Tag Archives: Haiti

It Looks Like We’re in Jurassic Park

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As I begin this post, we are taxing down the runway toward our gate in Miami. The pilot just told us over the intercom that it’s something like 76 degrees here. I’m just looking forward to some air conditioning and some food.

Our morning began like so many others, us rising with the sun. It’s been so nice this week not to be startled by my alarm but to wake up more naturally. We again were served a hearty breakfast before it was time to get ready for worship. Two of our compatriots even managed to match.

Before we left to walk to the church, several of the pastors served Communion on the front porch of the house. With the spectacular views and the wonderful new friends, it was a special time.

We walked together to the church and joined many of the Haitians from the community. Although the majority of the service was in Creole, the songs that were sung and the mere presence of God in that place were uplifting. We were given seats of honor at the very front of the sanctuary. Our group participated in worship as well by singing “Sanctuary” and “As I Went Down to the River to Pray.”

David P., through a translator, shared his message on thirst and how Jesus is the only one who can fulfill our thirst.

We were escorted out of worship early because we had a flight to catch. The pastor of the church actually stopped the service and told us to head back to the house. We filed out of the church with everyone watching us

After some quick last minute packing, a costume change, and a hearty lunch, we loaded up our stuff and headed back towards Port Au Prince or so we thought. When we got to the bottom of the crazy hill, we had to get out and hike up the hill one last time. We didn’t do it for nostalgia but because the van couldn’t get up the hill otherwise!

The ride to the airport was a lot smoother than the ride to Cange at the beginning of the week. Maybe it was because we were going downhill or maybe it was because Madison shared her Dramamine with me.

We had a short wait in the Haiti airport and several of the guys got up close and personal with security. You could tel everyone was so drained because for the first time all week we were sitting together but it was quiet.

The flight to Miami was peaceful. The ocean was amazing because you could see the current! I don’t think I’ve seen so many blues in my entire life! If the flight was peace, the Miami airport was chaos. Maybe it was that we were exhausted but the airport signs were unclear and the process was complicated.

We had to go through Passport check, security, customs, and pick up and recheck our baggage. Then we had to find ourselves something to eat before our flight to Charlotte left. Most of chose, being typical Americans, chose pizza and boy was it good!

Most of our team slept all the way to Charlotte. Those of us who didn’t, got to see lightening from the height of the clouds producing it. The landing in Charlotte was smooth and so was our exit. Several people seemed to have lost their luggage. As I was leaving the airport, they were in the offices trying to find out where it was.

For me, the goodbyes at the airport were harder than bucket showers, remembering to not flush the toilet paper, or walking almost everywhere we went. In many ways we became a family, disfunctional at times, but a group who really care about each other. We will miss finding Connor’s stuff mixed in with our own, Madison having her face time in the mirror, AJ’s hilarious jokes, Catherine’s contageous smile, and something unique about every other person. We are better for having met each other and many of us will be friends for life!

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(In the bracket), I have something to say!

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It’s our last night in Haiti which is said with happiness and sadness. Many of us are excited to return to our families and our warm beds, but we are sad to leave our new friends and this special place. Some of us have started packing while others of us still have our belongings scattered all over the floor.

Unanimously, it has been one of the best days we’ve had while in Haiti. While we didn’t work directly with the kids at the Cange school, we went on some of the most amazing trips. One group visited Luke’s, who is one of the translators, school. The other group visited a village which is connected during the rainy season only by a swinging bridge.

In the morning, we really didn’t have any set plans but everyone still got up bright and early. The sun rise helped most of us wake up and we even felt cold this morning! Breakfast was what we’ve become used to: cornflakes without milk, raisin bread, Laughing Cow cheese, and something that resembled oatmeal.

After breakfast, we had some free time to do what we wanted. Some people visited the gift shop at the hospital to pick up some souvenirs and others stayed at the house. Around lunchtime, we set out on our adventures.

Part of the group went to a school which was created by our translators. We rode in the back of a truck down the hill to the lake. From there, we got on a motor boat which took us across the lake. Then there was an approximate two mile hike into the depths of the jungle. Apparently the lake drops significantly when it’s not the rainy season and we walked in the riverbed on super smooth rocks.

This school serves a village of approximately 5000 people and has almost 250 students. Luke, the translator, chose this village to build his school because it was the village in which his mother grew up. The supplies are virtually non-existent and the tent in which they have class has holes in it. I’d sincerely like to at least send pencils and notebooks to the school.

After we had a rest and a visit with the teachers, we were given fresh coconut. These coconuts were the small kind and exactly what you imagine when you think of a coconut. They put a hole in them and allowed us to drink from them. Then they hacked them open with a machete and we got to eat the coconut meat.

We walked back down the mountain and took the boat back to our starting place. Then it was a race back to the house before the storm hit. We made a quick stop at the other translator, Ezekiel’s, house and he climbed a tree with just his hands and his feet. He grabbed the other kind of coconut that is native to Haiti and threw them down to us. We took them back to house to share with the other group.

Meanwhile, simultaneously in another village…

Another group of us started out from Jane’s house with Jane, Dee, and some of our other Haitian hosts.  We climbed the monster hill again, and all piled into the large van in which we had previously rode in from Port Au Prince.  We left Cange and journeyed deeper into the surrounding countryside.

After a short time on the paved road, we made a turn onto a gravel road.  I should mention that Haitian gravel is a little different from American gravel.  It is about 8 times the size, for one thing, and placed in a much more haphazard way.  Our driver took every slightly flat spot as an opportunity to put the pedal to the metal, and we made pretty good time.  Our heads were rather scrambled though.

Presently, we came to Tierra Muscady, where we toured a truly beautiful church and school building.  It had been built with support from the Epsicopal Diocese in Upstate South Carolina, and the Bishop would be visiting the next day; so preparations were underway in earnest.

We returned to the van and bounced along.  The road we were on had been built by the US in the 20s and the bridges were very old.  One of them had been burned, causing us to detour through a small creek.  Still, we soldiered on in the van until the road became impassable for anything other than the plethora of people on foot, donkey, and motorcycle.

At the bottom of the valley, we reached the engineering marvel of the area.  Built by students from Virginia Tech, there was a swinging bridge across the river.  Think Grandfather mountain at a much lower altitude.

The village of Tipeligre, where we were headed lay across a large river.  Today, it was shallow, and people were bathing and doing laundry in the water.  During the rainy season, however, the river swelled in size, completely isolating the village.  Children were unable to attend school, and those who got sick went without medical care.   The bridge changed all that.

We walked across the bridge and into a completely different Haiti than we had seen.  Cange is a rural area, but it is fairly well connected thanks to the Zanmi Lasante hospital and school as well as the Digicel School.  Tipeligre was much different.  We walked uphill about thirty minutes until we reached the church and school.

The church was still under construction.  It has been funded through the cooperation of a Methodist and Baptist church in Blacksburg Virginia.  Every cinderblock, bag of concrete, and even the metal eaves for the ceiling had to be carried across the swinging bridge and up the mountain by hand.  At this time, the 305 children that the school serves have class on the dirt floor of the future sanctuary.

Leneus and the other leaders at Tipeligre had a coconut ceremony for us, which we shared with the children.  If you have never had fresh coconut, let me tell you, it is way better than what you get in the grocery store in the states.

Leneus shared with us that the Tipeligre church will be dedicated on May 29th, 2012.  When finished, it will be just as beautiful as the church in Tierra Muscady.  The children were very friendly and wished us farewell as we raced the rain back to Jane’s house.  We met back with the other group, weary but grateful that we had made the trip to Tipeligre.

Both groups arrived back at the house around the same time. Most of us hurried to take a shower because we were hot and tired from all the hiking we’d done. Then we sat around, sharing stories and laughing until it was time for dinner. They served us goat meat!

After dinner, we had a concert performed by some of the most talented people in Cange. They played music and sang for us and we even sang a little for them. Some people played spoons and we all sang if we knew the songs!

We were given strict orders this evening to have our stuff packed for tomorrow. The preacher from one of the churches invited us to join them tomorrow morning, which is something we’d planned not to do. They pastors on the trip had planned worship, but they worked together to change the plans. We will be singing tomorrow and one of our pastors is lucky enough to be preaching to Cange. They told the preacher that we’d be involved but that he’d have to make the service short so that we’d get to Port Au Prince on time – we’ll still be giving him almost three hours (and we complain about services in the US).

This may be my last post from Haitian soil, depending on how crazy tomorrow is. If I don’t get the chance before, I’ll definitely update in Miami!

That doesn’t sound like Jesus…

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Good evening. It is my attempt to get this blog posted much earlier than I did last night. We’ve all been so busy and have been enjoying each others’ company so much that getting down to the night’s business has been challenging. We didn’t start charging cameras and uploading photographs until after 10:00 p.m. last night.

One change occurred yesterday that was significant. The boys moved into the other houses that they were supposed to be in the entire trip. However, a group of French who were working with Partners in Health stayed longer than planned. The boys have been gracefully sleeping on mattresses in the floor of the dining area. The arrangements have been tight but it was honestly nice to have everyone close. The French group left yesterday afternoon and the boys finally were able to move. They packed up most of their stuff – although the girls’ room is still littered with shoes, water bottles, and other items that belong to the boys – and moved about two hundred yards away into bright pink houses! Paul did, however, leave his hammock hanging in the dining room and he still slept there last night.

This morning started the same way that many of them have. We’ve left the windows open and some of us have left the wooden door open as well (there are grates and screens covering them) and the sunlight seems to be what rouses most of us from our dreams. We get dressed for the day and meet for breakfast. The food seems to be their interpretation of what they think we eat at home. The food is prepared cleanly to keep us safe. Sometimes they get their meals confused and we end up with spaghetti for breakfast and oatmeal for lunch.

Some of the team members consumed a quick breakfast and took the dolls which were made and donated by one of the churches to give to the preschoolers. They sang songs and played games with the kids before we joined them for the last morning session.

We spent hardly any time in the classroom today; instead we went out and enjoyed the kids we’ve been working with and let them have free reign over where they wanted to take pictures. We had a general theme of them showing where they saw God. We showed them the American tradition of self-portrait, silly poses like the Heisman, and we even showed them how we could capture all of them jumping in the air. Several of the groups ended up in a garden. In the heat of the day, this area was cool and lush with life.

According to our hostess, that area is used to teach agriculture to the students. They learn to plant and grow things, and, when the plants are a size where they are sustainable, they are allowed to take them home to plant.

When we returned to the school, we allowed the students to pick a photograph to print. Although they had taken amazing photographs over the course of the week, many of them simply wanted a photograph of themselves or with a group of their friends. I think that we gave them such a blessing to allow them to have a photograph of themselves at this particular moment in their lives. Not only will they remember this class and our time with them, they will have a tangible reminder of who they were at this point in their lives. I would venture to say that most, if not all, of these young adults have never had a photograph of themselves. Although we brought pencils, notebooks, underwear, and many other items to give away, I firmly believe we gave them an amazing gift today!

Once everyone had their photograph printed, we had a short closing. The students that we worked with all week shared their gratitude for the opportunity and thanked their teachers.

I am amazed at the ambitions of so many of these students. They don’t strive to be farmers or to sell items at the market. They desire to be doctors, teachers, lawyers, and diplomats. I hope and pray that they are able to see these dreams into fruition. They are the future of Haiti and I firmly believe that they will do great things for the country of which they are so proud.

Email addresses were exchanged and lots of kids promised to friend us on Facebook. I cannot wait to return home and continue relationships with these wonderful new friends. After goodbyes, hugs, and even some tears on our part were shared, the group split up. Half of us returned to the house for a rest break and some down time. The other group joined a class which was working on letters to students in America.

One of the most interesting concepts about school in Haiti is that the classes are not based on age but on passing exams and the time they’ve been in school. This means that there can be 10 year olds and 20 year olds in the same class. The class we worked with today was the fourth grade. The teachers translated a letter from a class in Atlanta, Georgia who were going to be pen pals. The students copied a letter written on the chalkboard in English and filled in their own personal details. We sat with the kids and helped them with spelling and sharpening pencils.

When we were finished, some of us headed back to the hospital to visit the gift shop with items from local artists. We spoke with the woman who ran the gift shop who had retired to Cange. She was from Greenville, South Carolina and she definitely displayed the Southern hospitality to which we are accustomed. It was so difficult to get out of the shop because she wanted to talk!

While the group who worked with the kids writing the letters took some time to rest, the others returned to the school to instruct the teachers on how to use the equipment so that they could continue to teach once we go home. They allowed the teachers to take photographs before showing them how to use the printers. We presented them the laptop. They were overwhelmed by the fact that we were giving them all this equipment when we’d only met them earlier in the week.

We’ve finally all returned to the house and we’re wandering among different groups having discussions. Two of the translators have joined us and are asking us about Yani and Michael Bolton. We explained to them that while we knew who they were, we really didn’t listen to them. It was nice to have discussions with people so close in age to our group.

Tim is working on finishing his devotion this evening. We’re distracting him from finding a Bible verse that he needs. It’s almost time for dinner and then we’ll just hang out at the house until it’s time for bed.

The school is closed tomorrow, so I’m not really sure what our plan will be. It will be interesting though and I’ll be sure to share what’s going on. Then on Sunday, we’ll be getting ready to head home. I’ll try to post before the car ride and then again when we hit Miami.

The clutch still works but the transmission is slipping

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We have survived another day in Haiti! It been such a crazy day that I’m not sure we can share all our adventures.

This morning we had a surprise for breakfast. Our host wouldn’t tell us what we were eating until each of us tried it. Luckily it looked similar to oatmeal so we weren’t scared that there were strange meats involved. Once everyone had sampled, we were shocked to learn that it was blended spaghetti noodles! The taste was surprisingly amazing.

We headed down to the school and actually made it on time. After a super brief lesson, we headed out into the town of Cange to take photographs. We walked throughout the market where there were fresh fruits and vegetables as well as live chickens. The chickens were ready to be purchased and plucked for dinner. We wandered into Zanmi Lasante (which is the hospital sponsored by Partners in Health) which is a huge complex which features the hospital room and emergency room, a school, and a church. We wandered in the “gift shop” which featured art created by local artists. We found some really cool items to bring back to our family, friends, and our own homes.

We showed the children their pictures that they took the previous day using a donated laptop and a projector at the school. They were excited to see their photographs and were proud of their work. It made my heart happy to see their joy!

Everyone was having so much that we didn’t make it back to the school on time. We had the opportunity to really converse with the Haitian students we’re working with because they opened up to us when we were away from the school. I’m not sure if it was the environment change or the fact that they’re getting more comfortable with us but it’s nice to use more than hand gestures. Their pictures are improving greatly and some of the kids have made huge leaps and bounds in terms of their skills.

We came back and were served lunch again. We’re all afraid to not eat something of our own because they kitchen workers might take our words to heart and not cook for us. We’ve all tried to be really polite and not offend the Haitians by turning down food. Most of us have been eating two lunches every day.

After lunch, we enjoyed our siesta and prepared ourselves to work with the afternoon group.

As we walked down to the school, we commented on the clouds and how tricky they were. We have been expecting rain for days and it has never come. Today, the sky looked overcast again but we weren’t hopeful for rain. Right as we got ready to start the lesson, the sky opened up and rain began to fall. Thinking it was a short rain shower, three of us ran to experience the rain. One of the little boys joined us and we jumped and skipped, much to the delight of the children. Some of the other children who have not been a part of the program came to play in the rain. They taught us some really fun kids games that they play. One of the involved freezing when the song ended and not being the first to move.

It rained like I’ve only seen before during a hurricane. The rain came down in sheets sideways. It was so heavy at times that we couldn’t hear the photography lesson. Instead, we decided to sing. They started with ‘Jesus Loves Me’ which we taught the kids in English and Sign Language. Then we moved onto “How Great Thou Art.” We sang it in English and then the Haitians sang it in French. Finally, we sang it in our own languages simultaneously. It was one of the most powerful moments of the entire trip.

Some of us (Paul) took advantage of the rain to take their first shower of the trip. Others enjoyed the wonderful clean water to take what is arguably the best shower of the trip. It’s been raining off and on all night which we hope will continue to aid our sleep.

Now we’re all dancing in one of the bedrooms. They’ve already Dougied and Wobbled. Now they’re doing the Cupid Shuffle which is hilarious! The other room is learning to walk with bowls on their heads like many of the Haitian women.

So Much To Do!

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We are less than 9 hours away from departing for Haiti. We have to meet at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow. For those of you who aren’t major insomniacs, we’ll be up and on our way before most of you crawl out of your warm beds. We will fly from Charlotte to Miami and then plane hop for our flight into Port-au-Prince. From there, we’ll drive approximately 2 hours to Cange.

Part of our team was going to gather tonight to enjoy pizza and pack. I originally thought I’d be joining them; however, I started packing about 20 minutes before they were meeting. All of us have been busy trying to get our lives in order to leave and I know several who couldn’t attend tonight.

The adventure is almost ready to begin. We will be posting here every day while we’re gone to let our friends and family know we’re safe and to share what we’re doing. We will share our photographs, photographs the kids have taken, and an update of what we’re doing.

To all the worried mommas, please know that sometimes the Internet in Haiti can be sketchy and we may not ALWAYS be able to upload our posts. Updating this blog will be our first priority when it comes to Internet use. However, do not be worried if, for reasons outside of our control, the posts aren’t as timely as you would like!

Check in at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow (or whenever you finally wake up) for pictures from the airport!

A Little Brighter Today

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Yesterday’s post was a little bleak; today we’re going to share some “fun” facts about Haiti.

1. In 1807, gourds were the national currency of Haiti and all gourds were named property of the state. Today, Haitian currency is called “gourdes”

2. One of Haiti’s islands, Tortuga Island (Île de la Tortue in French), was a pirate stronghold in the seventeenth century.

3. Cow Island, which lies off Haiti’s southern coast, is named as such because it was once overrun by wild cows descended from animals abandoned by the Spanish.

4. The capital Port-Au-Prince was founded in 1749 and was named for the Prince, a French ship anchored in the bay.

5. Haiti was the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world.

6. Since 1804 Haiti has had four national flags.

7. The word barbecue comes from the Spanish translation of the native Haitian word barbacoa.

All We Don’t Know

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I still feel like I only know a little bit about Haiti. My normal process when traveling is to obsessively research and then to deliberate on every aspect of my trip. I’m a planner. However, on this trip, I really haven’t had that option. I’m along for the ride … and it’s only stressed me out a little!

When you do a broad Google search for Haiti, your search results are mostly current news articles about the reconstruction of the country and about the problems that still exist there from the earthquake that happened in 2010 as well as data fact sheets posted by various agencies. Even when you search something specific like “travel to Haiti,” you only get posted warnings from various state governments and broad information from a few of the larger travel organizations (Lonely Planet, etc).

Here are seven of the most startling facts compiled from a list created by Random Facts.

1. More than 10% of Haitian children die before age five.

2. Eighty percent of Haitians live under the poverty. The average per capita income in Haiti is $480 a year, compared to $33,550 in the United States.

3. Only 53% of Haitians can read and write.

4. Only about 10% of all Haitian children enrolled in elementary school go on to a high school.

5. Families who live in the country spend almost 60% of their income on food.

6. One in 50 people are infected with HIV/AIDS.

7. More than 200,000 Haitians died and millions were left homeless in a devastating earthquake in January 2010.

18 Days!

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In honor of the fact that our trip is 18 days away and we have 18 participants, check out our “Who We Are” tab to get quick bios on our participants.

While we’re still in the planning stages and there’s not a lot of trip details to report, there’s a book that I want to share. It’s a book that I was given by a friend right before I left for a mission trip last summer. She’d just finished reading it and she said that I should give it a try.

Written by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision in the United States, “The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God Expect of Us” is a book that every Christian should consider. The premise is blindingly simple and comes from James 2: 14-18 which say:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

Stearns recounts his own struggle with faith and his decision to eventually leave Lenox and and join World Vision at a significant pay cut.  The book is honest and doesn’t push any agenda other than doing God’s work.

I hope that as we travel to Haiti, that we can show our faith through our deeds.

Where We’ll Be

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We will be visiting a town called Cange, Haiti which is located about 2 hours by vehicle from the capital city of Port-Au-Prince. Haiti is located on the island of Hispaniola, between Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. Haiti occupies one-third of the island; the rest belongs to the Dominican Republic.

Map of Haiti

According to the World Factbook, published by the United States CIA, Haiti has the worst malnutrition (nearly half of the population is chronically undernourished), the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality, and the worst AIDS epidemic in the Americas. Whereas the infant mortality rate in the United States is 5.98 deaths per 100,000 live births, the rate for Haiti is 52.44 deaths per 100,00 live births.

95 percent of Haiti’s population is black; the other 5 percent is mulatto or white. Over 80 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic with another 16 percent identifying as Protestant (Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%).

Cangeis a small village located in the Central Plateau of the country. It sets on the edge of Lake Peligre which was created by a large hydroelectric dam. Cange is home to an organization called Zanmi Lasante, or Partners in Health, which services the people of Haiti. Created in 1985, the clinic “[features] a 104-bed, full-service hospital with an infectious disease center, … a women’s health clinic, … a laboratory, a pharmaceutical warehouse, a Red Cross blood bank, and a dozen schools.”

As you can see, there is need in this community and we are excited in our mission to play a small role.

Introductions

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To try to imagine how each of 18 different young adults arrived at this opportunity is next to impossible. We are diverse and we each carry our own story; however, for the next month (and possibly for the rest of our lives) our experiences will overlap and will bring us together. We were each graciously chosen for our unique talents, abilities, and life experiences — not only by the search committee but by God.

Isaiah 6:8 says “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”

It shows a lot of faith to apply for a mission trip with a group of people you may have never met before. There’s not a safety net of having your friends or people from your church there. You enter into this on blind faith that this is what God wants from you. You look at him and say those words from Isaiah — send me to do YOUR will. I think that’s a powerful choice to go where God leads without knowing what will happen.

We met for the first time on Saturday to get the details of our trip. It was our first opportunity to gather any information on the people who’d be going with us. Granted, I knew from looking at the email addresses of my fellow attendees that one of them is a “six foot beast” and that several attend Appalachian State but I had no real idea as to who I’d be meeting. When I walked in, everyone was smiling and welcoming.

The majority of our time was spent learning about where we’d be going and getting the itinerary for our trip. We met the team and introduced ourselves before really diving into the project. I felt really empowered by the fact that the project wasn’t completely laid out before us, that we had the power to use our knowledge to impact what we’d be doing.

This blog will chronicle our trip. Please join us on this adventure.