we have known now for 7 years. I forgot to ask how old she is today, I think mid- to late 40s. She told me this was the first birthday party she ever had.

Here are just some of the beautiful faces of Haiti: