Processing:  Little by little

During our last few days in Haiti my roommate said that she felt like she was in some kind of suspended state, like when you’re waiting for a webpage to load and just watching that annoying circle go around and around.  There’s never much time to think or process while we are there and actually in it.  But we know that the emotions, the changes in our perspective, the shades of grey that start to cover over what was once black and white are all there, just waiting to download.  I have been home for about a week now, and the download is still trickling in, little by little, in between the busyness of family life.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sit in a decompression chamber for 24 hours after my trip, which would have been really helpful.  I was just thrown right back into life and work and parenting and all that craziness.

This daily meditation popped into my inbox the other day from Richard Rohr, who is a Franciscan monk and one of my favorite teachers right now.  It seemed fitting for me, pondering the issues of social justice within the larger framework of my faith:

Francis of Assisi taught us the importance of living close to the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts in society. The outer poverty, injustice, and absurdity around us mirror our own inner poverty, injustice, and absurdity. The poor man or woman outside is an invitation to the poor man or woman inside. As you nurture compassion and sympathy for the brokenness of things, encounter the visible icon of the painful mystery in “the little ones,” build bridges between the inner and outer, learn to move between action and contemplation, then you’ll find compassion and sympathy for the brokenness within yourself.

Each time I was recovering from cancer, I had to sit with my own broken absurdity as I’ve done with others at the jail or hospital or sick bed. The suffering person’s poverty is visible and extraverted; mine is invisible and interior, but just as real. I think that’s why Jesus said we have to recognize Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. It was for our redemption, our liberation, our healing—not just to “help” others and put a check on our spiritual resume.

I can’t hate the person on welfare when I realize I’m on God’s welfare. It all becomes one truth; the inner and the outer reflect one another. As compassion and sympathy flow out of us to any marginalized person for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 108-110.

In Haiti, it’s not hard to find brokenness.  There is greed, there is violence, there is darkness, there is homelessness, hunger, sickness, and pain.  Not so different from my own country.  As privileged as we are, we don’t get to escape the human condition.  It is a different flavor, but it is the same brew.  As Mama T said, “Calcutta is everywhere, if only we have eyes to see”.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the social, economic, and cultural nuances at play in Haiti.  I have so much to learn.  But mostly I am learning more about my own self.  Every time I see something that looks broken, regardless of whether I stand in the dusty streets of Port-au-Prince or on my own green lawn which is slowly being overtaken by crabgrass, I am learning to look inward first–to hold up the mirror.  I’m not good at it yet.  I would rather turn the mirror the other way and spout my opinion about what others (be it government, society, institutions, or individuals) need to change, than to stare hard at what is looking at me right in the face.

The processing is going to take a while.  It’s almost too much to do all at once, like staring directly into the sun.  I take one piece out at a time and turn it over a few times, carry it around in my pocket, then look at it again later.  Each time I see something new.  Or something really old, but in a new way.

Photo credit: Amanda Ellison

I haven’t been able to answer very well when people ask me, “how was your trip?”.  It was a lot of things, but it’s not easy to sum up in a few neat sentences.  I’m just going to carry it around in my pocket for a bit longer and let it all percolate, little by little.


7/6/17: Here, there and everywhere for our last full day

Today was our last full day in country before we set out on our journey home.  Our medical clinic is done for this trip and was an excellent learning experience for all of us, and seemed to be well-received by the communities we were serving.  Our team members from Alabama consisted of 2 nurse practitioners, one RN, several firefighters with EMT and disaster response experience, a nursing student, and many non-medical people who helped support the medical clinic in various ways throughout the week.  Our ladies team was mentioned in my post yesterday.


Team members from Calvary Baptist Church in Alabama

Given the size of this group, we split up today and went in different directions.  I went with the ladies team, and we travelled all around with the primary goal of visiting some very special children.  Some of the ladies on our team have sponsored children in the area, and one of the most exciting things on this trip for them was to go and see those children!

We headed out first to Corail, which is one of the largest post-earthquake communities outside of Port-au-Prince.  The roads heading into Corail are much more passable by motorcycle than they are by the Post-Apocalyptic School Bus, so the ride was terrifying interesting.  One of our IMF employees calls Corail home, and he told us that when it rains, the roads flood and he has to get off his moto, roll up his pants, and take off his shoes to walk home through the flooded streets.

We met the little girl and her mother at the school she attends.  The school coordinator was so welcoming to our group and spoke excellent English.  We were told she previously worked at the palace as an officer.  She works with 5 dedicated teachers, and together they educate 80 children from preschool up to 2nd grade.  Here is a picture of one of the classrooms:


Classroom in Corail

One of the very fun things we have been able to do (yesterday and today) is to go and visit some places that are committed to empowering the Haitian people through education, job training, and job creation.

Let me introduce you to Jolina.  Doesn’t her smile make you want to smile?


Jolina, director of sales at Deux Mains designs

Jolina is the director of sales at Deux Mains Designs, which is the for-profit enterprise of REBUILD globally, a non-profit organization in Haiti that exists to break the cycle of poverty by offering job training, education, and dignified living wages for its workers.  It was founded shortly after the earthquake of 2010.  Jolina was their first employee!  She spoke to us while we were there about what it has meant to her to have a job that not only allows her to provide for her family, but has also allowed her to buy property and start her own business on the side.  She is a phenomenal, strong woman.

All of the items at Deux Mains are completely drool-worthy.  They use recycled tires to make the most beautiful shoes, sandals and bags.  All of the materials–from the tires to the glue to the thread–are sourced in Haiti, and the workers are paid a fair living wage with opportunities for education and promotion to help lift them out of the cycle of poverty.  REBUILD also works with refugees at the Haiti-Dominican border offering job training and income opportunities.  You can shop online for their products if you like them.  They have a warehouse that ships out of Miami, but rest assured that all of their items are ethically and lovingly handmade in Haiti.  I can attest that their flip-flops are both super comfortable and beautiful, and since I bought them on my trip last year they have become one of my favorite summer wardrobe staples.  They run true to size.  Our group of women collectively spent about $1000 at Deux Mains, and Jolina started dancing!  She told us that the money we spent would pay for approximately 3 weeks of salaries for their employees!

We also had the opportunity to visit Papillon, another socially conscious business created to stimulate the Haitian economy by providing job training, employment and support for Haitians.



From left:  Sarah, Amanda, Jane, me, Debbie, Marth, Makayla, Denise, Heidi, Riley, and Janet

One of their goals in doing this is to specifically provide employment and educational opportunities for Haitian parents so that they can support their children and not have to abandon them to orphanages because of extreme poverty. I did not get to visit Papillon on my last trip, and I loved it!  They have beautiful, hand-crafted jewelry, t-shirts, bags, home decor, pottery, and much more, all made on-site.  We were given a tour, and we got to see where all the magic happened.


Pottery room


They make beautiful necklaces and bracelets form beads that are crafted from strips of cereal boxes, then rolled and varnished.


Someone please tell my husband he can’t get mad at me for shopping.  I supported the Haitian economy a lot while I was here.  I was just doing my part to make the world a better place!

Our final stop today was back to the village of Chambon to visit another one of our ladies’ sponsored children.  He was waiting for us on the side of the road with his mom, where we make the turn off the main highway onto the rocky road leading to the village.  He sprinted to the bus and excitedly ran toward us, waving and smiling, as Martha launched herself down the stairs of the PASB to embrace him.  It was so precious to get to witness this interaction.  This is the second time Martha has been able to come visit him and his mom.  They climbed in the bus and we drove down the the river, where we played and splashed with the kids of the village for awhile.




We said our goodbyes and headed back for the night.  We spent some time after dinner organizing all of the leftover medical supplies to be placed into storage for future trips.

Tomorrow we travel again.  I need to be pressure-washed and soaked.  Can’t wait to see my crew!




7/5/17: Medical clinic day 3

We had another productive day in our medical clinic.  We were able to provide care in two different locations today, and by the end of the day we had seen about 85 kids! Phew! I know you love to see beautiful faces, so here they are:


Had to pull the smile out of this one…


Look at all these handsome boys!


What a goof ball


If you’re going to play the kazoo, it should definitely be a bright pink lip-shaped kazoo.

For my medical friends who may be curious about the kinds of things we are seeing, mostly the children are pretty healthy.   We have been seeing relatively minor things such as ringworm, uncomplicated infections, lots of umbilical hernias (I am guessing the prevalence of worms/parasites in this population creates more pressure on the abdominal wall making this more common, but if anyone has a better explanation please chime in!), asthma, GERD, some dental caries, anemia, asthma, eczema, and the like.

We have some quite a few team members that are not medical professionals, and they have been so important to the success of our clinic.  Also, they get to have most of the fun, if I’m being totally honest.  These ladies get to play with the kids–and when I say play, I mean PLAY.  I’m talking sack races and soccer games and manicures and lots of loving and giggling.  I can hear it going on out there, and I just know that our interactions with these kids are so much better because of what they do.

Some of our awesome Canadian ladies who love to play with the kids!

I know tonight’s update is a little short and boring, but I’m exhausted.  So let’s conclude with a picture of a peacock and a turkey just, you know, hanging out.





7/4/17:  Medical clinic day 2

Good evening friends!  I am homesick for my family tonight.  Still, we had a successful second day at our medical clinic.  We worked with another local children’s home and set up our clinic in the same location as yesterday.  We were able to do well-child checks on about 40 kids today!  Everything flowed very smoothly after working out some minor kinks from yesterday, which was great to see!

I had the privilege of visiting this particular children’s home last year on my previous trip.  We were asked not to take pictures of the kids, so let me paint you a verbal picture.

What wonderful kids.  Polite with sweet smiles and straight white teeth, they told me about what they liked to do and what they enjoyed in school.  Most of them were so well-mannered that when I asked them how the albendazole tasted (this is a deworming medicine that tastes super yucky and smells even worse!), they would politely tell me it was “good”.   Most of the children were very healthy, with only a few minor illnesses to treat.  Overall I have been encouraged by the fact that most of the children we have seen have been pretty healthy.  That’s how it should be.  That’s how we want to keep it.

I had a great conversation on the bus today with one of the coordinators from CHI Haiti who is working with us for the week.  We talked about how the health care system in Haiti works.  There really is no primary care system currently in place in Haiti.  People do not have a doctor that knows them and follows them with the goal of keeping them healthy.  When people are sick (and often people wait until they are very sick), they go to the hospital.  When children need vaccines, the parent brings them to one of the public hospitals and stand in line to be seen.   There is also a strong vodou presence in Haiti and many people visit a witch doctor instead of, or in addition to, a physician.

In order to address the need for primary care, Community Health Workers (CHW’s) are often trained to stand in the gap.  CHW’s are lay-people who are trained by various organizations to be a resource in their community for health care needs.  They do things like teach pregnant moms about breastfeeding, or make sure that patients with tuberculosis take their medications.  Our friends at CHI train CHW’s and we look forward to learning more about this from them.

After our clinic, we had some free time to visit the tin market, which is a must-see if you are ever in PAP.  You can watch the artisans at work also.  Here are a few tin market creations:


We then went to Haiti Design Co for a little shopping and browsing.  HDC is a sweet little boutique that is also passionate about creating opportunities for jobs and job training in Haiti through beautiful design.  They sell jewelry, handbags, clothing, and other hand-made items.  Such gorgeous stuff, but not in my budget for today.  I’m holding out for another place we are going later this week!

Haiti Design Co

There is so much beauty in Haiti.  I think because it is a third-world country, we focus on the things that are not so beautiful, like the trash overflowing in the streets, the crime, and the corruption.  Indeed, there are some ugly things.  However, I also see beauty.  Today I saw beauty in the trees, some overflowing with mangoes, and others dripping with pink and red flowers.  I saw beauty in the sweet smiles of the children I met today.  I saw beauty in their house mother, who loves those kids and protects them fiercely.

Tomorrow is our last day of clinic, then a free day to see some things and wrap a few things up before we leave.


7/3/17: Medical clinic day 1

My feet are swollen.  I have full-on cankles. My legs are several shades darker than usual even though I haven’t really been in the sun.  It won’t wash off, so I’m pretty sure I have a semi-permanent dirt tan that has leached into my dermis.  Even so, totally worth it.  

We had a great day.  We set out early but not early enough to dodge the PAP traffic.  There was a vendor carrying bananas on his head that was way faster than the post-apocalyptic school bus during rush hour.  But we made it to the HAC eventually and got to work setting up the clinic while the bus went to pick up the kids from the orphanage.

We had to wait quite a while for our guests of honor to arrive, because again, traffic.  Plus, 27 kids and their caretakers on a school bus.  You do the math.  We cheered when they arrived!  

They don’t leave the orphanage much so it was quite an adventure for them to get on the bus and come spend the day with us.  We had some of our team playing downstairs while we cycled the kids through the clinic upstairs.  

Our purpose was to perform well checks but also be able to treat any simple illnesses, and identity anyone needing a referral for a more chronic issue.  This little baby (above) came in looking pretty sick.  His house mom said he had been having diarrhea for a week.  He was lethargic, dehydrated, and pretty much had the “wet dishrag” look about him.  Thankfully he was not vomiting and was able to be rehydrated orally.  By the end of the day…

…totally new kid.  Playing, peeing, the whole nine.  Thankful that we didn’t need a higher level of care for this little guy. 
The rest of the kids looked really good!  Everyone got deworming medicine (parasites are very common in close living quarters and can cause nutritional deficiencies), vitamins, and a few got prescriptions for some minor things.  

We had some wonderful people join us from Community Health Initiative (CHI) Haiti.  CHI is helping us as we learn to do this work in a culturally sensitive, efficient, safe, and sustainable manner.  

On the left is Dr. Ben, who is a Haitian physician and was a great asset to our team today!  On the right is a coordinator from CHI.  His last name is Danger so he is affectionately nicknamed Dr. Danger by the CHI team.  We had a moment of confusion this morning after I met him and thought he was an actual doctor, and almost got him set up with a stethoscope and exam table! 😆

Everything is packed up for the night and we return tomorrow to do it again.   Here are a few more pictures from our day!

In the play yard at FREM

Pharmacy set up

Oral rehydration!

Little buddy

Kids playing with Debbie