She moves closer to have a good look at the machine. Starts giggling when the money comes out. Watches my moves very carefully. Credit card in – “what is this, a tiny bank?” money comes out. “I want a card like that!” A KCH student, single mom of three, part time job, aspiring entrepreneur - she has never seen an ATM.
Less than four hours from Washington DC and a world of difference. Here, in Haiti, most (I'd say > 99%) of the people don't use ATM's. They don't have bank accounts. They don't have money. Hundreds of thousands of tiny houses packed on a hill, houses each one the size of our smallest bedroom. If you are 'lucky' that is. Because if you're not, you're staying in a tent, or worse: on the street. I spent a few days in Haiti last week and though quite used to the scenery after 15 years of visiting the country, it is still mind boggling to me why we - with our abundance of everything - can not do more to help Haitian people create a healthier, wealthier, more democratic, more globally educated nation.
Monday, May 7th I arrive in Haiti where Lucardo and Chilet are waiting for me at the airport. We go straight to the bank in a borrowed car with an ever dying battery. A simple solution (hitting the battery with a rock) works every time. We spent four and a half hours waiting – yes mostly just waiting – at the bank. Just to get a signature added to the account and pick up some cash. Welcome to Haitian bureaucracy!
We’ve been lucky. In the last few days, tons of rain have destroyed the roads, homes and cars. Our office patio outside has been flooded in mud but at least we didn’t get half a mountain on top of us, like some other people. Weeks of rainfall have damaged roads and houses. Traffic is crazier than ever. It is so sad, it seems there is always another problem to deal with. With the rain, also cholera and malaria are at a peek again.
Tuesday, after picking up a much better car, courtesy of M. Fombrun, we have a meeting with the new students. I already love them. They are so enthusiastic and grateful and full of hope with the perspective of going back to school and creating new opportunities for their future. It just warms my heart and makes me so happy and proud that with our little effort we can do so much to help at least some individuals. Though saddened by their tragic life stories, I feel inspired by their enthusiasm.
Wednesday – Working with Lucardo on accounting skills… Meeting with the landlord, who promises to dig a cistern so we don’t have to climb up on the roof anymore to fill up the tank with buckets. KCH Students promise to help digging and they will start next week. Yay! Running water is on the way.
In the afternoon we have a few individual meetings with students. One of them is applying for a grant for university and we are working together on his papers. I am humbled by his words:
" Being born in Haiti and living in one of the poorest areas in Port-au-Prince, has greatly affected my vision on life. I see youth being corrupt, using drugs, and caring about themselves only. I decided I don't want to live like that and I want to serve to other young people as an example and show the innocent that there is an opportunity to create an honest and better way than what they see on the streets. Still - Haiti is a beautiful country and I am proud to be Haitian. We have a culture where we can live together, understand each other, and help one another, in spite of our weak financial situation. I think that being a Haitian is not a fatality - we have struggled against inhumane conditions for a long time. We know how to keep our heads up and face poverty and one day we'll emerge from misery."
Thursday. Office work to be done, a few hours of electricity, thankfully. But then we are cut off again. We have to find a new solution. The generator which we recently installed is great but the fuel expensive. We need an inverter so that we can generate more electricity for the generator so it can be more economically/fuel efficient. Complicated and a real problem. Does anyone have $2000 extra so we can buy an inverter? Anyone?
Off to see Beatrice, the woman who makes and coordinates a necklace business. We visit her house and I am shocked about the level of poverty. I knew but I didn’t know how bad it was. She shows us the place where they create the necklaces, a church made from plastic sheets and some wooden sticks. Bloody hot inside, no airco, no electricity for a fan. But it is a joy to see the ladies work on their jewelry. They have so much fun working together! Back in the car, to visit Amos’ new room to be. He is so poor and has gone through so much in the last two years, including losing both parents, being abused by a relative and living on the street. He is a nice, gentle guy and all he wants is to get back to school and become an agronomist. I -with the help of KCH donors- will do everything to help him get there. His new home, is down a valley, then up a mountain, hundreds (a thousand even?) of steep steps like a labyrinth – is not more than a tiny room with nothing in it. Not even a window but the lucky young man points out there is a tiny balcony, space for one chair. Quite unusual in that area! He is delighted. After having lived on the streets for two years, he finally has a place to call home.
Back to the office where the ‘old’ students are waiting for an informal get together. We have chicken and rice and chat and laugh. We discuss the students' commitment to do community service. They have good ideas and many have already started volunteering; making art from recycled bottles, organizing soccer tournaments for poor kids, mentoring younger kids, etc. Their ideas and efforts are amazing. No matter how little one owns, it is surprising how much can be given to others!
KCH is a small non-profit organization, helping young adults in Haiti create more stable and economically independent lives. We rely on the kindness of volunteers and the generosity of people like you. Interested in learning more or contributing to our cause? Please visit www.kidsconnectionhaiti.org Thank you!