4/11/16-A country of “unlimited impossibilities”

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.

 

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Bread from the bakery is baked fresh all throughout the day. This shape of bread is called “digicell”, though no one knows where that name came from.

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Some of the men making turnovers for the bakery.

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%!

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The Women’s Education Center.

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Some of the ladies from the advanced sewing class, their work is hanging up.

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!

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The women learn to sew on these older style of sewing machines. Since they don’t require electricity, this is the type of machine they would most likely use in the Hatian marketplaces after graduation.

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.

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Delcie checking out the tilapia tanks.

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.

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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!

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Sunday in Chambon-4/10/16

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Our team: Laurie, Lauren, myself, Kelly, and Delcie

Today we had the opportunity to be fully immersed in the Haitian culture.  We spent the day in the rural mountain village of Chambone, worshipping at the church there and spending time with the locals.

Our drive on the way out to Chambone took almost an hour, and we got to drive through the streets of Port-Au-Prince on our way.  There are no traffic rules, except maybe that the biggest car wins!  The streets were packed with people and traffic.  We were all amazed at the skill of the Haitian women who could so effortlessly carry their cargo on their heads.  We saw many dressed in their Sunday best, headed to their respective places of worship.  Men were in suits, ladies wore their loveliest, and the little girls–oh, can I even begin to tell you how cute they were–wore their adorable dresses.  Somehow, admidst the dust of the streets and the lack of access to front-loading washing machines, those pretty dresses were bright white and perfectly pressed, the men’s shirts as well.  Among the many vendors in the street selling their wares, there were piles of garbage, standing in stark contrast to the beauty of the mountains in the distance.

As we headed into Chambone, the terrain became more rugged and the ride became bumpier.  We passed the home of the local witch doctor and paused briefly to survey her yard, with voodoo dolls hanging from the trees.  I learned that voodoo is the most common spiritual belief/practice in Haiti.  We passed goats, donkeys, and cows, none of them looking particularly well-nourished.  The people waved and smiled as we passed by, friendly but also interested in the novelty of our crew.

Our team leaders, Frank and Scott, have spent quite a bit of time in Chambone and have developed relationships with the people there.  We saw the pastor pumping water on the road to the church, and Frank stopped the car to say hello and tease the pastor that we would beat him to church!

The church service itself was much longer than what we are used to in North America.  Most of the service was in Creole, but some of it was translated into English for us.  One man got up and talked in Creole for what felt like a good 20 minutes.  I thought that was the sermon, but then Scott told me that was just the community announcements!  Ha!  We had a long way to go.  We also got to witness a baby dedication and participate in communion (P.S–no grape juice in this church, we got the real deal!).  The people were very welcoming, and though we did not all speak the same language, we worshipped the same God.

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The church in Chambone

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This is the school on the church property. 220 children learn here!

The ladies made us lunch, which was delicious and beautifully gracious.  My favorite part was spending time with the children of the village.  At first they were attracted to us because they knew we most likely came bearing gifts.  We did–bracelets, hot wheels cars, and other small trinkets, which they happily scooped up.  After lunch we took them to a small river to swim, and 3 beautiful little girls fought to sit beside me in the truck.  I showed the oldest how to play thumb war, and we played a few other clapping games.  She was 11 years old, but I would have guessed she was around 8 from the size of her.  The littlest one hugged my leg tight the entire ride, and I was grateful that she trusted me in that short car ride to keep her anchored to her seat.  I missed my babies at home.  The children all appeared well-nourished, which Frank and Scott told us is in part thanks to some of the local ministries that help to provide food.

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One of my new little girlfriends

The kids, very unselfconsciously, stripped down to their underpants and jumped in the river to cool off.  They made their own fun with no toys, sliding on the rocks and splashing.  I found myself wishing my kids could play with these little ones, to share in this simple joy, and to share the universal language of play with a child from another part of the world.
Those of you who know me well know that I am not a high-stamina person when it comes to outside stimulation.  It usually doesn’t take too much before I start to shut down and need some introvert time.  I was surprised today by my own curiosity.  I didn’t want to miss anything, and I had so many questions.  I wanted to hear everyone’s story and get to know as many as I could.

Tomorrow we get to take a visit to the museum in PAP to learn a little more about the country’s history.  We will also visit one of Heartline’s properties, which includes their women’s education center and the bakery.

Airporting-4/9/16

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Getting photo-bombed before departure

Well, after a full day of travel, I am happy to report that I made it safely to Port-Au-Prince!  It was a long day, full of very confusing airport rules.  I am the WORST at “airporting”.  Every time I go on a plane I just end up looking like a complete moron.  I decided to embrace it this time, and just tell the personnel up front that I don’t travel much, I am really bad at this, and please don’t yell at me if I make a mistake.  The girl at ticketing gave me the blank stare, but otherwise my honesty was well received and I got the support I needed to make it through.  Aside from a small snafu in the security check with a brand new bottle of specialized bug spray that cost $12 on Amazon that I was forced to throw in the trash, I came out relatively intact with my belongings in tow.

Once we arrived, the sun was already down.  We were driven from the airport in Heartline’s truck.  Check it out:

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Our chariot for the week

I am staying at the Heartline guest house.  It is very safe and secure, in a gated area with security guards and 2 large dogs.  We were fed a meal upon arrival and had some time to settle in and get the lay of the land.  I got to call my babies, which resulted in much weeping (them, not me!).  Everyone pray for Jeff this week, will you?

It is super hot here.  I am working up an Olympic sweat just typing this, even though I am sitting directly in front of a fan.  It is going to be a very drippy week!  Tomorrow we will be heading out to Chambone, which is a rural village where we will be attending church and spending some time with the people  there.  Can’t wait to tell you all more about it tomorrow!

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Prepping and packing

My trip to Haiti is just one week away now!  Yesterday I had the day off work and was able to use a big chunk of it making some much needed preparations.  After I picked the kids up from their morning day camp program, we headed over to InterVol, which is this really cool place in Rochester that sends unused and donated medical supplies to countries in need.  I contacted them several months ago after hearing about them from a friend.  So I set out with my two little helpers!

 

Leah wants to be the “poster girl” for InterVol

InterVol’s mission is “to connect the world’s neediest to materials, people, and opportunities”.  After arriving I was greeted by a nice man who was waiting for us with the surgical instruments we had requested a few months ago.  The kids were a little confused.  These are instruments?  They look like fancy scissors, not like the flutes and trombones we were expecting to see!  It really cracks me up that in their minds they were picturing me packing musical instruments to take on my medical missions trip!

We were told that we could go back to the warehouse, look around, and help ourselves to other supplies that might be useful for our trip.  I had been so curious to see what the warehouse looked like and what they kept in there, so it was very exciting to take a look around.

 

Walls and walls of supplies….

 

All of the flags represent countries that InterVol has shipped to

Anyone who has worked in the medical field knows how much of the things we use go to waste.  It was so wonderful to see a place like this where these unused supplies could be repurposed and put to good use.  It was hard for me to control myself in there, as there was so much to choose from!  I tried to keep in mind that anything I picked up would have to somehow fit in my suitcase!

The kids were enthusiastic helpers, and got to work looking for various items I had pointed out from Heartline’s wish list.  I heard them both expanding their vocabularies as they sounded out some of the big words on the labels.  “Ur-i-nar-y cath-e-tar.  What is that?”  Then, from across the warehouse I heard Nate holler, “Mom, hey Mom!  Do you need BUTT DRAPES?  Because I found some BUTT DRAPES!  Do you think they could use BUTT DRAPES Mom?”

 

What have we here?

 

A 9-year old’s dream come true! Potty humor is everywhere!

We left the butt drapes at the warehouse, in case you are wondering.  But we came out with a great haul:

 

We gathered some IV catheters, syringes, needles, gloves, sutures, surgical scrubs, and surgical (not musical) instruments

 

Then we headed home to add our haul to the growing pile at home.  Leah loves to help, so we set up in the basement and started packing as much as we could into 2 suitcases.  Nate got in on the action too.

 

Here are all the supplies we have been collecting for months!

I started to wonder how we would ever get all this stuff to Haiti!  First we made a huge mess, but after some effort we were able to get everything into 2 suitcases and 2 boxes.  I plan to ship the boxes later this week, and the suitcases I will take with me of course.

 

Suitcase #1, mostly personal care and hygeine items, some toys as well

 

Suitcase #2, all medical supplies!

 

Finished! Now, where will I put my clothes?

 

After packing, we discovered a little care package in the mail from Heartline!  Inside were some luggage tags, a travel journal, sunglasses, and an awesome t-shirt designed just for our team.  It is super fun:


My shirt makes me feel really special, and super excited.   It feels real now!

The kids, of course, had to try the t-shirt on for size too!



Thank you again to everyone who contributed to this effort!  I have been completely overwhelmed by your support and love.  I am so thankful that my friends and family could support me on this journey, whether you donated supplies, gave money, prayed, or just encouraged me and cheered me on, it is all very much appreciated!  Stay tuned!  I travel next Saturday, and I hope to blog while I am there to keep you informed of the day-to-day happenings.  Also, you can watch my hair get crazy frizzy.  That is 100% entertainment right there, trust me!  It will be something like this: