We had a more laid-back day today. After breakfast we piled into the truck and headed out of PAP into the mountains to the Baptist Haiti Mission. The ride up the narrow, bumpy mountain road was quite possibly the most terrifying ride ever, second only to the time my dad tried to drive up a dirt mountain road in Hawaii when we were kids that was so narrow he had to put the car in reverse in order to get back down. But, I digress. It was a good 10 degrees cooler at the top, which was a refreshing change after the stifling heat and humidity we had grown accustomed to this week. Check out the view:
The Baptist Haiti Mission has been in existence since the 1940’s, started by the Turnbull family. As we sat down in the small cafe to eat lunch, an elderly man with a walker approached our group. Turns out, it was Wally Turnbull, one of the founders! What are the chances? It takes forever to get your food after ordering, but Wally kept us entertained with stories about the history of the BHM. When the Turnbulls first arrived in the late 1940’s, the people living in the mountain villages were starving. The terrain was rocky and they had no way to grow food or support their families. Often, the parents in the family would starve to death making sure that their children got what little food was available. Wally and his father taught them terrace gardening, which is now a way of life up on the mountain. They taught them to compost their trash to feed their gardens, instead of burning it. The people can now grow their own food and feed themselves. The school that was started at the BHM initially had 22 students, and has now grown to serve 68,000 students!
There is a hospital on the site, which we had an opportunity to walk through. I felt extremely uncomfortable walking through the hospital, like I was intruding. These were real people with real issues, and here I was taking a tour like I was visiting a zoo. I wish I could have spoken the language so I could have made more of a connection with some of the people, rather than just saying hello and nodding at them sympathetically. That said, I am so glad I was able to see this hospital. Even just thinking about it, writing about it, my eyes well up. There was a huge line to get in, people just sitting and waiting in the hallway. It is common in Haiti to wait in line for days to be seen at the hospital, and even after getting to the front of the line, people sometimes get turned away if there is no room. There were 3 main rooms, plus an operating room. One room for the women, one for the men, and one for the children. Within each room, the beds are lined up in rows, much like the one-room hospital wards of the distant past. The stench is overwhelming. When we stepped into the room with the children, I had to fight back tears. I can’t imagine one of my kids receiving care in a place such as this. My heart went out to these kids, and also the mothers keeping watch at their bedside. Though I am shocked by the conditions at this hospital, I know the staff there must be doing the best they can with limited resources. The only source of income for this hospital is from the fee-for-service that is charged to those who receive care.
On a less serious note, we got to do some shopping later in the afternoon! We found a few treasures at the street markets outside the Mission, and then hopped in the truck for our ride toward death descent down the mountain. We stopped at the coolest place, called Rebuild Globally. There is an awesome store there called Deux Mains that makes flip flops from recycled tires. The flip flops are made right on site. In addition to recycling tires, the business provides well-paying jobs for Haitians.
The factory employs 20 full-time and 5 part-time employees. Minimum wage in Haiti is around $5 per day. The factory pays its workers 150-200% minimum wage, which has allowed every one of its employees to be able to afford to live in a permanent structure rather than a tent, and send their children to school. It was so cool to get to see how they make their shoes. The finished product is adorable, comfortable, stylish, and I may or may not have spent way too much money there! Tell my husband when the bill comes that it was for a good cause! Anyhow, you don’t have to go to Haiti to purchase their products. They are available online here. All of the merchandise is still made in Haiti but will ship from their U.S. warehouse in Miami. Deux Mains also makes black closed-toe shoes for orphans in Haiti, which is a requirement for attending school. Here are some pictures of the shoes being made:
In the evening, after dinner, our team had a chance to debrief and brainstorm about what’s next. I am not sure at this point what will come out of this trip for each of us, or for us as a team. There were some excellent ideas thrown out about different ways we could support the orphanages and possibly make some trips back to do some more health promotion and medically supportive interventions with them. It is exciting to think about. I am trying not to get to ahead of myself, and for now just stay open, be quiet, and listen.