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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Day 3. The Sacred Heart Centre

Today the group and I visited the women and children at the Sacred Heart Centre. We all split up into different groups depending on what we wanted to do.
Amy and Daniel worked with Dawn to help the nurse at the nutrition centre to better understand Excel and ended up creating an entire year's worth of medical charting templates! The nurse learned the program so quickly and was glowing with confidence by the end of the day.

Danielle, Liam, Kelsey, and Brian went to the pre school where many of the children had come to from the nutrition center less than a year ago.  They said over and over again that the level of energy the 100 children was something no one could be prepared for! It was awesome to listen to the group members talk about the interactions they had with the children.
Anita, and I spent our morning in the learning center with the women who were learning to sew. While we waited for more students of the sewing class to arrive,  our translator Benji gave us some Creole lessons. 
The women who were there with us were laughing so hard with us and trying to help us with our pronunciation. During that lesson, I sat next to a woman named Fabula. She was the most patient and comforting person to be around in an environment with a language barrier. She would give me her time in helping me to understand the meaning of a word through our body language.  We progressed into presentations where the women showed us the purses they've made.
 Fabula showed hers and I bought it immediately.  It was just so beautiful... a bright teal corduroy.  There was another women whose purse I liked, and she tried to give it to me for free!  We've noticed  here... that people just want to give you things. Even when they could benefit from having the money,  they insist that because you like it and because they like you, you deserve to have it given to you. I told the women that she had worked so hard to make it and deserved to be paid for it. So she accepted the money and hugged me.

Kelsey, Brian,  and Emily had an amazing experience when we got home from the center today. They met some local kids at 5 pm and played with them them for hours. Again, these kids offered them their belongings because they just liked Kelsey,  Emily,  and Brian so much! Brian sang to them in Korean and Kelsey came back with her hair braided in corn rows! It is such an emotional experience for the girls, especially when the kids asked when they were coming back again. It is our last day here in Cap Hatian so we won't be returning and it broke their hearts to have to tell the kids that.

Tonight's share session was quite emotional as we all had a day we will never forget. John reminded us that we're only on day 3 and that we have much more to see in the days to come. Now we get to experience the rural communities of Haiti! Tomorrow we have a 4 hour drive to St Marc where we have a chance to relax a bit before heading up to through the mountains!

Day 4

Day 4 was something entirely different even though we were still in Cap Hatian.  Yesterday I showed the women a wallet my sister in law made out of duct tape after they showed us their purses. They were blown away by the tape wallet and really wanted to know how it was made. So John arranged for me to teach a duct tape wallet work shop today! I was tickled pink to have the opportunity to do something like this with these women who I had bonded with so much over the last day and a half.  Thank goodness Dawn, Emily and Danielle offered to assist me because we ended up needing about 200 strips of tape for everyone to make their wallets. I was so greatful to have Andre as my interpreter for the work shop. He did so well with conveying my emotion- which can be difficult sometimes,  especially with me!

While I was doing that, Kelsey and Liam got a tour of an historical park in Cap Hatian and had a chance to really bond with our interpreter Benji. Amanda and Jack went with our other interpreter to a hotel filled with war antiques and ancient artwork.  Amanda said it was breathtaking. Both India and Benji are both so knowledgeable and did an amazing job of enlightening those 4 lucky group members. 

Amy and Dan continued to help the nurse better her Excel skills and had a blast as the hard stuff was already covered the day before so they just played with the program.
We wrapped up our day by spending our last while in the nutrition center with the babies we had bonded with the day before. My personal favorite was Ista. She's a beautiful yet stubborn baby who loves her rice but hates her water!  We also nicknamed a baby "pumpkin baby" because we couldn't remember her name! Shd happened to be  wearing a shirt with a pumpkin on it the day before so the nicname stuck and she will be remembered as such!  All in good fun of course!

Saying goodbye to Cap Hatian was so difficult for me. My heart goes out to Andre who helped me tell the women at the learning center how much they've impacted my life and how I am so honored to know them. Hearing that they felt the same about me brought me to tears and I received a lingering hug from every single woman.  I can still feel their arms around me...

After our goodbyes,  we drove for a good 5 hours to a hotel in St Marc. It was the resort life for us for the next 15 hours. We were greeted with welcome drinks and a view of the ocean with an optional pool.... and air conditioning! (A highlight for some of us) 

If I'm being honest, none of us expected to be treated so well by our hosts. We didn't expect to have beds every night,  or full 3 course meals at least twice a day. We didn't expect to be able to shower everyday.  This list goes on...So being at the resort did feel a little weird and we were all grateful to be there for only a short time.
Reflections that night were tough because saying  goodbye to Cap Hatian was hard on us all. What really resonated with Dawn was the empowerment of women within the adult education initiatives we witnessed. To empower women with education and entrepreneurial skills helps to change how a culture perceives women and their roles within the community.  And for Dawn,  that took her breath away to see the progress being made.

Day 5

Day 5 was the trek up to Gilbert, a very rural community in St Marc. Jack, Danielle, Kesley, Liam, Brian, Victoria,  and Teresa took the 4 hour hike option to visit a remote school before meeting the rest of the group in Gilbert. Their long hot hike was totally worth it when they were greated by 200 students who sang to them.  On their way to Gilbert, our interpreter Milfer bought fresh mangos for the group members at a little market stand. How awesome those mangos were I cannot express!!!!

The rest of the group and I took the 1 hour hike to Gilbert.  Because we had some spare time, we visited a St Marc high school called St Patricks.  Our quick visit there was a whirlwind.  We took a quick tour and discovered very quickly that teenagers are teenagers wherever they are, and they are rowdy as ever! We loved it!

Gilbert was the most authentic rural Haitian experience we could have hoped for. We all got best use of our bug nets that night as we stayed in the loft of a cement barn - like building.

 After a delicious dinner served by the cooks of Gilbert,  we had our reflections based around the "look, listen, and learn" John keeps reminding us to focus on. But we were more specific to Gilbert as we were contemplating what was present- like the solar panels atop the nurse station that makes it self sufficient,  and what was missing- like the lack of revenue generating initiatives in the community. We did this so that we could attempt to provide input in the morninng meeting with the teachers.

We all slept really well in the loft actually. And to top off our authentic experience,  our driver Luke lead us to a local fresh water spring to bathe in when we woke up in the morning. What a great way to start the day!

Once the teachers meeting ended in the morning,  the Labour Day festivities began! Oh yeah, Haiti's Labour Day is May 1st!! The festival they put on was fabulous! Groups of kids came up to perform dances and the teachers gave speeches. Finally,  they began blasting Haitian music, which reminds me of reggae, and were encouraging people to get up and dance. So naturally, I'm up and dancing while no one else was! Finally the little kids flooded around me to dance, then very quickly after the adults joined. We all danced so long and hard that I looked like I had showered! It was the absolute highlight of the day.

Then we all journeyed back down the mountain to meet the bus which drove us back to where we start this adventure of ours at Walls guest house.

In Walls Guest House.

Tonight's reflections were a bit different as we all discussed our challenges instead of highlights. The topics that came up were the garbage and pollution, the begging children and how hard it is to say no, and trying to stay objective and non- judgmental while we see things that would otherwise shock us. 

Tomorrow we head back up into the mountains to the orphanage for our craft,  sports, and music day!

More on that later!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fanshawe-Rayjon Awareness Trip 2015

Look listen and learn.

Our first day in Haiti we had already been pushed out of our comfort zones,  just enough to make for a good introduction for the experiences in the days to come. It is an understatement to say everything is so different here. From the stifling heat we would normally complain about in Canada,  to seeing a SUV so filled with people that a woman was riding on the roof, to having a security guard with a semi automatic rifle in his hand at all times. They all opened our eyes. As Victoria says "such is life here in Haiti, its so authentic". 

Speaking to that authenticity, the guard with the gun had the most genuine, welcoming smile that put us all at ease immediately.  The woman atop the suv had 2 men watching out for her as they sat out the side door windows. Even though you see the rubble in the street,  you also see the school kids walking passed it and not being worried by it. Even though you see a rooster in the street, you also watch cars slow and swerve around it. No one rushes,  everyone is vibrant and proud of the simple life they live.

We had our first share session on the roof of the guest house while we watched the most beautiful sunset. Kelsey mentioned she noticed a kind of freedom here that's not found in western culture.  For instance we find that vehicle horns are used to communicate so frequently.  And unlike in Canada where the beep of a horn is the equivalent of being told off,  it is used to be polite and say "excuse me" in a way.

No one perceives it as rudeness. That freedom of not being held back to communicate in that way. Not to mention the freedom to drive in what we would consider a hectic environment. But it works for them. Everyone is kind and courteous because no one is rushing to beet the yellow light.  These observations led the group to ponder if Canada's traffic laws might be hindering the ease of driving.  Are all those laws and regulations absolutely necessary when in different parts of the world  people are able to maneuver themselves through traffic just as efficiently without them? Just a thought.

Anita asked the group if bringing supplies to the country for people to use was undermining the whole purpose of development and self sustenance.  We've all learned that the old fashion thought process is to go and "do something" we recognize needs to be done. Or come and bring something we think they need.  With trying to avoid that mind set and attempting to focus on listening to what the Haitians want and need before acting on our own initiatives, is it counterintuitive to still be handing out? As we all thought about what that could mean,  Victoria passed around a handout of a model explaining the level of participation charities have employed over the years. Going from coercion from the charity and compliance by the people, to co-leading and initiate which entails the Haitians telling us what they need to achieve that self sustained lifestyle they deserve.

I expressed some doubt about whether we were wanted here at all. I wasn't quite convinced that we would be received the way we thought we might be.

My worry and doubt was all cleared away after our 2nd day; today.
After waking up late to rush to the airport, we learned our plane wasn't coming and spent a few hours in the airport waiting for another one. Amanda, one of the brave ones, went and bought a banana from the man outside and struck up a conversation with the man selling dvds.  She now owns the Witch In The Woods.  Im sure the conversation she had while buying it will be better than the movie itself!

Once we all made it to Cap Haitian, we met Andre,  the project manager of the nutrition center, the preschool, and the adult literacy program. He's the kindest, most sincere hearted person I have ever met. He arranged for us to have meet and greets with some of the women who use the center's services.  My feelings of doubt were subsided when Andre shared that he had only asked 3 or 4 moms to stay and speak with us but when the other women found out,  they all wanted to stay! They all wanted to share themselves with us. I was so touched when I learned that they all cared that we were there to hear their stories. 

Tonight's share session was lead by Amy and and Daniel who started it off by telling us they were proud of us all for handling the hairy scary events this morning with the plane delay. We all applauded  each other.  Then Amy offered herself to us for support with tomorrow being the difficult day of the nutrition center. 

We moved into a discussion about what touched us most about today's events with the interviews.  Emily shared that she was most touched by the 13 year old boy who diligently brings his youngest sibling to and from the nutrition center everyday. She slso learned that he cared for 4 other siblings at home as well. Liam thought it was amazing to see that even though you could tell it was wearing on the young boy,  he had no intention on giving up because family means everything to him. Danielle had an interview with a woman who had 8 children at 38 years old and only started using the nutrition center for the first time with her youngest.  Kelsey and Amy shared the story of the 90 year old lady who brings her grand child. She told them that god has led her to live a full life regardless of circumstance and that he will do the same for them as long as they take care of their health.  Jackie loved playing with the young kids in the day care while they waited for their parents. She loved giving them the physical touch and fun human connection all children crave!

Tomorrow is another early start with a 6:30 wake up call. Its going to be the most emotional day yet. I'll keep you posted on how we are all affected by the nutrition center,  the small business presentations,  and pre school children play date!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Day 6 - March 2015 Haiti Awareness Trip

Today a much earlier wake up call for 6am was in place to attend Sunday mass. Together the group travelled by bus to a local church with hundreds of others to experience a Haitian mass first hand. The girls fancied up in their skirts and dresses, and the men put on their finest dress pants. With the ending of mass, the group arrived back at Walls guest house and quickly ate their breakfast in order to have more time for our next adventure. After we were done eating, we hopped in the van and began our way to Kenscoff. An hour was spent winding through the Mountains till we reached our destination of Nous Petites Frere et Soureurs orphanage, home of over 340 children. As we entered through the gates, the immediate reaction of the group was pure amazement. Everyone before- hand had it in their minds that a trip to an orphanage in Haiti would be incredibly devastating. To our surprise, the orphanage was very great in size with many resources for the children. We all were touched by the fact that these children didn't act as if we assumed them too. They didn't act as a family, they were a family. They shared so much love with the group and within themselves. The group had the choice of areas to visit. Within our tour, we all visited the building that provided education and health care to over 20 special need individuals. After many hugs the group separated to interact with the kids. We danced, sang, skipped rope, blew bubbles and loved with each other. Touching moments were shared with the children and group that brought many to very emotional states. The group as well had the chance to purchase bracelets and art from some of the children to go towards the art program. Sadly our visit came to an end, and our goodbyes were said. 
We piled back into the vehicle, where we all shared a moment. A moment that involved a lot of tissues and support from one another. We discussed our respect for all the workers, and how content all the children were just being in each others company. We allowed ourselves to become open with one another and accept and share love. Once again we drove down the windy roads of the mountains back to Port-Au-prince.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Day 5 March 2015 Haiti Awareness Trip

Our day began with the usual 630am wake up call and breakfast with the group. After our morning meal, we headed back to our rooms to pack our belongings for our next stop.  Our day planned till 1pm was to tour the city of  Cap Haitian with the staff members of the Sacred Heart Centre. The group was split into 3 smaller groups with 3 staff workers guiding us.
The first group visited the home of a staff member and walked through the incredibly energetic food market. The second group had the pleasure of being shown around a local hospital then accompanied through a fish market. The staff members also brought all groups around square park. The third group toured the hospital and had time to shop in a souvenir market. Everyone had the mutual feeling of respect for the hard workers of the SHC(Sacred Heart Centre) and were very appreciative for them to spend their day off accompanying us. 
With the ending of our tour through Cap Haitian we ate lunch together and said our goodbyes. A very heart felt goodbye was given to our interpreter (Idia), who shared her story that touched everyone in the group the day before. It was now time for the group to get on their flight scheduled for 3pm, but was delayed till 630pm.
By the time the flight was ready, everyone was so incredibly eager to get aboard. Together, we watched a beautiful sunset from above and had an astonishing view of Haiti. The group then landed back in Port-au-Prince, where they drove to their next place of stay, at Walls guest house. To end the day, we enjoyed dinner together, then reflection. 

Day 4 - March 2015 Haiti Awareness Trip
Today started off again at 6:30 a.m. with a knock on every door to get ready for the exciting day ahead. After breakfast, we all piled in to a truck and Andre's car with all of our donations and we were off to the Sacred Heart Centre.
On arriving at the centre, we split into two groups, one staying at the nutrition centre and the other went on their way the Fort St. Michel nursery school. This is also when we were introduced to Idia, our interpreter.  Each group had some incredibly touching moments at each location. The students at the nursery school were extremely excited to see and interact with us. When the truck approached, we could hear the children inside. Upon entering, both groups were greeted with open arms by both the teachers and the students.
Many of the students asked to be lifted up and swarmed at our feet. Many of the students reached out and touched our hands almost as if to see if we were real. The first group that went to the Fort St. Michel attempted ring around the rosy and Simon says where the second group was slightly more prepared with crayons, colouring books and stickers. Many of the students wanted to give their artwork to us when we were leaving. When the groups left there was a mutual feeling of wanting to spend more time there. Many of the students come to the door to hug us and really  didn't want to let us go.
 Back at the the Sacred Heart Centre we were all given a tour of the facility. We saw the space for the adult classes, ex. sewing, cooking, etc. The next level up were the offices of the nutritional nurse, the accountant, Denise, and Andre. We were given an explanation of what the job entails and everything the centre does. The third level was the kitchen and meeting rooms where we later had lunch. The final level was a unanimous favourite...the babies. Both groups got to spend a lot of time with them  individually and as a large group altogether. Many of the girls created a strong bond with some of the babies and it was very hard to leave them. It was incredible to see the hard work of the staff there and how much they care for the children. A little while later we were pulled from the babies for lunch .
We had the amazing opportunity to eat with the staff of both Fort St. Michel and the Sacred Heart Centre. We had some time before lunch so we had the opportunity to first hear Idia's touching story, then had some fun with the staff. We danced and sang and had the opportunity to share some parts of our experience from the day so far. There were many things that some of the staff members said to us that were very touching and surprising such as how they were surprised that we just jumped in so quickly and without hesitation. Others were that we interacted with the children, even if it was obvious that they had a cold, like it was nothing, and so on. After we finished our lunch, we went back down stairs to observe the alpha literacy class. It is amazing to the see the looks of their faces as they get better and better. There's a real sense of pride in their work. Yet again another amazing day here in the beautiful country of Haiti.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Day 3 - March 2015 Haiti Awareness Trip

Once again today, we started with a 6:30 am wake up call which most of us didn't mind due to the excitement for another beautiful day in the country of Haiti. After our 7am breakfast we began to pack up our belongings for our 830 am bus departure. As we left hotel Le Xaragua, again we were taken with the absolute beauty we were about to see while driving to Cap Haitian. Our first stop was at St. Patrick's High school. Unfortunately, we were unable to interact with the students because of their term exams being in process. We did have the pleasure to have a discussion with the principal as well with a few students. In our conversation with the principal, we talked briefly about some of the struggles the students face and their difficulty in paying their tuition. With the students, we had them practice English with us, and we practiced  our Creole with them. The group enjoyed a laugh as many students pulled out their cameras to take our photos. After our visit,  we started back on the road to continue our journey to Cap Haitian. Although the path was breathtakingly beautiful, it was not easy. Our group was incredibly thankful for our bus drivers concern for our safety while staying calm and cool!  With every turn, continuous honking could be heard from both directions of warning that a vehicle was approaching around all the hairpin turns. Many were mesmerized by the beauty, while some had to look away. The mountain views were too incredible to describe, and we all were left in awe.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day 2 - March 2015 Haiti Awareness Trip
We started off our 2nd day in Haiti with a early(for some) 6:30am wake up call which lead us to breakfast. After breakfast, we headed back to our rooms to prepare ourselves for a day full of hiking

and visiting of the many sights of Gilbert. Many of us were unprepared for the beauty that was seen within today's adventures. Everyone was in amazement of the beautiful sights of the mountains while hiking up them. 
Upon arrival we were warmly greeted by the children and teachers by song. The young ones were incredibly eager for Rayjon travelers to take their pictures. They were absolutely astonished while after taking their photo, we were able to show them the photograph. Then, after few minutes passed, the children were wanting more to use our cameras to take our pictures, than for us to take pictures of them. Visiting hours came to an end, and it was time for us to view the children's learning environment. The classroom was very well organized and had a friendly atmosphere, yet the  conditions were extremely different from ones that we know. Instead of multiple rooms, one room was split into 3 areas with two grades in each room. Upon asking the children what subject they preferred most, we were surprised that almost all responded with math and French. To end our visit with the children, we played a friendly game of soccer. As well our group had the the pleasure to discuss the challenges and uplifting moments of being a teacher in Haiti. 
After our discussion with the teachers, we made our way to the health clinic where dozens of Haitians lined up waiting to receive medical care. Together we toured through the medical centre and were able to watch the nutrition program in progress. After our touring of all programs, we made our way back down the mountain, which was much easier then the way up. Together, on having this once in a life time opportunity to travel to Haiti, we have a mutual feeling of respect for the daily hard work and dedication of Hatians.

Day 1 - Haiti Awareness Trip - March 2015
We started at 1:30am when our group met up at the Holiday Inn in Sarnia. We loaded ourselves and our luggage into 4 cars and we're off to Detroit. A few hours later and we were through security and at our gate with McDonalds in hand. Next stop Atlanta! A short hour and a half flight later and we were there, we had a three hour layover and some of the girls took advantage and had a little snooze on the floor. Then it was time to board our final plane, next stop Port au Prince!! 
Once we landed the fist thing we all noticed was the wall of heat. Coming from a Canadian winter to a very hot tropical climate was quite the shock to our bodies, and this was just inside. Through a very busy customs and baggage claim we kept our group close. As we approached the last set of doors, the excitement rose and so did the temperature. Walking out we got our first real glimpse of Haiti. Through a crowd of other Haitians, we found Michellet who lead us through a parking lot (where we had to dodge many cars) to our colourful bus. On leaving the airport parking lot we entered quite the traffic jam. "Sidewalks" turned into an extra 2 lanes and motor bikes weaved in and out. After the long journey to Le Xaragua Hotel, just outside of St. Marc, we were given our room keys. 4 flights of stairs with our suitcases in hand, if we weren't ready for a nap before we certainly were now. Before dinner we all watched a beautiful sunset and then got our plates for our first Haitian meal. Following dinner, we had a quick reflection to recap the day. 8:30 and we were all off to bed for some well deserved rest!

Written by Patrica Gladwish-Maloney