Google+ WTN Haiti Partnership: December 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Message From Kesner Ajax

Dear colleagues, partners, brothers and sisters,

I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas. The holiday season is a time for us to remind one another how grateful we are for life's many blessings. I am grateful for each of you and the support you give to our many schools throughout Haiti, (pre-school, elementary, secondary, high school, music, handicap, trade, agriculture and college) our hospitals, our clinics, our projects, our church’ reconstruction, our teachers, colleagues, and congregations. Thank you for your financial support, donations, dresses, toys, and especially your prayers and spiritual support to the whole diocese of the Episcopal Church of Haiti.

Without your generosity, we could do nothing.

It is my wish that the holiday season will bring you closer to your families and to God. I pray for a happy and healthy new year for each of you.

In Peace,

Kesner Ajax

The Rev. Kesner Ajax
Executive Director, Bishop Tharp Institute (BTI)
Partnership program coordinator, Episcopal Diocese of Haiti
Priest in Charge, Ascension Church, Beraud.

Mailing address:
c/o Agape Flights acc# 2519
100 Airport Ave

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Randy's reflections on Nov trip to Haiti

Randy McCloy is a Gastroenterology physician in Memphis Tennessee. He also serves as a deacon at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion. Here is his reflection written shortly after returning from our recent trip.

December 2011: Who Are We After Haiti

The week following Thanksgiving, my son, Kellar, a fourth-year medical student, and I joined parishioners Sherye Fairbanks and her daughter, Tess, and John Mutin on a mission trip to Haiti. The group was organized by Dr. Susan Nelson and other members of the WestTennessee Haiti Partnership, including Deacon Drew Woodruff and Ruthie Lentz. The visit was to St. Vincent School for Handicapped Children, and the purpose was to offer the children and staff members as much as we could medically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our group totaled 18 people, and included another physician, aged 89, who saw patients every day; a doctor of physical therapy, who was very helpful to so many kids with physical deformities; at least two priests and one other deacon, as well as volunteers whose sole motivation was to help out wherever needed. Most of us felt we entered the country as relative strangers, but left there as very good friends. Three plane rides and a long bus trip from the airport made for a long first day of travel, and some of us likely were outside of our comfort zone, but no one complained and all adjusted to living conditions far inferior to U.S. standards.Some facts about Haiti: it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with 80% ofthe population living under the poverty line, and most Haitians living on under two dollars a day. There is an enormous gap between the few wealthy and the vast majority who are poor;1% of the population controls 50% of the country's wealth. Health-wise, 50% of children have received no vaccinations; only 40% of Haitians have any access to basic health care; the incidence of tuberculosis and malaria is very high, and thousands die each year from these potentially curable diseases; 75% of households do not have running water. I could go on, but you get the picture, and that is enough grief for one day. About St. Vincent school: it was founded in 1945 by Sister Joan Margaret, and prior to the earthquake of January 2010, there were over 350 students. That number has been reduced to a little over 200 now, and most are boarded at the school. Many are orphans, some having just been dropped off at the school entrance by a parent unable to care for their child, feeling that this method of abandonment was better than watching the baby starve to death. These orphaned children are adopted by the school and cared for there, and are given the name“Vincent” as their family name. In fact, while he was there two years ago, Ollie Rencher baptized such an infant. The children of St. Vincent have infirmities including blindness, but many more are deaf, and many were born with severe developmental abnormalities: some are dwarfed, or have only partially developed extremities, often with only stumps for arms or legs. Many are confined to wheelchairs, or must uses crutches and/or prosthetic limbs to get around. The blind children are frequently led around by their deaf or otherwise physically disabled peers. In spite of their deformities and their enormous disadvantage in life, the children appear happy and content with their lives, some seemingly unaware of the serious hand they have been dealt. When we arrived, the children all greeted us in the schoolcourtyard, grinning and waving to us, and wanting to “high-five” anyone near them. The deaf ones tried to impress us with their sign language abilities, or wanted to know what our individual “sign” was, so they'd know how to address us. Many were just be content to hug our legs or sit in our laps. Complete strangers to them, we were immediately welcomed and accepted, even loved...like God's love...unconditional. To look into the faces of these physically compromised but happy children is truly to see the image of Christ, and one cannot help but be overwhelmed by a multitude of emotions: sad and happy at the same time; frustrated at their plight in life, but eager to help them any way we can, for as long as we can. To have experienced the children of St. Vincent School is to have received a gift, a learning gift from God that calls us to look inward and be aware of what we have, and what values are necessary to sustain us. Seeing the innocence and joy in the eyes of these children cannot help but strengthen our own resolve to seek Christ in our own lives.
Who are we now, after visiting Haiti? Who am I, after seeing old women and children in ragged clothes, begging on the streets of Port-Au-Prince, because they are hungry?Or seeing young women walking around with baskets of fruit delicately balanced on their heads, hoping to sell enough to provide at least one meal a day for that day...and then start the survival process all over again the next day? Who am I after seeing the “tent cities”, which house a half million homeless persons, where the space in which they live has dirt floors, and may be the size of an American powder room? I personally am not the same person. I hope to be a person changed for the better, one who can love as these children love, can accept whatever changes God has in store for me, and to use them for growth and transformation. Who are you now, and who will you become when change occurs in your life?

Randy McCloy, December 12, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Joan's experience at Re-Entry

Joan Phelps is  a priest from Connecticut and sent me this email shortly after our return to the U S:

I was a bit tired yesterday so wasn't too aware of anything. Today I saw my dental hygienist who I have gone to since '83, So she said some stupid thing about did I have a good time in Haiti. Don't Haitians party alot. I don't even know what she was talking about but my buttons were pushed. I went on this thing about our friends in Haiti and how hard they work, how joyous they are even when they are also trying to get out of the mire. I told her Haitians are a joyous people and can sing even when down but we have a wrong image of who they are if we label them as party animals..............Blah, Blah, Blah !!!!!!!! You had to be there. My poor friend said she reallyu did not mean any offense......I realized I was overreacting ..........and she was the one with the picks, and whatever tools she could use on me.


It is difficult to think Christmas. However, I came back very grateful that we were not exposed to flamboyant decorations and musac blaring every where we went. Maybe our adventures will lead me to a less materialistic time and peaceful reflection of the good that we can do out of our abundance.

God's wonderful peace be with you. Have a joyous time of Christmas and Epiphany. May good things be yours in the New Year!!!

JP+

Advent Meditation

St Mary's Cathedral is sending out daily Advent Meditations, and this came from today's reading:

"There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less. There is no less holiness at this time - as you are reading this - than there was the day Jesus said 'Maid, arise' to the centurion's daughter, or the day Peter walked on water. In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree. In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander, or the grief of loss, or to endure torture. 'Each and every day the Divine voice issues from Sinai', says the Talmud."


Annie Dillard from For the Time Being

It strikes me that being in Haiti is a holy time for me, a time to experience the sacred.  Drinking cool, clean water when you are sweaty and dusty from working in the clinic, is a sacred experience.  Knowing that you cant just turn on the tap and get water, you must find treated water specially bought for you and carried into your room for you by one of the school's staff.  Brushing your teeth takes on a whole new flavor, usually starting at the sink, realizing you cant use the water coming out of the tap, so you shuffle down the hall to the water cooler, there to be met by 2-3 other Americans with wet toothbrushes in their mouths, coming to fill their water bottles with clean water so they can finish what they started.  Giggling with a mouth full of toothpaste can be quite messy!

My first hot shower when I come home from Haiti is a sacred experience as well.  I like to drink from the shower spray, another habit I avoid in Haiti.  Feeling the abundant  hot water pour over me reminds me of the many things we take for granted in our American, comfortable lives.
Susan Nelson

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace, how sweet though art, to have an no armed boy of about 4 years old come up to you and want up on your lap during the church service. Up he wiggles and moves like all boys do. But there are no handles with this one. I ever realized how much I counted on a child’s arms to steady them on your lap. There is, however, a smile and a set of eyes that can pierce and touch my soul.   During the service it was time for us to cross ourselves, so I did so for him wondering in my heart had he ever had this done for him before.  Since I didn’t know his name, I turned and prayed believing that the Holy Trinity must surely know this boy already or there would be no need to ever cross myself again? Like children everywhere he wanted down, so I put him down and off he ran to be with other kids. I thanked God for the touching moment completely satisfied that this small boy with no arms had touched me.  I few minutes go by then all of a sudden I feel someone kicking the back of my folding chair and he is back and wants back up on my lap.  So up he comes and the next thing I see is he is leaning over me and sticking his tongue out at Tess who is sitting beside me.  This kid has both of us laughing during mass.  Tess whispered that she had done it to him when we were giving him his physical. Then I realized just how trusting this child is of me since just the other day I stuck him on the earlobe to get a drop of blood to check his iron level.  He not only came back to me, but wanted to get attention from me - that was just such a heartfelt, loving moment that rarely happens. It was amazing how someone so bright and small, I don’t think he weighed more than 35 pounds, could have such an impact on me. I found out later that night, from his school medical records, that he is 8 years old.  But like most children in Haiti they are much smaller than they would be at that age in the USA.  This boy was so full of happiness, love and trust that I couldn’t help but feel that he was the definition of grace.  It was truly amazing to see him so full of love and hope and trust. His faith and God’s love have already touched this child of God; it is me that is the crippled one! May God someday give me this boy’s faith? Amazing grace how sweet though art? Who put his faith in me?     
sent in by John Mutin        

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Re Entry

Yesterday was my first day to wake up in Memphis since our recent trip. I find myself thinking about putting my life back together. That sounds dramatic, but it really does feel like re -entry into another world. Tears come to my eyes at stupid things like turning on the faucet. Driving down the highway, I wonder, "where are all the people?" and notice road signs and traffic lights, things which are rare or non existent in Haiti. People actually drive on the right side of the road, rather than filling any available space (Bill Squire tells me the only traffic rule in Haiti is: If there is an open space, fill it!)

I wonder about my other team members, how are they coping with the shock. I can't stand to look at a television and see advertisements for all the things we must buy. The thought of Christmas shopping makes me nauseated.

Jennifer sent me a photo of Diana Vincent with a red foam clown nose and her beautiful smile. I shared her photo with my staff and some of my patients, trying to bridge the gap between the two worlds. Capturing the joy of her life and her learning to walk a few steps, when 2 years ago I thought she would never survive. My heart is full of those children and their smiles when I walk through the gates of the school. This was my best Christmas gift, to see the love of God in the people of Haiti.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Improvements at St. Vincents

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the children are generally much healthier than I have seen them in the past. I have included a copy of an email I sent to Pere Leon Sadoni, priest in charge of St Vincent's school since March 2009. In only 2 1/2 years, and despite the terrible destruction of the earthquake Jan 12, 2010, he has accomplished miraculous things at the school.
Dear Pere Sadoni,
I thought I would write to you about the many things I noticed during my trip to St Vincent's, things which I am thankful for. Some of the things seem silly, but I list them because they are signs of the hard work you are doing to improve the school and care for its children.

I am thankful for:
-trash cans in every room in the clinic (believe it or not, this is very helpful and important)
-a pharmacy. It used to be that whatever we brought to St Vincent's would be completely gone by the time we came again. Now the pharmacy is safe and secure, and many supplies are there for us to use.
-Madame Noel, the pharmacy tech. We did not used to have someone to help us write the labels and explain in Kreyol to the patients. Now we have someone to take care of the medicines and also to give vitamins to the children every day
-the vitamin program. The children are healthier, Pere Sadoni, than they have ever been. I only found 3 kids with anemia (low iron levels) during this trip. This is truly amazing. On previous trips we found many children with hemoglobin levels of 6 or 7 (normal is 10-12). This trip I can see that they have been getting their vitamins regularly. Thank you.
-None of the St Vincent's kids had worms. Not one. None had scabies (lice). This is stunning. Previous trips I have treated many children for scabies, which spreads in the dormitories easily. Please tell the staff I appreciate that they are keeping the children clean, their beds clean, and the children healthy.

All of these things mean that you and the staff are doing a very good job taking care of the children.

Thank you for all your hard work.

Sincerely,
Susan Nelson

Update on rebuilding

Children's Medical Mission of Haiti is the primary funding organization for St Vincent's School. Their director is Father Bill Squire. For an informative update on the status of the school and its rebuilding plans, including some nice photos, please visit their website: http://www.cmmh.org/

Sunday, December 4, 2011

LAST DAY AT ST. VINCENT'S

Today began with worship service at Holy Trinity Cathedral. The Cathedral building was nearly completely destroyed in the earthquake, so the congregation meets under a tent in the courtyard next door to the old cathedral. There were about 50 people there including a choir of angels. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing was the first hymn, in French of course. The four part harmony was so beautiful it affected all of us. The incense was powerful and a little strong for a few of our team members, but I loved it! During the offertory they had their annual gathering of pledge cards, and it was quite moving to see people bring their cards and put them into the box at the altar. People who live in tents and may have little to eat, still offering their gifts to support the work of the church. One of the Communion Hymns was in english, and a particular line was, "Fill our lives with grace". I told Pere Sadoni later that sitting in Haiti, listening to the choir sing, my life was definitely filled with grace.
After service ended we enjoyed lunch prepared especially for us by Rev. Fernan. She is the only woman priest in Haiti and is the director of Holy Trinity School. This school, she told us, was founded in 1913 and before the earthquake had 900 students. Since the entire school was destroyed in the earthquake, they now meet in temporary classrooms made of plywood. These cannot be made secure, so they cant keep computers or books or even desks inside the classrooms. She struggles to provide a meal every day for all the students, now about 750 from age 3 (preschool) to 10th grade. They are expanding, in order to graduate their first high school seniors in 2013, the 100th year since the school's founding. One would wonder why they want to expand the school when they can't feed the students they have; but the school has an excellent reputation and the parents have begged Rev Fernan to expand the grades to include middle and later high school; it formerly went only to 6th grade. Jean Robert, our translator, grew up at Holy Trinity where he learned to play the violin. He played for us while we ate delicious pumpkin soup, with mandarin oranges for dessert. Pumpkin soup is a Haitian specialty, and like other Haitian dishes, sounds exotic and strange and tastes fantastic.
After lunch we went to a Haitian arts market and did a little souvenir shopping. That was fun! Practicing my Kreyol while bargaining with the merchants.
We returned to St Vincent's to spend a final afternoon with the children. Kellar and Bob played basketball with some of the kids, using a 4 foot tall basket and a small rubber ball. There were a few balloons left from yesterday's celebration which were batted around, including the Walgreens GET YOUR FLU SHOT balloon which is still floating around! Sherye got out coloring books and crayons and Tess (Sherye's daughter) and Krystina (deaf interpreter from Connecticut) made macrame bracelets with the children. There was a cool breeze and it was absolutely delightful. I sat on the concrete steps and invited Mackenson to get his guitar and play for me, which he did. Mackenson is 16 years old and I have known him for several years. He told me he wants to be an engineer, and is studying physics and math at the Episcopal High School down the street from St Vincent's. Mackenson lives at St Vincent's because his mother, Naomi, who was a cook at the school, was killed in the earthquake, along with his 12 year old brother, Jobson. Sienna and Mackenson are good friends. He played a song which he says Sienna taught him, then we sang some songs together, each trying to think of a song the other might know. I told him one of my favorite hymns is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, and when I hummed the tune he picked it out on the guitar, then strummed the chords and we sang it together. Actually I hummed it because I dont know all the words! But I will never hear that hymn again without the memory of being in Haiti. Frenel came to sit in my lap. He is nearly blind but showed me that he could see a little bit, as he described the colors on my bracelet. The macrame bracelet, made for me by Sherye, with colored beads. It soon came off and found its way onto Frenel's wrist.
Frenel has a beautiful voice and sang with Mackenson some Haitian songs he knew, then his friend Jean Marc joined us. Jean Marc is also blind and was happily sitting in Jennifer's lap next to me on the steps. Jennifer is a physical therapist from Memphis, and neither of us has a singing voice but it did not matter. The children are happy to have attention and to show their talents. It is one of the hardest things I have to do when it is time to get on the bus and leave the school on the last day, knowing I will not see the children for many months.

Susan Nelson

Day 5 in Haiti: coloring with the blind

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of St VIncent, which remembers the International Day of the Handicapped. Started the day with worship service at the school, Randy McCloy and Bob Hooper vested and served at the altar with Bishop Duracin and Pere Sadoni. Randy read the gospel in English (that Tennessee accent REALLY STANDS OUT if you've been listening to Kreyol and French for the remainder of the service). Bob gave communion to the kids....picture little hands reaching out all at once to receive the host. LIttle pieces of the body of Christ, everybody excited to get some!
During the service, we sat under a large tent which had been temporarily placed in the courtyard for that purpose. Balloons and streamers were tied to the poles of the tent. The balloons are interesting in themselves, since one of them was a halloween balloon with orange pumpkins on black, another was for St Patricks day with green shamrocks. I pointed out one balloon to Keisha because it said "Get your Flu Shot" and had the Walgreens logo on it! (Keisha and Asha both work at Walgreens pharmacy in Memphis.) About every 10 minutes a loud BANG would make me jump, another balloon bursting. Later I asked Bob Hooper (priest from Connecticut) if his preaching is powerful enough to pop balloons.
After church, some of our group had coloring books and sat with the kids. Joan (priest from Connecticut) was sitting with one of the blind children, happily explaining the colors to him so he could choose each different crayon and color with first one, then another.
Only at St Vincent's would you color pictures with a blind child, and think nothing was unusual.
Later, as we were waiting for our ride to come and take us back to the guest house, I heard the familiar honking of the car horn outside the gate of St Vincent's. The staff were cleaning up after the party, sweeping ribbons and discarded trash out of the courtyard. Children were running about, some talking with Sherye (signing, actually) and some sitting in Drew's lap as always.
No one responded to the car honking. I looked about and wondered, "Why doesn't someone open the gate?" Then it dawned on me. THEY'RE ALL DEAF. I spotted JoJo and asked him to get someone to open the gate, after having a good laugh at myself.

Susan Nelson

Saturday, December 3, 2011

4:30 AM SOUNDS IN HAITI

Here I am at 4:30 AM again, writing about Haiti because I am unable to sleep anymore. Must be some of those "stress hormones" in action.
The guest house is quiet with sleeping souls, a few snores coming from the rooms. Of course, the night is anything but quiet. Sitting near an open door, I hear crickets. Cars going by on the road outside the gate. Dogs barking. The ever present rooster crowing. There is a bird which makes this incredible laughing sound as it flies through the palm trees. Our guest hostess, Gail Buck, tells me they call it the "monkey bird". It is easy to see where it got its name.
This evening we had a most delicious supper, full of dishes I did not recognize that all tasted wonderful. Some sort of salad with sliced chicken, garbanzo beans, bits of pineapple and fresh tomato. Another dish with chunks of grilled fish and vegetables. The most popular item looked like black oatmeal. Honestly. We have all become adventurous in our culinary habits, and knowing how good everything else tastes at the guest house, we tried it. Many folks had second and third helpings. It has a Haitian name, but "black bean risotto" is the most apt description I could come up with. There is a shaker of seasoning on the table with the name "Habanero Harmony". I love spicy food, so that sounded like just the thing for me. The label describes it as "inspired salt". It makes everything taste fantastic, from eggs to salad to the "black bean whatever". Maybe I can find some today at the market. We hope to go to an arts/crafts market today discovered by Ruthie online.
After supper many of us sat together and shared stories of the day, stories of trips past. Margaret told me a story I had not heard before, about something that happened to her in April 2010 when we went to Montrouis shortly after the earthquake. The kids had been evacuated from St Vincent's, which was in ruins, to a village on the coast where there is an old seminary campground. The grounds are right on the beach, and in the mornings and evenings we would sit on the stone wall looking out over the ocean. One morning Margaret was there, enjoying the peace and beauty of the shore and the water, watching the fishermen work their boats. Jean Robert was playing his violin, a beautiful sound above the gentle waves. One of the St Vincent's staff was sitting with 2 of her children, talking to Margaret. She had a two year old girl in her arms. Suddenly she put the girl in Margaret's lap and said, "Take this child", meaning of course, Take this child to the States. She was crying when she said this. Margaret started crying as well and told the woman, "This child needs to grow up in Haiti, because she will become a lawyer and work in the courts to help her people".
Margaret's story reminded me of baby Margaret, who was abandoned at St Vincent's 2 years ago while we were at St Vincent's, at the school before it fell down in the earthquake. It was November, Advent. I thought then about the tears of the mother who had to leave her child in the hopes she would be cared for. What must it be like to try to raise a handicapped child in Haiti, where food is scarce, medical services expensive. Raising a child with special needs is difficult even in the States, with all the resources we have available. We saw baby Margaret today, brought to the school by her foster mom who is caring for her and another disabled child named Vincent. Vincent was abandoned at the school last year during our trip to St Vincent's, again during Advent. We were blessed to be part of the baptism of each of these children. The intense experience of being in Haiti brings to life the message of Advent, that God loves this weary world still, that he has not forsaken us. Seeing a brilliantly blooming bougainvillea with pink and white flowers growing out of a collapsed building, speaks to me of God's faithfulness, God as Emmanuel.

Susan Nelson

Friday, December 2, 2011

Day 4 in Haiti - Face painting

We have seen about 150 patients over the past 3 days. The children are healthy, gaining weight, and almost no anemia. We have a vitamin program where every child gets a multivitamin with iron every day. The West Tennessee Haiti Partnership has supplied the vitamins and St Vincent's has hired a pharmacy tech to supervise not only the school pharmacy but the daily vitamin program. The pharmacy tech, Madame Fortil Noel, goes to each classroom every day with enough vitamins for every child. We measure hemoglobin levels on every child that comes through the clinic. The hemoglobin level is a way to measure iron levels, in other words, anemia. 2 years ago it was common to find children with hemoglobin levels of 6 or 7 (normal is >12) and very rare to find hemoglobin levels of 11 or 12. This trip we found only 3 kids with low hemoglobin levels. Interestingly, they were all teenage girls. I asked the girls if they were getting their vitamin every day. Like teenage girls everywhere, they cant be bothered with taking vitamins (or anything else directed by adults). I scolded one girl, " I work very hard to bring these vitamins to Haiti, you'd BETTER start taking them every day!" I am so happy to see the children healthy and happy. John Mutin even suggested to me that we might not need to check hemoglobin levels on every kid anymore since they are all normal now. What a testament to the power of the vitamin program, the power of a small idea pursued with diligence, supported by many people bringing their bottles of vitamins for us to transport to Haiti.
After we finished clinic today, we planned time for Tess Cannito to organize face painting for the children. Not only face painting, but nail polishing and coloring. Picture Dr Randy McCloy and his son, Kellar, organizing the coloring book activity. Dr Jennifer Holbourn, Ruth Lentz, Keisha Land and Asha Cooper (the latter two are our pharmacists) painted nails on boys AND girls. The kids would get their nails painted, then go outside and scratch off the polish so they could return and have them painted again. The boys lined up to get their toes painted also!
Another fun activity was decorating aprons. Tess set up pans with acrylic paint, for the children to put their hands into. Then PRESTO handprints on the canvas aprons. They are drying tonight, so we can give them as gifts to some of the adult staff tomorrow.
Tomorrow is the Feast of St Vincent, which celebrates the International Day for Handicapped Persons. We will have a "Grand Fete" with a worship service in the morning, followed by kids singing and dancing. Tess plans to organize the kids to make macrame bracelets with beads. I am looking forward to celebrating with the kids, having a fun day without working in the clinic and "sticking their fingers" for blood tests.
There were many joyous and more sad moments today, material for later blog entries. For now I will say thank you again to all of you who make this trip possible. I wake up every morning in Haiti thinking, "I can't believe I'm in Haiti" and can go to work every day taking care of these children and staff at the school. I am starting to feel the regret of leaving, even though we are here for 2 more days.

Susan Nelson