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Friday, January 23, 2015

RIP, Sister Marie Margaret

It is with deep sorrow that we deliver the sad news that Sister Marie Margaret has died. She served as Sister-in-Charge of St. Margaret's Convent, Haiti for many years, the convent attached to Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Her community embroidered beautiful altar linens including the altar cloth now in use at St. Mary's Cathedral in Memphis, TN. You can read the full announcement from the Sisters of St. Margaret or watch the memorial slides.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church on the fifth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti

On the fifth anniversary of the earthquake Haiti suffered on 12 January 2010

Haiti and her people are survivors – of colonial occupation and a slave economy, of wars, rebellions, and invasions, a long history of corrupt and ineffective government, and when things seemed at their nadir, even of imported disease. Through all the trials and tribulations the world can wield, Haiti continues to respond with creative resilience. The contrast between conditions shortly after the earthshaking of 2010 and today is remarkable – tent cities have largely disappeared, housing stocks are increasing, roads have been repaired and re-laid, and significant new commercial development is evident in Port-au-Prince and other urban centers. Schools are full and busy, even if there are not yet enough seats for all who should be there. Young adults are being trained for employment in tourism, construction, agriculture, health care, and emerging technical fields. Artists are busy creating new works and styles. The contrast is enormous – and today’s reality far exceeds the conditions prevalent before the earthquake. The solidarity and support of the world has made a major difference. Haiti can and should emerge from its status as the least developed nation in the hemisphere, if the world will keep its pledge and stay the course.

The Episcopal Church in Haiti continues to play a major and essential role in this renaissance. The cathedral church in Port-au-Prince was long seen as the spiritual and cultural soul of Haiti. Today, its bells are quiet (in storage), its world-renowned murals largely destroyed (three have been preserved for reuse), and its naked altar platform awaits the cathedral’s rebuilding. The cathedral grounds are lively, with primary and secondary school now serving more children than before, a music school that continues to train internationally renowned choirs and instrumentalists, and a trade school that is rising from the spot where bodies lay for days in the ruins of its former collapse.

The art museum begun many years ago by the diocese is nearby, and houses numerous treasures that exceed display capacity. The nursing school in Léogâne is graduating growing numbers of nurses trained as community health providers. St. Vincent’s school for handicapped children is on the cusp of a major rebuilding effort. The University and trade schools are growing and thriving. The bishops, clergy, and lay leaders continue to provide much-needed direction within Haitian society. In every part of Haiti, The Episcopal Church is healing, teaching, instilling hope, and pointing the way toward the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

Resurrection and hope abound, and not in Haiti alone. That continued hope and movement toward the reign of God are the result of the co-creative partnership of people and nations. Active engagement in one part of the world affects other parts of God’s body, as any community that has sent missionaries, received them, or helped dreams to develop knows well. Transformation by partnership goes in all directions, and it makes more of itself in the process!

This anniversary brings abundant opportunity for thanksgiving. May we be moved to respond in concrete and particular acts of gratitude, and may it redound to the glory of God.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Friday, December 19, 2014

Presiding Bishop Historic Visit to Haiti

Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori traveled to Haiti this week. Read the full article of what see saw and did, along with pictures of Petionville and Northern Haiti. We hope she saw a bit of what we know and love about the people of Haiti.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Aint no use to sit and wonder why, Babe

Thanksgiving Day in Memphis.  Cleaning up the house so we can have a big group for dinner. All my closest friends in the world; all have shared the Haiti experience with me either by going on a trip or taking care of those who do, raising money for the school, spreading the word about our ministry.

As I clean up, I realize that Haiti has infiltrated every room in my house. Scattered items include the still cluttered suitcase on my kitchen floor:
empty water bottle (THAT goes into the dishwasher to be boiled clean)
bug repellent wipes used and unused
Package from Sister Mary Margaret she sent home with me to mail for her (no reliable postal service in Haiti)
Letter from Madame Marc Leon to mail to her friend Solange in Connecticut
Thank you notes from Dieumene and Marilene to Jennifer, for the care packages she sent to them in my suitcase. You see the Haiti US delivery service via suitcase works in both directions.
Crumpled and soiled Sunday bulletin from Holy Trinity Cathedral
Broken piece of tile found in Holy Trinity's courtyard
Hammered tin crosses
Otoscope parts, pregnancy test kits, urinalysis strips and hemocue cuvettes.  A few tongue depressors (throw those out!)
Scraps of paper with email addresses of new friends in Haiti

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Parting memories of our trip

So much happens over the course of one week on these mission trips. Difficult to capture all of it; partly due to my fatigue at the end of the day. Fatigue which builds as the week goes on. Working in the heat saps our energy, as well as carrying all the responsibilities of each day. Did we give the Braille maps to the blind classes teacher yet? No, they are still at the guest house. Did anyone see my water bottle?  Who has the lidocaine?  Does anyone know if we brought any 3 cc syringes?  Where is that extra hand sanitizer you brought? Did you see my black bag in the clinic? I think John has my glasses.  No you gave them to Claire.  Remember there are 4 kids who need Amoxicillin tomorrow.  Remember to give Madame JoAnn a glucometer and the rest of the glucose strips. If we have any extra suitcases left, I promised to give one to JoJo   Let's give the rest of the snacks and granola bars to Alphonse....and on and on it goes. 

Claire is surprised that she so quickly became an integral part of our team. Her music brought joy to the kids during the day and to the team relaxing at the guest house in the evenings. Hearing Dieumene sing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is now one of my all time favorite Haiti memories.  

Sherye worked with many of the teachers on lesson plans and @@@@@@@@@@@@@@
She has been planning this for months and was worried about how she would be received; would she connect with the teachers? Would they be interested in what she had to say?  She came out of those sessions practically singing about her experience; how great everyone was and how they exceeded her expectations.

Before leaving the guesthouse today for the airport we got to visit with Pere Sadoni briefly. Phillip explained his plans for continuing dental care for the children, with the assistance of Dr Samuel Prophete who is Dean of the dental school in PortauPrince. We gave him an envelope stuffed with money collected from all of us. None of the team is returning home with more than $20 in their pockets!  Pere Sadoni said a final prayer to bless our group as we departed. 

As I sit on the plane now, watching  mountains beyond mountains fall away below me, Brittany tells me about getting bitten by mosquitoes while waiting at the airport. She wished out loud that she hadn't packed her bug spray, and Vickie handed her a bug spray wipe.  Mama Vickie. Such a gift to our team. Before she started coming with us 3 trips ago, we were always losing things. Never had our medical cards organized properly. Always needing a paper towel or hand sanitizer, a ziplock bag or something to eat. Now we just ask Mama Vickie and like magic she produces what we need. The Brittany story continues with Brittany pulling her boarding pass out of her pocket to board the plane, and after standing in line a few minutes realizing the mosquito repellent on her hands has managed to wipe off all the numbers on her ticket. She does not know which seat or have proof of which flight she is on. Fortunately her second boarding pass for her connecting flight is undamaged and can be scanned, so she is allowed to board the plane after all.  

We are all more than ready to be home and see our families and loved ones. But we have left behind more than granola bars and vitamins, glucometers and Braille maps. Anyone who comes to St Vincents knows this. So be gentle with us, those of you who have missed us for a week. We may be a little withdrawn, slightly intolerant of the mad shopping culture that fills America in this holiday season.  We carry something with us that we may not be able to explain in words. Not to mention the fact that when we arrive at the airport we will not smell very good! A peculiar mix of sweat, Haiti dust, sunscreen and bug spray.  See you soon!

Susan Nelson

Friday, November 21, 2014

Beach Day

Today we spent a lovely day at Kaliko beach. This is where the St Vincent's kids come for one week of summer camp, called Camp Jacob. Lovely pools as well as a fabulous beach. See our twitter feed for photos. Our team enjoyed "adult beverages" (Mango Rum or Gin and Tonic), cool breezes, lawn chairs under palm frond umbrellas.  Lots of sunscreen. Nonetheless a few sunburned faces and arms by the end of the day, especially the group who went snorkeling.

On the way to the beach we stopped at the memorial site where thousands of people were buried after the earthquake. Sonya Yencer wrote eloquently about our experience, check out Sonya's blog at Go to (copy and paste into your browser).

Beach day is a day to unwind and to enjoy the beauty of Haiti, to realize that not all of Haiti is grinding poverty, that her beaches are as lovely as any in the Bahamas or Jamaica or the Dominican Republic.  

Sitting together on the beach this morning, drinks in hand and a cool breeze on our faces, we started a list of Haiti quotes.  

1. What I like about this breeze is there's not a stink at the end of it
2. When I get home I leave my suitcase outside for 2 days.  That way the smell doesn't get into the house and any critters I brought home have a chance to run away.
3. I drink in two places.  Haiti and the American Society of Microbiology.
4. What is it about my toenails turning brown in Haiti?
5. Haiti is a land of contrasts at every corner.
6. So you have to tie the door shut.  What's your point? (Referring to the door on the bus we ride everyday )
7. Haiti melts my chocolate and melts my heart.

I am happy at the end of the week, knowing we have all done our very best to bring care and healing to the handicapped children at St Vincent's.  Tomorrow we return home to our families and loved ones. We are exhausted, sunburned, and some who have been to  Haiti for the first time will grieve.  It is heart wrenching to leave the children and worry about how they will get enough food, enough attention, enough of everything they need to grow and learn. But in traveling to Haiti all these years I have learned a secret.  The children thrive and grow, pa de pa as they say in Haiti. Little by little. And God takes special care of these children.  What we give during our time in Haiti is only a small part of God's plan for them. 

Susan Nelson

Gifts and Goodbyes

Our last day at St Vincents is always full; things done and left undone as we say in our prayer of Confession. Names of patients we want to see again, to recheck blood pressures or make sure their ailments are improving. Phil carries in two kids on his shoulders who need amoxicillin for their dental infections. Teachers drop by to ask for something for headaches, for "grip" (Cold symptoms), for a pain somewhere they forgot to mention to me yesterday while they were being seen. Vickie diligently sorts thru the medical cards to find the appropriate record from earlier in the week, sometimes from the same day. Late yesterday afternoon we ran out of our 5x7 preprinted medical cards and started using slips of paper for our patient records.   
The most interesting patient we saw today was a young woman with a badly infected leg. I remember her from two years ago! She has a chronic infection and swelling covering most of her lower leg below the mid calf.  Vickie, a microbiologist, suspects a chronic fungal infection and I think she's right. The patient has no pain from the wound.  We cleaned it and dressed it with antibiotic ointment and gave her  two shots of Rocephin. The shots were more painful than the wound itself!  While Kara, Ashley and I worked on her leg, JoJo told Sherye about Haitian voudou. Apparently the woman has an appointment this week with a Haitian voudou priest. She believes this wound happened because someone cursed her. The Haitian priest can cure her by casting out the evil spirit. JoJo told us that when we come back to Haiti next March we will see a miracle, then we will know she was cured by voudou.  Maybe so, but just in case I plan to bring some equipment to do a biopsy and culture and make a proper diagnosis. 
Phil and John went to meet Dr Samuel Prophete, a faculty member at the Dental School in Port Au Prince. Sounds like a terrific meeting; discussion of how to get St Vincents kids into the weekly dental clinics. Phil has found a tremendous amount of infections, cavities and more serious problems in the children.  I greatly appreciate his hard work in difficult circumstances bringing a service to these children they have not had since the earthquake. (2010)
My favorite part of the day was with Frenel. I have a large photo of this young boy reading Braille, in my office. One of my patients who is also blind, has heard about my work at St Vincents and gave me a set of Braille playing cards. Sitting with Frenel and Mackenson on the steps in the school courtyard, I showed Frenel the difference between the 4 of clubs and the 4 of diamonds, and so on. He quickly caught on, so I taught the two boys to play Go Fish. In Kreyol mostly. Except for the "punch line". Mackenson kept saying Go First!
Soon after that we were invited to listen to the handbell choir.  The group of 10 players are all blind, led by Professor Simeon. They played OH SUSANNAH in my honor, and also a song about Noah's Ark complete with animal sounds performed by a student named Geraldo. A true cut-up. 

Another gift was from Rochelle who brought her newly tuned violin to play for me.  Blessed Assurance again, I told Claire that is the hymn of this week since we also heard it on Sunday (see earlier blogpost)
As the afternoon wore on, Vickie handed out the last of the stickers and piwilis (lollipops). Jaden and Phil played soccer with some of the boys, Ashley and Brittany sang and danced with the girls, especially Maille who is in a wheelchair. Sonya had a Zentangles session with a group including Marie Carmelle, Adrian (both in wheelchairs) and Bergens (who draws with his feet). 
Finally Claire brought Dieumene to sing for us a song they practiced all week. Leonard Cohens' Hallelujah. Mackenson and Claire played their guitars while Claire and Dieumene sang. Dieumene has a lovely, sultry voice and we were all quite moved by her performance.   
I give these details because I want to impart the rich experience we all have when working at St Vincents. After only one week we feel like these are our family. 

Saying goodbye to these dear folks is difficult. It only gets easier for me because I know I am coming back soon, in March. Claire was quite undone by the experience. I remember my first time leaving St Vincents I grieved for a month at least. 

Knowing the children will be here when I return makes it possible for me to leave. 


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pran Swen-Take Care

Many times today I used this Kreyol phrase. As the teachers and school staff came to see me one by one, all said "Mesi" or Thank You as they left.  I wanted to say "thank YOU  for taking care of all the children" so I asked JoJo how to say this in Kreyol. "Mesi pou pran swen tout timoun "
So many ways the staff takes care of these 250+ handicapped children. Teaching the blind to read Braille, the deaf to learn sign language, the children with missing or deformed limbs to get an education and learn confidence.  We can always spot the new students because they often don't know sign language or don't know how to behave or to take turns.  A particular student named Woodlee was quite difficult to handle two years ago when he first came. Margaret Squire, who lived with her husband Bill Squire at St Vincents for two years, told me then that Woodlee would be fine after living at St Vincents for a while. She was so right! Now Woodlee is much calmer; doesn't push and shove other children to get his way. Dashnika was the same way when we first met her some 3-4 trips past. She was always mad!  Now she smiles and plays with the other children and doesn't yell or cry all the time. 

This teaches me that even though this school seems very poor and to American eyes needs better facilities  and better books, supplies and is chronically underfunded, the staff takes loving care of these children. Our teams only visit for one week two times a year. We bring medicine and school books and playtime with our toys and music, but the love in St Vincents is not brought there by the Americans.  We only hope to show the children and staff that their stories are not forgotten, that they bring joy and hope to us and remind us that treasure can be found in a classroom of blind kids singing silly songs. 

Susan Nelson