Google+ WTN Haiti Partnership: May 2016

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Eye team last day in Haiti May 12, 2016

Blogger's note:  I apologize that this is being posted as a late entry.  The story of what this incredible team did for the children and staff of St Vincent's is amazing to believe.  The photo of the team is especially poignant because JoJo, who helped them translate for their clinic, died two days after they finished clinic.   None of us knows what the next day will bring!  It is so important to treasure the moments with people we care about.  

Day 4 (Thursday May 12, 2016)

We made our final journey to the school for the last day of clinic this week. I have to admit that the remaining number of individuals in need of an exam that day was a daunting one, as we didn't want to leave without meeting our intended goal of seeing every student at St. Vincent's.

We quickly got to work after arriving as we had done the days before and started examining the six remaining classes of students. Our efficiency noticeably improved as we were able to conduct the exams with better ease. Working through the obvious difference in language (whether French, Haitian Creole or sign language) was less of an obstacle as we picked up key phrases or gestures with help from the students and our interpreters.

Knowing this was our last day, we made time to interact with the students and distribute some of the gifts we brought with us. The bandanas were definitely a huge hit with the students, with many of them lining up and requesting one by gesturing the act of wiping their face. We had plenty of stickers, bubbles, and lollipops to go around and were able to put lots of smiles on the students faces! This was probably my personal highlight of the week, just being able to really meet face to face with the individuals we have the pleasure of serving during the week.

Today was definitely the busiest day of the week, with us working through part of our usual lunch break. I can say with great pleasure that we were able to examine each student that was present during the week as well as many of the administrators, teachers and staff. We saw a total of 197 students and staff today! A complete breakdown of our patient encounters for the entire week is below:

409 patients seen (students and staff)
154 pairs of prescription glasses ordered/dispensed
137 pairs of sunglasses dispensed
5 low vision devices dispensed/ordered
38 ophthalmology referrals
89 patients with identified ocular pathology

Knowing that our team was able to provide a much needed service to many individuals was very rewarding, but what is even more rewarding are the relationships that we have been able to form during the past few days. Many hearts and minds were changed as a result, leaving none of us the same as when we first arrived. For that, we are so thankful to St. Vincent's for allowing us the opportunity to share our gifts through service and very grateful to each individual, who through much preparation, made this trip possible. The experience has been mutually impactful and we hope to meet again. Until next revoir!

Feyi Aworunse

Saturday, May 28, 2016

JoJo's Wake

In Haiti, as in the US sometimes, folks have a wake to remember their loved one, tell stories, celebrate their life with us.  Friday night we gathered in the courtyard of St Vincent's with all of the residents, many of the staff, as well as many in the deaf community from outside St Vincent's.  Sonya had given me a collection of photos of JoJo, including a CD.  This CD became the slide show backdrop for the celebration.  Children and adults alike kept looking at these photos as they read prayers from the Prayer Book, some tearing up as they spoke about their lives with JoJo.

Pere Fan Fan asked me to say a few words on behalf of the Friends of St Vincents and others, and I include my brief comments below.  Clauricianne helped me translate my words into Kreyol so I could speak first in Kreyol and then in English, with Sherye signing for the many deaf in the audience.  
PIcture a darkening concrete courtyard, under a canvas covering, with JoJo's photos projected on the concrete wall to one side of the audience.  Men working on connecting a light bulb to the canvas covering, throughout the celebration, as the evening got darker and darker.  No light ever came on, but they continued to work diligently . At one point the power went out and even the light from the projector went out.   I'm not sure the deaf could actually SEE Sherye interpreting for them, but no matter. It was very touching to be part of this remembrance for "Msr Joseph Jean Paul".

Sherye and I are very  happy to be here with all of you today.  We bring the hearts of our friends in the US and Canada who could not be here today.  
Hope with Friends of St Vincent's
Pere Drew with West Tennessee Haiti Partnership
Sonya who sent the photos of JoJo
Sam with 100 Gardens
Tom with Jacob's Color Link
Karen with Healing Hands Canada

All of us remember JoJo, and he was a friend to everyone who came to St VIncent's.  He taught me many things about this school, about the children, about Haiti.  I have 3 of his paintings in my house.  Sherye also has 2 paintings in her house.  He showed all of us how to live.  How to be strong.  How to have many friends.  How to welcome the stranger.  JoJo's friendship stays with us after he is gone.  We will never forget JoJo.

Zanmi m'wen Sherye e mwen nou kontan icit la paske nou we tout moun jodi-a.  Nou pote ke zanmi yo ki pa vini ici jodi-a.
Hope ak Friends of St Vincent's 
Pere Drew ak West Tennessee Haiti Partnership
Sonya ki te voye fotos JoJo
Sam ak 100 Gardens
Tom ak Jacob's Color Link
Karen ak Healing Hands Canada

Tout moun sonje JoJo.  Li te zanmi chak moun ki visite San Vinsan.  Epi chak elev l'ecole.  Li te pale'm anpil de San Vinsan, anpil bagay de timoun yo ici, anpil bagay de Ayiti, peyi sa ke m'renmen.  M'genyen 3 tablo de Jojo nan kay m'wen.  Sherye genyen 2 nan kay li.  Li te montre tout moun kijan pou viv!  Kijan pou gen fos.  Kijan pou genyen anpil zanmi.  Kijan pou di bienveni a etranje.  Zanmitay Jojo rete ici ak nou apre li te ale.  Nou pa janm bliye JoJo.

Joy and Sadness

Sherye and I are in the Hotel Montana, having just enjoyed breakfast and tea on the patio and now in the airconditioned room taking a rest before going to St Vincent's to see the kids.  It doesn't feel like I'm in Haiti somehow, where uniformed staff bring bottled water to my room and we have television and air conditioning. 

Arrived last night in a heavy rainstorm.  Driving through Port au Prince at night is a different experience than our usual treks in the daytime.  We rode with the windows open, feeling the lovely breeze and the rain mist on our faces.  We chatted briefly with our driver in a mix of Kreyol and English, passing the usual Salon Beaute and FanFan Tire Shop and Loto stalls, with motorcycles driving towards us, in our lane, only to swerve out of the way at the last minute back into their own lane of traffic.  Headlights are the only lights on the street at night, now reflecting from the rain drenched streets.  Potholes are to be driven AROUND, not through, as they contain rivers of water. At one point our driver joked that his car was also a boat, as we drove/floated across one deep gully that crossed the entire road.  

We were shocked to pay $80 for the airport transfer to our hotel, and realized we should have negotiated that price BEFORE we left rather than after . Another lesson learned.  

I am excited to see the kids today.  This is an unexpected trip for me to Haiti, of course for the very sad reason that we have come for the funeral of JoJo.  But it is a treat nonetheless to be able to see the children.  We plan to spend the day at the school, and Pere Fan Fan has planned an evening event at the school tonight for story telling and sharing about JoJo.  That will be a sad and yet joyful time, celebrating the life of this amazing man who was a friend to all the children, staff and visitors of St Vincent's and an example of what the human spirit can be.  Pere Fan Fan has asked me to say "a few words" on behalf of the Friends of St Vincent's, the West Tennessee Haiti Partnership, Jacob's Color Link and 100 Gardens.  All partners in helping the school.  We will join in our shared grief at the sudden loss of this incredible man, who only two weeks ago was helping the optometry team from Memphis.

Sherye and I have filled our water bottles and have our phone/cameras ready. I have brought prints of JoJo, sent to me by Sonya, to hand out as mementos for the children.  They have all grown up knowing JoJo their entire lives.   I am grateful to those who made it possible for us to come on this trip, especially Bishop Johnson who generously paid for our plane tickets.  Other folks like Diane Reddoch have donated to help defray our travel expenses, (like the $80 cab ride, YIKES) and I am grateful to you all.  We bring all of you with us.
Susan and Sherye at the Atlanta airport
Susan Nelson 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Joseph Jean Paul - memorial fund

Several of you have expressed a desire to help cover medical costs and funeral arrangement for JoJo
 I have asked Hope Lennartz to receive any donations and to forward them to Pere Fan Fan, via the Diocese of Haiti. I encourage all of us to participate in this special fund.    Please mail your donation to:

 Hope Lennartz
105 Federal St
W Hartford, CT  06110
Please mark it clearly "For JoJo memorial fund"

We are grateful to Dr. Dianne Jean-Francois and Regine Polynice for their assistance in seeking professional counseling for the children as they begin to live their lives in the absence of Jojo.  These children have known JoJo all their lives and are saddened and shocked by his sudden death.  

We are all united in our thoughts and prayers for Jojo, the children, the teachers, and all who knew and loved him.

May God continue to bless them,

Susan Nelson

Monday, May 16, 2016


I am stunned by the news that my friend, Jo Jo has died. Truly he was one of the most unforgettable characters I will ever meet. This kindly man took me into his heart and taught me what it means to be Haitian. He survived the earthquake which took so many Haitian lives but by chance and The Hand of God lived to tell his story. He was one of the first children Sister Joan rescued from the street and always had the welfare of the children and St. Vincent's foremost in his heart. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful rest in peace. 


Sunday, May 15, 2016


"To say I'm devastated is an understatement. I just found out that my friend, 
JoJo, passed yesterday. He was an amazing man who loved his family at 
Ecole St Vincent Haiti unconditionally. He welcomed me into his community 
and made me feel like part of the family. JoJo always greeted me and hugged 
me as only he could. We drew together, painted together, laughed together 
and he kicked my BUTT in checkers every single time we played - we even 
dined and swam together on occasion. He was a huge advocate and unofficial 
spokesperson for inclusion of people with disabilities in Haiti and a sweet 
(albeit sometimes ornery!) man. I am so thankful to have known him for all 
this time. JoJo, you will be sorely missed but I know you are dancing around 
Heaven right now, getting ready to paint with 2 hands!!! 
Sonya Yencer


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Southern College of Optometry - Day 3 in Haiti

Day 3 (Wednesday, May 11, 2016)

This morning we took a more "scenic" route, to St. Vincent's, with beautiful views of the mountains and a quick peek of the ocean if you looked far enough.

We got to the school just after the start of the Wednesday morning church service for all of the children and students at St. Vincent's. Filled with vibrant songs and prayers, it was obvious that this was the favorite part of the week for many of the children. Our team was welcomed and invited to take part in Communion before the conclusion of the service. Soon after, we greeted many of the students before they were hurried off to class. It was time to get to work..for both us and them!

I spent most of the day doing patient intake with the assistance of Dieumene Clorisin. Now, Dieumene is an amazing young woman. I'll tell you why. The majority of the students we saw today were hard of hearing or completely deaf, relying on communication through sign language. Dieumene was able to communicate effortlessly with the students through sign language using her feet...yes her feet! Dieumene was born was without her upper limbs and relies on the use of her feet or toes. She was once a student at St. Vincent's and now studies English and assists with many of the activities at St. Vincent's.

During our lunch break, Joesph Jean-Paul (who I spoke of earlier this week) took time to show our team some of his artwork. Know if you don't remember, Joseph was born without any limbs but paints with a brush either in his mouth or strapped to his upper arm. His artwork is nothing short of amazing and many of our team members purchased some beautiful paintings.

Today was a busy patient care day, with us seeing over 80 students and staff. A final breakdown will provided tomorrow, since our clinic will conclude then. Each day has been filled with something new or things that are seemingly old hat but you're forced to look at it a different way. That's the beauty of working with these amazing individuals this week. Tomorrowis our last day, in which we will probably work our hardest to ensure every student at St. Vincent's is seen. We are pretty close to achieving that goal and I can't wait to see all those beautiful smiles as a result. Until then! 


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Eye team at St Vincents Day 2

Day 2 (Tuesday, May 10, 2016)

Today got off to an earlier start but not without experiencing morning rush hour in Port au Prince. We really got a feel for the morning hustle and bustle that takes place within the city! Just before pulling into the gates of St. Vincent, we could hear the children singing and chanting. We were quickly greeted with smiles and waves from the children, eagerly awaiting the chance to have their eyes checked. We quickly set up our equipment and began our work. While yesterday's group appeared to have many students with visual disabilities, today's group of students were mostly physically handicapped or mentally handicapped. Both circumstances presented their own challenges but we continued to be awed by the students and their courage and independence despite their unique situations. Simply amazing!

Today we exceeded our goal (of 80 exams) and saw close to 100 patients! The breakdown of our patient encounters are below.

96 patients seen (students and staff) 
43 pairs of prescription glasses ordered/dispensed
52 pairs of sunglasses dispensed
7 ophthalmology referrals
13 patients with identified ocular pathology

The children and staff of St. Vincent continue to impact us, seemingly more than we think we are impacting them. I know with each passing day, it will become harder to accept that our time here is limited and we will soon have to say goodbye. But, that time has yet to come! We will have to take it day by day. With that said, tomorrow awaits!


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Eye doctor team visits St Vincent's

We have a team from Southern College of Optometry - SVOSH Eye Care team- working at St Vincent's this week. Feyi is a lead team member and is sending me daily updates about their trip.

Day 1 (Monday, May 9, 2016)

The day got off to a great start beginning with a tour of St. Vincent. We made our way to each of classrooms, with Jean Robert letting the students know that we are here to provide eye exams throughout the week. The students were very excited to see us and we too looked forward to working with them as well. We were given a brief history of St. Vincent Centre and its founder, Sister Joan Margaret. Soon after, we were introduced to Joseph Jean-Paul, who was once a student at Centre and is now on staff, playing an integral role in the centre's day to day functions.

The first group we examined ranged in age from 6 years to 67 years old. The breakdown of patient encounters are below:

47 patients seen (students and staff)
15 pairs of prescription glasses ordered/dispensed
29 pairs of sunglasses dispensed
2 low vision devices were dispensed (magnifiers)
10 ophthalmology referrals
30 patients with identified ocular pathology

Despite a delayed start, we came close to our goal number (50 patients) for the day. We are very excited for the rest of the week and look forward to a great start tomorrow morning!