Google+ WTN Haiti Partnership: October 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Thank you to our donors

Our recent trip was supported by many donors. One donor answered my appeal to help pay for plane tickets for two team members who could not afford plane/room/board for two people which would have totalled $2000.  Another donor reached into his pocket (we were at church) and handed me $40 on the Sunday before I left for Haiti.  I used this money to pay for checking a computer as an extra bag on our trip to Haiti Oct12, and delivered the computer to Dr Beauvoir, the pediatric orthopedist who works year round at St Vincents
Many folks give donations large and small to help us serve the children at St Vincents.  I hope some of you who enjoyed reading our recent posts about our October trip will consider making a donation by clicking here:

Susan Nelson

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reflections from the October 2013 team

Yesterday while we were waiting at the airport in Port au Prince, I asked the team members (after they managed to find a sufficient supply of french fries from the airport restaurant) to write down the answer to 3 questions:

What is your worst memory of the trip?
What is your best memory of the trip?
Name one person you met in Haiti who made an impact on you.

I will share their responses below, (with minimal editing).


Happy to return home to the arms of our families and loved ones last night.  Retrieving jars of picliz from various suitcases to take home for me and John Mutin. Unfortunately, as my husband observed, picliz "does not travel well". The smell of vinegar and pepper wafted through the Memphis airport baggage area. My apologies to Edie, whose suitcase contents appeared to be soaked in picliz. I am not sure her family will appreciate that smell on every item she brought back from Haiti!

This morning my thoughts are of the contrasts facing us as we wake up in Memphis (or Sienna in New Orleans). The glory of a hot shower. The shock of a cold floor on bare feet. Morning without bug spray. Morning without fresh sweet mango and Haitian coffee. Brushing my teeth in tap water. Wanting to turn on the heater in my bathroom.  Driving on wide open streets with traffic lights and marked lanes.   Missing the smiles and hugs of the children at St Vincents.

To my team members if you are reading this, thank you all for your warm hearts and hard working hands (and feet!) this week.  I miss Bailey's laugh and James' quiet smile.  I told you all that re-entry would be difficult, and I hope you find a way to process your experience somehow over the next few weeks. Know that you have made friends with special children in a place that will always welcome you back.

Bon Jour!

Susan Nelson

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Last day at St Vincent's

After our restful day at the beach, we were all happy to see the kids again. Emily B worked with me again in clinic. Her French skills were invaluable, although by this time my Kreyol is fairly functional, at least for basic exams.   Sherye has also taught us signs to use. Every morning on the bus, she stands at the front clutching a pole and demonstrates how to say "What is your name?  My name is... Do you have pain.  Show me where ..."  St Vincent's has about 50 or more deaf students, so we all got lots of practice.  One of the deaf teachers came to me and I was able to ask him "Are you a teacher?" as well as elicit his complaints of eye problems and back pain, all without Sherye's help. I was so proud of myself! After spending a week surrounded by people who speak a different language, between Kreyol, French and Sign, it is SO gratifying to be able to communicate. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The team takes a break

Today in Haiti is a national holiday, commemorating the death of Jean Jacques Dessalines.  He and Touissant L'Overture together led the slave rebellion against the French, and declared independence on Jan 1, 1804.  Haiti is the only country in the western hemisphere to ever have successfully staged a slave rebellion.

With the national holiday, there was no school, so we hired our favorite driver Jonas and went to Kaliko Beach Resort.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Handbell Choir and Soccer Balls

This morning's clinic was remarkable because several of our team have learned to communicate simple words with the deaf kids and are learning basic Kreyol as well.  Bailey worked with me this morning, and by the end of clinic was doing basic exams, in either Kreyol or sign.  ("Take a deep breath, open your mouth, I am going to look in your ear, etc.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Double Rainbow

Edie just told me she is amused to look at the broken streets of Port au Prince, with concrete rubble in piles on the sidewalk and scattered debris in the gutters, and then hear me and Sienna and John Mutin say "Wow, this place looks great, they've really cleaned up the streets!"  It's true that the gutters are free of trash and the streets are mostly in good repair, especially the main roads.  We even saw police directing traffic at a busy intersection, a first that I have seen. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

First clinic day at St Vincent's

A typical clinic day at St Vincent's:  plenty of smiling kids in uniform, coming for a "checkup".  Edie,Sienna, Sherye and James visited Holy Trinity School, run by Reverend Fernan (the only ordained female priest in Haiti); James was impressed by the music school, with music theory written on the walls in blackboard style.  Sienna loved the 4th graders.  Each class stood up and demonstrated what they were learning to the visitors.  Sienna says the 4th graders were learning names of body parts in english, and shouted, "ARM, LEG, BODY" at full volume. 

The best way I can tell you about today is to summarize what the team said as we had our group discussion this evening after we said Compline together (led by James Gruber).

Bailey said her low point of her day was seeing all the smiling,happy kindergartners and then having to stick their finger for their hemoglobin test.

James said his low point was not being able to say good bye to each 4th grader as they left Holy Trinity School. 
Vicky said her high point was feeling like she made a contribution today. Her job was to organize the "cards" (each kid gets a card with their name and age and the date, and as they are weighed and measured and tested the information is written on the card.)  This  job is very important and not just anyone can do it.  Ashley attested to the fact that her mom was very organized and kept everyone in line and remembering which kid went with which card.  I knew Vicky would  be the most organized person on our team, which is why I put her in charge of that!

Linda's high point was getting to know Clauricianne, who is a graduate of St Vincent's but still lives there.  She speaks english, french and kreyol fluently and is a terrific interpreter for us, especially since she knows all the kids.  She helped calm down one terrified young girl who would not even leave her chair to come into my exam room!  I guess the fingerstick test makes them afraid of what else might be coming next. 

James said his high point was getting to know Jean Robert and see the gentle way he helps us and helps the children.  He truly is an amazing person and has earned the admiration of all of us.

James also observed that Jo Jo was having hot wings for lunch, fed to him by a beautiful young woman who turns out to be his daughter.  The rest of us had our granola bars and peanuts for lunch, but Jo Jo had hot wings!

The heat got to everyone today so we did not have afternoon clinic.  We toured the new brace shop and then boarded the bus early for the guest house and the POOL. 
I got everyone to promise they can stick it out for the whole day tomorrow, now that they got a taste of what to expect.  The heat really does sap your strength here, and I dont want to push people beyond their tolerance.  I was happy that the "low points" mentioned had nothing to do with being hot or tired. 

Had an interesting and INTENSE discussion with the owner of the guest house about what our purpose is in Haiti and why we come here.  I think she was trying to provoke me, but to no avail.  I realize that our work in Haiti can be interpreted on many levels.  But I have to believe that my friendship with Marie Carmelle and with Mackenson and Frenel has value, even if I dont change their lives  in any material sense. I believe that we offer what we have, and God blesses it and magnifies it beyond what we can ask or imagine. 

I think the owner sees lots of "Christian groups" who come to "save souls" in Haiti. As my son Adam once said, "God is everywhere in Haiti."  If you come to Haiti to bring Jesus, you will find him already here and well known.   The only soul I save by coming here is mine.
Susan Nelson

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Day 2 Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Plaza Hotel and Reunion with the kids

This morning we had the joy of attending services at Holy Trinity Cathedral.  It was all in French, but the service is familiar in any language.  As promised, the service lasted about 2 hours.  At the end of the service, Sienna turned and said, "Congratulations, everyone, you MADE IT!"  One of the hymns was Just a Closer Walk with Thee, so I could hum the tune and sort of fake the french words. I turned to James Gruber and said, "Drew would know all the words in English if he were here."

We visited the Foyer Notre Dame after church, this is a rest home for older folks, run by the Sisters of St Margaret.  I brought the altar linen from St Mary's Cathedral, in hopes the Sisters could embroider designs on to it.  Having emailed the Sisters ahead of time, I expected to see them at church, but when they weren't there I asked Jean Robert, our guide and translator, to take us to see them at the Foyer Notre Dame.  Arriving there, we were told the Sisters were in Leogane!  ( a city about 2 hours away).  SIGH.  Leaving the linen with written instructions in the hands of a competent appearing woman named Gertrude, by that time we were hot and hungry so we visited the Plaza Hotel for lunch.   

Ordering from a menu in Kreyol was an adventure for everyone,  but they had DIET COKE (something I always miss when I come to Haiti) and with Sienna's help and Jean Robert's assistance , we managed to order food everyone enjoyed, including a plantain sandwich with picliz (the spicy Haitian cole slaw that John and I fight over) and other delights.  

By now it was early afternoon, and we got back on the bus to drive to St Vincent's. The children were much surprised when we arrived!  Sweaty smiles and hugs all around.  Marie Carmelle was in her usual place, which is the breeziest place in the compound.  Most of the team went upstairs to see "Drew's kids" and of course attracted a big crowd.  It was touching to see our team, especially the first timers, experience the love and joy of meeting these children for the first time.  Diana Vincent managed to get my sunglasses from me, then quickly convinced Edie to pick her up out of her wheelchair.  Not bad for a girl with cerebral palsy who cant speak or stand or control her arms.  Vicky and Ashley met many kids who remembered Robby Skinner from his last two visits.  The deaf teenage girls were thrilled to see Sherye again, and a lively conversation ensued (in sign language of course) about who these new people were, especially WHO IS THAT TALL BOY OVER THERE?  (Gordon Johnson).  Sienna had to explain that he already HAS a girlfriend.  
Speaking of Gordon, one of the blind kids grabbed Gordon and held on for several minutes, soaking up the hug.  Brittany has a large plastic pink watch that fascinated several.   Margaret Vincent was sitting up in her chair, looking well cared for  although not able to respond very well to any stimulation by voice or touch.  

After about 45 minutes we said goodbye. We returned to the guest house and the wonderful pool, happy to drop our body temperatures by several degrees.  
Evening spent making labels for the pharmacy (take one pill twice a day = pran yon grenn de fwa pa jou), and so on.  Sherye blindfolded all of us to teach us about how to lead blind people from one place to another. She has made us all STAR SPARKLY name tags for tomorrow, which the boys (Gordon, James, John) are taking in stride as good sports

Remember those AC units I was so excited about?  They work REALLY WELL.  So well in fact that folks were too cold last night!  I guess one never knows what to expect in Haiti,  I told Gordon that I have learned not to have any expectations when I come here.  It is a lesson that I have to learn over and over, humility at letting God work and not trying to control the outcome.  

Thank you all for reading this very long post; I know some of you are family members and want to know that your loved ones are safe and sound.  For the others who have made it this far, thank you for your prayers and support.  Tomorrow we will have clinic and all are excited about that. I told the team that today was a vacation day, tomorrow we work. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Arrival in Haiti (Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013)

Travel day was the easiest ever!  Delta Airlines now flies from Atlanta to Port au Prince, which eliminates the craziness of flying to Chicago or St Paul in order to fly to Miami to catch the plane to Port au Prince.

Our team is 14 members; 4 are "old timers" and the rest are first time visitors to this experience.  I am sure they tired of the "old folks" who kept saying, "This is great, you don't know how easy this is."  Going through security only once in Memphis; going through customs in Haiti was a breeze.  The Haitian customs agent asked us if we were carrying vitamins, and wanted to check the expiration dates on the bottles.  We were happy to comply.

We are bringing a computer to Dr Beauvoir, the pediatric orthopedist who works at St VIncent's weekly and who operated with Dr Khumalo in late August on several St Vincent's children. Apparently Dr Khumalo observed that Dr Beauvoir's computer was , shall we say, faulty?  So he sent another one down.  We had the most trouble with that computer, since the TSA officials had to tear open the package (which had been carefully packed to protect the fragile computer) and the Haitian customs agent had to tear the package open AGAIN to make sure it was exactly what I told him it was.   

I told the team that I am happy to see the Haitian customs agents actually checking our bags.  They never did this before 2013, so I see this as a sign of progress.

Our new guest house is only a 15 minute ride from the airport and 15 minutes from the school, I am told.  What a relief.  Again, the old timers keep telling war stories about riding for an hour and a half in the back of a pick up truck on top of all the suitcases. 

We checked in to our rooms, which are tiny BUT THEY ALL HAVE AN AC UNIT!
Not sweating while we sleep will be a gift from heaven. 

Prestige beers by the pool then spaghetti dinner, and all are tired and content. 

Edie plans to lead Compline service at 8 PM (if she can stay awake that long) and then off to bed.  Dark comes at 6:30 and there are no street lights, so the city shuts down early. Except for the roosters and the dogs, of course.  I heard my first rooster crow about an hour ago so then I KNEW I was in Port au Prince, in the middle of a city with a million people and hearing the rooster.

Tomorrow we will go to services at Holy Trinity Cathedral.  I warned everyone that the service is at least 2 hours long and all in French!  But worshiping with the Haitians in their open air pavilion next to their destroyed cathedral, is always a moving experience for me. 
We hope to walk over to St Vincent's after church and see the kids.  I cant wait to see their smiling faces when we walk through the gate. 

Now if I can just sort out what is in all those bags of medical supplies piled outside my bedroom door??
Susan Nelson

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reflections on Haiti by a First - Timer

editor's note:  Judith travelled to St Vincents School with a team this summer, and brought sewing machines to teach some of the older girls how to use them.  

Reflections on My Trip to Haiti and St. Vincent's School

I tried not to have expectations but of course I did anyway.  I expected it to be hot, expected to see a lot of poverty, expected to see rubble, expected to not have the conveniences I was used to, and tried not to expect violence or illness.   It was hot, very hot, and without electricity and water sometimes, a little uncomfortable, but there were  not really any hardships.  It didn't take long to get used to having only cold water, and having no electricity or not enough electricity to run air conditioners.  Not knowing whether or not there would be water or electricity made for a little drama and excitement.  Of course we (our small group of 4 from Friends of St. Vincent's) were only there one week.  

Riding through the city from our hotel to St. Vincent's  was an adventure, however.  The traffic was amazing: dented and dusty cars and trucks, brightly painted tap-taps (also dusty and dented), motor cycles, bicycle riders, but mostly pedestrians everywhere walking in the road, on the sidewalks, crossing the streets, weaving in and out of traffic and all moving, moving, moving, constantly.  Looking past all the traffic to the vendors, lining the sidewalks in downtown Port-au-Prince we saw people selling all kinds of things from pineapples to prom dresses.  Their “stores” ranged from tiny rickety structures jammed next to each other to just goods laying on the sidewalks or items hanging on fences or on the walls that fronted all the homes and businesses.   The walls were brightly painted with slogans or drawings or advertisements or graffiti.  Then there were sounds to go with all this.  Horns honking,      gunning engines, music playing, people talking, people hawking goods.  Visual and aural over stimulation for someone from a relatively quiet college town.

St. Vincent's was a wonderful surprise.  We were greeted enthusiastically each day by a delegation of adults in wheelchairs under the trees in the hot and dusty courtyard.  Several days there were also dozens of families waiting to be seen at the medical clinic that uses space at St. Vincent's.  Then there were the children.  We spent most of the time with the teens showing them how to use the electric  sewing machines that were donated.   Trying to use a sewing machine when you have cerebral palsy or are missing most of your hands or have no arms or hands at all is a challenge, but a challenge these children were up for with grace, humor, and amazing abilities to adapt and change so they could use the machines effectively.   There was also love, acceptance, and kindness that the teens showed each other and to us volunteering that moved me to tears on several occasions.  There was also some power playing going on, but what was very notiecable was how self-confident and resourceful these teens are and how much they want to live their lives as fully as possible.

We did not get to spend much time with the younger children, but the time we had was also very moving and enriching.   Several of the children were not very animated or able to move much on their own so time was spent touching and holding and encouraging them to do what they could.   Several of the children were confined to wheelchairs but very lively and enthusiastic and engaged happily in singing and play.  It was a delight to be with them.

I was asked why I thought these children were able to be so confident.  I think it is because of Father Sadoni, the director of the school, and all that staff that teach and take care of the children.  The children are surrounded with love and encouragement to grow and develop to the best of their abilities, to be able to be full participants in their society and culture.  They are blessed, and we are blessed who are able to spend time with them.

sent in by Judith Straub

Saturday, October 5, 2013

final days at St Vincent/CBU Nurses

Wednesday, October 2nd.
During my quiet time - one devotion this week related to “do not worry about tomorrow - tomorrow has worries enough” So I did not... good thing. First the bus was late, he went to St Vincent’s instead of the coop as planned, the coop was closed for inventory,there were no new children to be seen and a lot of confusion with the starting of school. Okay - big breath, stay focused and go with the flow. The bus driver had 2 suggestions another artisan shop and to go to the Haitian National Museum.  We did just that and had lunch out. We all really enjoyed and appreciated the museum and visual tour of the Haitian history. I especially enjoyed seeing the anchor from the Santa Maria, one of the 3 ships of Christopher Columbus. Now how many Americans can say that - actually we all appreciated that experience.

We had a lovely day, not want was on the agenda but never-the-less this awesome team took it all in stride. On top of that each person has a personal treasure or 6 to take home with them.

Thursday, October 3rd

Today’s message for me related to staying positive and not letting disorder and confusion with your plans cause a downward spiral into negativism - pretty timely and right for the week. The bus came a half hour early!! Some were not quite ready - but got there pretty quickly. After a stop at the National Market, where the bus driver almost wiped out the security guard’s motorcycle, we purchased our ice cream and cookies for the children and staff. There is a disconnect about where ice cream is to be stored. Jean  Robert’ put all 4 tubs in the refrigerator not the freezer! Thank goodness it was decided to serve the ice cream at 10:00. We did and  it was a huge hit. As is expected there were lots of “extra staff” today. I have to say, it was darn good ice cream.

In total we have seen 100 person, mostly adults but they are important too. If the adults are in good health and care, so are the children. We had some special moments when we sang for the children and again when we sang and had the teachers sign our songs.

The nurses played with the children and distributed the red “CBU Nursing” bags. I was not there when this occurred but Belinda came to find me and gave me a huge hug. All the older girls were so excited to get the red bags - all the women wanted them. The women and girls all were excited with the nail polish, little wrist bands, and other goodies. They did not want us around as they began to bond from being gone for a few weeks.

Likewise the boys were excited about the ping-pong paddles, balls, and other goodies for them. Terry and Lisa got the few of them (mostly the deaf boys) engaged in soccer and football. There were some sharing issues but Terry got that changed without sign language.

I met with Pere Sadoni and gave a brief report about 5 children. I will share this later. We left about 150 hygiene kits and  twice that many socks for the children.  All of the school supplies, crayons and coloring books were gone from his office today and been distributed somewhere.

After dinner the CBU nurses presented my sister-in-law, Linda with a white cap, trimmed in a bright pink (no red pens) and made her an honorary CBU nurse. She was very touched.

Each nurse shared a special moment from today and/or this week. Each of us reflected on the value of our Haitian experience, the bonding with classmates, the connection to children and adults from another county, and the ability to look beyond the disability and love each person for who they are - not for what they are not.

This has been a fantastic week.

sent in by Dr Sue Trzynka