We did so much today, and learned so many things, that I barely know where to start to tell you about it. First, I have to tell you that being here is so much different than reading about it, seeing pictures, or even hearing someone talk about it. I think that coming here, being in the culture, meeting the people, and seeing with my own eyes has given me a much greater perspective, one I will reflect on more in the coming weeks. For now, I will tell you as much as I can about our comings and goings.
After battling the normal morning traffic, we started our day with a tour of the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, also known as MUPANAH. There, we learned about the history of Haiti. Our guide gave us a very detailed tour through Haiti’s difficult struggle for political independence and freedom from slavery, all the way back to Columbus. The museum actually has the anchor of the Santa Maria displayed, which was just mind-blowing!
After our history lesson, we headed to one of Heartline’s properties, which they affectionately call the “OK ranch”. We had lunch and got a tour around the property, so we could see all of the different ministries that take place there. We had the pleasure of meeting with a small group of young men who had just graduated from the men’s discipleship program, and got to hear about how the program had impacted their lives. One of the men, in speaking of the more difficult aspects of his culture, described Haiti as a country of “unlimited impossibilities”. I can’t stop thinking about that.
We visited the bakery, which was much busier than I expected. The bakery at Heartline uses 1000 pounds of flour per day! They mostly make bread, but also make pizza and some pastries as well. Some of the bread is sold to street vendors to sell, and some is sold out of Heartline’s store-front. The bakery also provides food for the guest house and the maternity center, and any leftover bread is donated. The bakery has created jobs for local Haitians, and Heartline also uses it to teach men in the discipleship program job skills that they can use to make themselves more marketable after graduation.
The Women’s Education Center (WEC) is also on this property. When it first opened, Heartline offered the educational programs at no cost. They found that in doing this, the people did not perceive the program as valuable, because it was free and the students did not hold any stake in their success. So they now charge tuition, but it costs slightly less than comparable programs in the area. The women all take literacy first, and then can also choose to do their 9-month certificate program in either cooking, artisan crafts, or sewing. This gives the women the marketable skills they need to take care of their families. The women who graduate can go on to take the nationally accredited exams in their field. The passing rate for the graduates of the WEC is >99%!
Apparently it is very common in Haiti for women to be unmarried with many children (often of different fathers). Having no skills or education means that they, of course, have no way to support their children. Haitian fathers are typically uninvolved with raising and supporting their children, even though it is a source of pride for a man to say that he has fathered many children. I learned today that it is relatively uncommon for couples to get married, because prior to marrying a couple is required by law to own a headboard (yes, as in a headboard on a bed!) and a home. As this is financially unattainable for so many young people, marriage is not the norm. Bottom line: women need to have ways to support themselves and their families!
The OK ranch was peppered with livestock, which are mostly kept as “pets”. There is a sizable tilapia farm which is completely self-sustainable. The tilapia are farmed onsite in large barrels, and once the fish are fully grown they are used to feed the women in the maternity center program, who receive a meal each time they visit the MC for the prenatal program. The fish provide valuable nutrients for their growing babies. The nutrient-rich water that comes out of the tilapia tanks is then used to water the adjacent garden, which provides another source of nutrition for the MC women, as well as for the Heartline missionaries and staff.
Our last major stop was to the Ryan Epps Home for Children. We had an opportunity to spend time with the children, hand out some hygiene items, kick a ball around, and give lots of hugs. These were probably the most well-behaved children I have seen in a long time. Such sweethearts– it was a joy to meet them. It was heartbreaking to find out that none of these children can be adopted, because they don’t have the proper papers. So, Haiti won’t let them out, and no other country will let them in without a parent signing a formal relinquishment of parental rights, or documented proof that both of the parents are deceased. I met the most beautiful little girl with pink ribbons in her hair. Her name was Ange, and she was 3 years old. She locked eyes with me the whole time but was too shy to talk much. We also met a little one with a severe developmental delay and obvious medical problems. She was very hypotonic and globally delayed. Health care resources in Haiti are limited, and her medical history is unknown, so the staff did not know her underlying diagnosis. They loved her dearly and were taking excellent care of her with the resources they did have. I thought about all of the disciplines that would be involved with her care if she lived in North America–PT, OT, speech, nutrition, orthotics, neurology, genetics, to name a few.
We then got stuck in traffic for about 2 hours on the way to dinner, a common occurrence here. I feel like a lot of the traffic issues in Port-Au-Prince would improve if more people rode bicycles. That said, the road conditions and terrain being what they are in PAP, I can’t imagine anyone surviving very long on a bicycle! Sorry Jeff honey, not a good place for your bike!