Friday, January 13 - The zooming noise of the fan wakes me up. Electricity! Though it's only 5 AM I quickly get up to turn on the computer and make some coffee. Unfortunately within half an hour the electricity is gone again. The last time we had power, was two days ago. I give up - my blog post will have to wait until I get back to the US.
Arrival - Sunday, January 8
After a really nice evening in Miami with my good friends Barbara and Maarten, I arrive early Sunday morning in Port au Prince. Lucardo is there to pick me up. I am very happy to see him. Lucardo started on December 1st as our KCH program coordinator in Haiti. He has done a fantastic job so far. He grew up at an orphanage himself and experienced many challenges in life. He is super smart, well organized and understand where our students come from.
First stop is the orphanage where my good friend Joanne works. We have known each other since my very first trip to Haiti 14 years ago and it is always wonderful to see her. After visiting her orphanage where we deliver 50 kgs of crayons for her 200 kids (thanks to Abrace and Aline!), we get to the KCH office; a small house with one large office space and two small sleeping rooms. The kitchen is almost finished. There is not much furniture because all our money goes straight to program rather then into expensive furniture.
I love the neighborhood! A bunch of kids come visit us (and continue doing so every evening it turns out) to play on the front porch. Baby chicks wander around in our (mini-) yard and a big fat pig next door greets me every time I walk by. But the very best are the people; super friendly. They seem to be one big family, or at least they treat each other like that. It is quiet and relaxed, almost rural here.
Monday, January 9
We spent the day in the office and a number of KCH students walk in to greet me, bring receipts or school lists and pick up their monthly contribution for school. Many applicants walk in too, for information and to pose the most common question; 'When can I be part of your program?' Since we started KCH in Oct 2010, hundreds of people have approached us for help to continue their education. The waiting list is long and I just wished we had enough money to help everyone! One day, we will. I tell them to be patient and that I will do everything to find more new sponsors. Only with a big grant or a sponsors' commitment can we accept new students.
Tuesday, January 10
In the morning I work with some students on their business plans. They want to finish it so they can apply for micro credit or a small business loan. After our office work is done, Lucardo and I have a meeting with M. Bonhomme, director of ANDC (Academy Nationale Diplomatique et Consulaire), a university where KCH supports four students. M. Bonhomme has become a good friend and supporter of KCH. Thanks to him, one of our students has a full scholarship at his school.
Wednesday, January 11
More students come by and it is great to see them back. Their motivation and enthusiasm is contagious!
I am honored to meet M. Fombrun, one of the Directors of AccessHaiti, the largest internet provider in Haiti. He comes to have a look at the office and I think he is a little shocked about our lack of electricity and internet. He promises to help sort it out, maybe even with an inverter for the office...which would be too good to be true! City power only comes on a few hours every day, on most days. But you never know when and for how long. Without a generator or inverter you can not work...but a generator/inverter is very expensive. We've been lucky with a generator which we could borrow from the house owner, most of the time. But that one is gone now. Getting electricity is my priority number one - and I am hopeful that this problem will soon be solved now :)
In the afternoon I bring four aspiring entrepreneurs from our micro business development program to another organization called Entrepreneurs du Monde (EDM). It is an organization that helps small business on their way to success. My four students present their business plans and get many questions asked in return. It is an exciting meeting; in the end all four are encouraged to participate in the official application procedure. During the next few month they will work with their EDM mentor to present their business plan to a committee. If their plan is approved, they will enter a year long program to start/rebuild their business, with the help of an EDM mentor/social worker. It is going to be super challenging but they are also super motivated and ready to go for it!
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Today it is two years ago that a catastrophic earthquake destroyed the lives of countless Haitian families. More than 300.000 lives were lost, a million people were left homeless. Today, though most of the rubble has been cleared, the consequences of the quake are still painfully visible.
It's a beautiful day, fresh and sunny. I buy my breakfast omelet from the charcoal-grill-lady next door. 'Se moun panou ou ye!' she laughs, meaning something like 'You're one of us, you're part of our family.' It makes me happy; it feels like home here. As I am walking towards an other area where I will attend a memorial service for the earthquake victims, I meet some kind companions. Two little boys on a bike, a lady selling handbags, and an old man, the founder of the Haitian Rotary Club walk along with me. In Haiti you are never alone.
The open air memorial mass by Father Rick Frechette is sober and beautiful. Some people share their heart breaking story from January 12, 2010. People sing and pray. Long lists of names are called out, in honor of the people who lost their lives. And we sit in silence. How do you pick up your life when your husband is gone, your children, your house, your neighborhood?
It is such a sad, sad day. I am glad to spend it with my friend Joanne and her family who are visiting from Holland.
At night, I am in bed early, as usual. Normally there is the sound of fighting dogs, confused roosters, the occasional drums at a voodoo ceremony. Tonight I listen to more singing, more praying, more crying, coming from churches in the distance. There is so much suffering in Haiti, so much pain. Will it ever go away?
I am thinking about some small progress I noticed this week; for the first time since the earthquake. I saw two tent cities cleared. I though 'Great!' - thinking those people have houses now. But in fact, they were sent away with just enough money to pay one year's rent. Many of them apparently moved into other tent cities because it is hard to find a place to live. Or because they just needed the money to feed the family. Or, they actually wanted to stay in the tents because they rented out their own place to another homeless person. It happens. Who knows.
Fact is, that there are still so many tent cities - and very, very few new houses. So many people are suffering. One of our students, who lost both of his parents in the earthquake, told me he sometimes doesn't eat for a few days. He didn't want to ask us for more money because we already give him so much...One of our micro business participants runs her business as a seamstress from a tent. A young woman alone with a sewing machine in a tent. What about security? Hopefully we'll get her a place soon.
Friday, January 13
No internet, again, this morning. I visit the NPFS - St. Damien Hospital where I have a meeting with Dr. Gautier, Director of the community Health Center and HIV program. I am here because Dr. Gautier had asked KCH if we could help a group of HIV+ patients with the financial means to enter trade school. She has many patients in our age group (18-25) who have nothing to do and who are eager to learn and do something with their lives. I would LOVE to help them! After an extensive meeting with the psycholigist and social worker at the HIV program, I promise I will do everything I can to find a grant to finance schooling for 20 young adults. I am excited to get it started! Keep fingers crossed it will work out...
Next I visit a super interesting organization called Double Harvest. It's far out of the city. I enjoy the bumpy motor ride through what feels like the middle of nowhere. The local Project Director, Frantz Angus, gives a tour of their amazing farm, where local people are taught how to become self sufficient in agriculture. I am so impressed. It is a huge, beautiful property where locals can farm on their small lot and the rest of the land is used for growing trees, raising Tilapia and chickens. Frantz kindly offers KCH students who are interested in agriculture the opportunity to participate in his program. I am already looking forward to our future cooperation!
Saturday, January 14 - Jims birthday
Today is one of the highlights of the week - not only because it is my husbands birthday :) - but also because we have a 'career development' seminar planned for today. Seventeen students who are nearly finished with school, are invited to participate. The first session is on how to prepare and present yourself for and during a job interview. The teacher is excellent and it is a fun day, with some hilarious role plays and also many serious moments. One of our students, Jean Ralph comments: 'I really loved the seminar. I learned so many things that I didn't know. These are things we don't learn at school. I feel much more prepared now and ready to apply for a job.'
Sunday, January 15, my last day in Haiti
It's been a succesful and productive week. I've seen all young adults in our program and am delighted with their progress and motivation. What a difference we can make! We are not changing Haiti on a large scale, but we are changing lives of individuals in a big way. Today a small group of students comes over for lunch before my plane leaves. It is fun to hang out with them and have a last chat. This year they will all start (or continue) their community service. Everyone has committed to work at least two days per month as a volunteer for a social cause. Some KCH students work on an organic farm, teach art projects to street kids, help fixing up the KCH office, work with handicapped children or help deprived school children with their homework. I am excited about this KCH side program and hope that they will love and appreciate the experience.
The end of my week in Haiti. I am excited to go home but also sad to say goodbye. I am excited about all the new potential projects that I will be working on in the next few months to expand our program to help an increasing number of people. If you would like to help make a difference, please donate at: http://www.kidsconnectionhaiti.org/
or send a check to:
Kids Connection Haiti
1376 east Capitol st. NE
Washington DC 20003-1533
Your contribution to KCH will go straight to our program in Haiti and will directly impact someone's life!