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Nov 2013 - St. Vincent's Trip

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Simple Joys

Today is my last working day in Haiti. Tomorrow I fly home to Memphis. 

Sipping delicious Haitian coffee this morning and feeling the cool breezes. Anyone who has travelled to Haiti knows these simple joys.  Amid the experiences of disappointment and frustration there are smiles and hugs from old friends.  A child's grin.   The lilting "Bon Jou" from every passing stranger.  Fresh mango for breakfast.  Brilliant pink flowers bursting from the rocky hillsides. And that fantastic coffee.  

Yesterday was full and running over. Jennifer (Director of Development for Governing Board St Vincents) and I went with Pere FanFan to meet Bishop Duracin and Vundla,  COO (Episcopal Diocese of Haiti)   Full support voiced for our new Governing Board and continuing our work at St Vincents.

Spent the rest of the day at the school.  An unexpected treat because our schedule originally was to be elsewhere but in true Haitian fashion, plans changed. 

Just a few tidbits from our day:

An adult teacher who is deaf asks if she could start sleeping at the school. She teaches at St Vincents from 8:00 am until 3:00 pm every day.  Then goes to school in the evening from 7-9 pm. Her home is 2 hours away by tap-tap. 

Rather than travel late at night and arrive home at midnight, could she sleep in one of the dorms?  Aurelie(new school administrator) had to come up with an answer.   What would you do?

School secretary and school nurse inventories all the supplies our team brought.  Ibuprofen. Aspirin. Tylenol.  Diapers.  Bed liners. Hydrocortisone cream. Kerlix gauze and ACE wraps. Bandaids.  Alcohol wipes. Washcloths.  And so on.

Aurelie received 7 barrels of shipped goods from Friends of St Vincent in Connecticut. Before she distributes them she wants to make a full inventory and label everything. 

One of the dorm residents has an eye infection and needs a prescription.  Dr. Groce from SCO writes the prescription, after consulting with Dr Marius the local Haitian eye doctor. Dr Groce then gives the written rx to child's caregiver.  She later gives it to the head caregiver. She in turn gives it to Mr Noel, one of the administrators, who sends a driver to pick it up 
(this process took 3 days)

A family comes to see Pere FanFan with their handicapped daughter asking for prayer; she is two years old but has not learned to walk and can't hold her head up. Pere FanFan invites me to meet them, sets out chairs for all of us, then leaves the room.  They speak no English of course.  I realize suddenly I am expected to give a medical consultation.

Mom and dad and godmother are here with beautiful child dressed in pink lace and perfect black patent leather shoes. Jennifer quickly offers to get Aurelie to help translate. Child was born prematurely at 7 months because of preeclampsia in the mother.  Has never been ill but can't walk or stand. They have sought many doctors including voodoo priests to find answers.  Is their child under a curse?

They obviously adore this child and she is well cared for. Next 30 minutes spent reassuring parents they are being excellent parents   No she is not under a curse.  She was born two months early and her development is delayed.  She says a few words which is a good sign. Her muscles are well developed which means her nutrition is good (like all parents of two year olds they worry their child doesn't eat enough)

Keep her in physical therapy, she may learn to walk with a walker.  She is only two so there is hope she will learn more and get stronger.  No there is no medicine or surgery that can fix this.  And so on.  By the end of this encounter my Kreyol was in full swing and Pere FanFan came back. We all prayed for the child.  Powerful experience.  

After all that as Jennifer and I are dragging ourselves to the car , the senator arrives. Representative of the local region of the Haitian government who is a good friend and advocate for St Vincents. Printemps Belizaire.  It is now 5:00 but there is no choice but to return to Pere FanFan's office for a meeting. "5 minutes " became the catchword for our day yesterday. 5 Haitian minutes, that is.

Smiles and handshakes, gratitude expressed, stories exchanged.  As we rose to leave (30 minutes later) Jennifer asked Msr Belizaire what he would tell Americans about Haiti.
Haiti is a country with much hospitality, he said. Come and join us and stand together with us in solidarity.
Nou kanpe ansanm

Heading for the car I am greeted by Mackenson. He has graduated from college but must pay for his diploma. I promised him I would help him with this if he found out the fee. He has texted me earlier (during the endless meeting with the senator) the fee was 1500 Haitian gourdes or $160 US.  That can't be right because 1500 gourdes is about $22 US. So I write a check for $25 to the school so that Pere FanFan can pay for Mackenson's diploma. 

New text from Mackenson says he's sorry but the fee is 1500 Haitian dollars ($300US) or 7500 gourdes. ($113 US) Neither of these numbers make sense either. 

So as I'm climbing into Pere FanFan's truck I ask someone for a pen so I can write a check for $135. Maybe that's close to the correct amount?

Numbers in Haiti, like time, seem fluid. 

My departure, saying goodbye to Mackenson and Victoria and the few children who were hanging around in the courtyard, waving goodbye to Marie Carmelle, felt like tearing something away.  It always feels like that when I leave St Vincents on the last day. Leaving my family. 

Susan Nelson

Monday, October 10, 2016

Another Day at St Vincents

More fun today as the eye doctors gave out most of the rest of the eyeglasses they brought. 

One girl with a very strong prescription came back today, wearing her glasses which made us happy. Many of the children take their new glasses and put them in their pocket!  But she bounced up to us and recognized Kelly, one of the eye doctors.  This is a girl who was using touch to identify people.  Now she saw her from a distance and ran up to her, smiling!  Locson, our interpreter, asked her what color my shoes were. "Vert!" (Green) she said.   Then she turned and RAN UP THE STAIRS.  The school administrator, Aurelie, couldn't believe it.  "She never did that before!" was her comment.  Miracles. 

Alicia insisted that "Drew's kids" come downstairs for the morning, so they could be outside. So Auguste, Diana, Vundla and Yolene spent the morning on the stage watching the other children get their glasses.  Then Yolene and Diana got to choose their own sunglasses. Yolene was very particular and wanted the red ones. 

Later Clauricienne displayed her art, which today was painted seashells.

I bought a whole table full, of course. She talked with Sherye about finishing her projects for her diploma in fashion design.  The school has several sewing machines which have been donated but needed repairs, and we saw them being fixed today by a man named Jean Claude. 

Clauricienne does great work and we hope she will be able to start her own small business with the skills she has learned. Not bad for a girl with no hands except for one finger   You have to watch her to believe it. 

There was so much more happening today but honestly I barely have the energy to write about it.  Our eye doctors met Dr Marius, the Haitian eye doctor who works at St Vincents medical clinic every Thursday. I believe they have established a connection which will help all concerned, as SCO plans to bring a team of optometry faculty and students every year.

Tom Landry came to the school on the afternoon , always a rock star to the kids when he arrives.  Brittany, our pharmacist, now lives in Haiti and she came to visit as well. Funny to meet old friends from the US at our home away from home in Haiti
We all had dinner (and a few adult beverages!) at the Hotel Montana 

Tomorrow our group splits up to various destinations; two visiting another school for the deaf, two going to visit a sponsored child in another part of Port au Prince and two (including me) going to meet with Bishop Duracin (Bishop of Haiti). 

Sherye is already asleep at 9:00 and I'm almost there.  Good night to our faithful supporters. Know that St Vincents is in its usual state of mildly controlled chaos, with miracles happening every day.  Same as always. 



Group of 4 arrived safely in Port au Prince last night and were met at the airport by Pere Fan Fan, Jennifer Wickham, and a couple of friendly faces from St Vincents.  Port au Prince looked pretty dry to us as we drove to the hotel, there was a nice breeze and I was happy to be in Haiti.  Jennifer and Alicia rode in the back of the truck with all the suitcases and we arrived tired but happy at the Hotel Montana.

This morning it was great and reassuring to walk through the school gates and see the familiar faces.  Marie Carmelle.  Jonas.  Adrien. Locson.  Jean Robert. Lots of hugs and smiles.  The school seems unchanged, unaffected by the hurricane.  Worried stories, however, from staff with families in Les Cayes and Jeremie.  School was closed all last week, but today everyone was supposed to return.  Yet there are missing folks..  Frenel and Jean Marc are still in Jeremie.  Blanda is not in school. No one knows exactly if they are OK or not because word is still difficult to get from the villages and towns that were cut off by Hurricane Matthew.  Many staff told me their family home was damaged or destroyed in these villages.   

Life at St Vincent's, however, seems to go on, so we set up eye clinic on the stage in the courtyard. Dr Groce. and Dr. Varney have brought 80 pairs of eyeglasses, specially made by Southern College of Optometry over the summer based on prescriptions written by the eye team that was here in May 2016. Several of the children received very strong prescription glasses, which means they will be able to see in a completely new way.  Imagine what that does to your brain, to suddenly have images to process which it has never seen before.  

Fitting glasses
Arianna received tinted glasses which won't help her see any better, since she is almost completely blind. She only sees light and dark.  But with the glasses, she won't have to squint constantly to block out the sun.  

Ariana and Sherye

Marie Carmelle and Jean Robert have new bifocals; and are learning to use them.  The gift of sight to the caregivers who take such good care of the children year in and year out. 

Marie Carmelle in her new glasses.

Jean Robert tries out his new glasses.

Thank you to all the donors who handed me wads of cash this past week.  It turns out the water pump system was repaired yesterday and the children have clean water again.  Food is expensive but does not seem to be in short supply at the moment.  Aurelie, the new school administrator, is working tirelessly to bring order and structure to the school.   In fact, a group of St. Vincent's students helped pack emergency supplies for people in Les Cayes, so they are reaching out to help others in greater need than themselves at this time. 

The library is still operational, with children's books that have had braille added, or French translations taped in over the English words. Even a braille copy of Harry Potter.

The day ended with a limb crunching ride of 5 people in the cab of a truck with one front seat and a jump seat.  Every time one of the two people in the passenger seat shifted positions, she changed the gear of the car.  Those of us in the jump seat (basically big enough for an umbrella but stuffed with  4 backpacks and two adult humans) lost all the feeling in our legs during the 90 minute drive stuck in traffic.  Nothing a mango daiquiri on the patio of the Hotel Montana couldn't fix, however!

Tomorrow hopefully a repeat of today, to hand out the rest of the eyeglasses. 

Two sides, both needed: Relief AND Development! (by Janet O'Flynn)

From the blog of Janet and Donnel O'Flynn, where they tell the story of the first year of the new Rehabilitation Dept. of the Episcopal University in Haiti. 

Today is the first day I left the campus. I walked across our small town to church, about a mile away, in the early morning. I half expected to be making detours to avoid standing water, since the photos I saw from the trip the nursing students took through town on Thursday showed rivers running where the roads should be, just a few blocks from our campus. Instead, I saw dry streets, with piles and piles of branches and leaves, carefully cut into lengths and swept together. A lot of trees went down – and so the sun was a little brighter on my walk.

There were fewer people at church than normal, maybe 2/3 of the usual number. The rector is away, on a trip to the US to be with his wife who lives and works in Florida. The visiting priest who celebrated and preached seemed at first very formal and distant, but during the singing of Kréyol hymns (rocking out rhythms!) and during the preaching he lightened up. It was a LONG sermon. It seemed to me with my limited Kréyol to have two points. The first was about how to build faith, live in faith, no matter what – and the “no matter what” was the hurricane.   The second point, based on the Scripture texts for the day about the Naaman the Syrian (who did give thanks), and about the ten lepers who were cleansed (but only one gave thanks), was that we need to be sure to be grateful! Maybe we lost property, maybe we had injuries, maybe our family took harm, but we are alive and we are here. The priest said that so often we pray for ten days for deliverance from a problem, and then we pray in thanks for ten minutes when it is resolved!
I think that for Haitians the relief of still being here, after the storm, is almost immediately followed by a sense of alarm about the next thing! Maybe that’s true in every part of the world, but here the calamities seem to roll along at a faster clip. So a practice of stopping to give thanks is a very timely discipline.  In fact, it is part of everyday habit to say, when asked “how are you?”, “Fine, thanks to God!”
For me, as an American in a helping profession, this has been an odd day. As I returned to the campus, walking with a nursing student, there were two very large helicopters passing overhead, toward the west. The Marines are here to deliver aid and medical care, and at least two of the US medical teams we have gotten to know here at the guest house have been posting their plans to come to give emergency care. It is an exciting prospect, full of adrenalin and idealism. It would be very appealing to have something particular to offer, to climb onto that helicopter and go straight into the areas of devastation, where human beings are without clean water, food, shelter, and medical care. It is vital rescue work!
We in fact do “own” a little part of that, as an FSRL team member (Diana Honorat) has set up a “GoFundMe” page for the families of our small group of rehab students who have had significant losses from the hurricane. The most significant loss was for our second year PT student, Micza. Her family’s home and two businesses, in Port-a-Piment, were completely destroyed. Her family members are still in a public shelter, along with most of the people in that small coastal town.   Money given through that page will go directly to that family. Only two “middlemen” will handle it: Diana first, and then me, and then it will be in the hands of these people in dire need.
Here is that link:
The fourth year nursing students here have also accepted the challenge of making a contribution to relief, in the following way. They are going to canvass the students and faculty, and with the funds collected will buy dry foods and clean clothing to distribute in Léogâne during the coming week. It is a grass-roots, all-Haitian, effort, and that is a pure joy to see!
But even though I am not going into the heart of the catastrophe, I take solace in remembering that Relief is only the first part of the story! Development is the second part, which is what all of us who are supporting FSRL are involved with every day! I am still after all these months and even years of working on this convinced that it is what Paul Farmer calls an “Area of Moral Clarity”. Paul Farmer, the celebrated medical humanitarian who along with Dr. Kim started Partners in Health, makes the very good point that so many things in our lives are ambiguous, morally complex. So, when we find an “Area of Moral Clarity”, we should rejoice and give it our full effort! As far as I can tell, FSRL is in that Area of Moral Clarity. It is a college program that needs to exist, so that Haitian OTs and PTs can go out into the community and, with full professional credentials, make a crucial difference for people with disabilities.
So that’s why we are all working so hard together on this! We all can take heart, and keep on going! I think of the slogan from President Obama’s campaign, years ago: “Si, se puede!” or “Yes, we can!” How about, “Oui, nous pouvons!” or “Wi, No pou fé sa!"

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Small Medical Team going to St Vincent's Oct 9

This was not SUPPOSED to be a medical team visit.  This trip was intended to have a small group visit the school, see our friends,  have a Governing Board meeting, and fly  home.  Then came Hurricane Matthew.
Of course, nature has her own ideas and now we are flying into Port au Prince 5 days after the massive storm. Winds of up to 230 mph they say.  How is that even possible?
I have read, as many of you have done, every news clip I could get to, trying to get accurate information.  The news reports seem to photograph every disastrous scene, with people walking in water up to their necks.  
News this AM from Jeremie, further west along the southern coast of Haiti, looks very bad. 80% of the town was damaged, they say.  Mango groves decimated. Homes washed away in the mud.
Yet, our friends at St Vincents tell us they are safe and unharmed.  Port au Prince had high winds and heavy rains, but none of the children or staff at the school were injured in the initial storm.  Their main problem now is getting food and clean water.  The water pump system at the school is damaged and not functioning properly.

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