It's been a long time since we've given an update, and I was hoping to post good news this month.
At 8:30 in the morning on Saturday, an earthquake hit southern Haiti, centered around Saint Louis du Sud. Saint Louis du Sud is 128 kilometers from Jeremie, however this particular earthquake had far-reaching effects and managed to shake and damage buildings in Jeremie, including the cathedral and crumbling older businesses and homes. Approximately 300 are reported dead and the Saint Antoine hospital where I worked for many years was overrun with patients spilling into the driveway in front of the emergency room. The hospital is short staffed on weekends and the need has been urgent.
Our team and friends are all fine, with minor injuries. One of our mentors lost their home during the earthquake and their family is temporarily sleeping outdoors.
The city was already destabilized with rising food prices. The area was isolated due to road blocks caused by political instability. We are trying to ensure that we are providing direct support to families during this devastating time, and providing stipends to our students for stability while the town recovers. We appreciate your help.
We are planning a fundraiser for the fall and offering new perks from makers and artists -- coming soon. If you would like to join our mailing list to stay updated on activities, you can sign up here.
Our town of Jeremie has been badly hit by the hurricane and as far as our reports, every building has sustained damage including the regional hospital. Most houses had tin roofs, and these were blown away leaving people’s possessions exposed, and allowing their homes to become completely flooded. Phone service was cut at 6:30 am on Monday, and we are still trying to locate our students to know everyone is safe.
We’ve been contacted by many people looking for trusted places to send donations. A substantial amount of money after the earthquake never reached the intended recipients (notably, NPR covered the failure of the American Red Cross) and it was the subject of the film, Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? Please find out the details of any project before contributing, and in particular their geographic area -- relatively few programs were operating in the Grand Anse department due to how difficult it is to reach the region.
We have worked with all of the following organizations in the past and can vouch for them as having responsible financial practices, a devotion to their missions, and a real presence in the Grand Anse and Sud communities affected by the hurricane.
The Caris Foundation introduced infant HIV testing in nearly every major public hospital, health center, and dispensary across the country. The organization provides training and support to the National Laboratory and works in close coordination with the Ministry for Public Health and Population and has partnered with the CDC. Caris along with the Haitian Health foundation, Medishare, Hopital Bernard Mevs, and other partners ran a field hospital from Oct 11-29 that provided medical services while the regional hospital is in recovery. 100% of donations go directly towards relief for the Grand Anse.
(Co-founder Michelle Therrien worked for Caris from June 2011 until December 2014).
No Time for Poverty opened a high quality pediatric clinic in 2012 and has served over 2000 children per year since opening. This facility has filled a critical gap in medical care and provides high quality services, to patients coming from neighboring towns down the coast from the nearby mountains. Their neighboring public hospitals have sustained significant damage, but the pediatric clinic was build to survive such hurricanes… as such it will be handling a higher patient load, and it is short of supplies.
Operation Blessing distributes surplus medicine and medical supplies across Haiti, and has partnered with the Caris Foundation to aid in relief efforts.
To learn more about Jeremie, you can read Michelle's stories here.
The moment there is a power surge and a computer gets fried. Photo of Michelle taken while she updates some laptops, moments before the old Sony Vaio on the left takes a hit and begins to make a terrible clicking noise and refusing to boot...!
Heading into our seventh day of computer lab training, with our students logging 29 hours of time in the lab thanks to our computer donors. They've registered for English and Spanish classes, and Josie, who has always been interested in law and diplomacy, has begun a class through the University of Geneva on human rights. Every day includes typing practice, and we're seeing the number of words typed per minute increasing every day.
We'll be moving into our new space at the end of this week, so we've ordered a small desk and bench from a local carpenter, looking forward to having it ready at the end of this week.
I met Josie when she was 17 years old. She was usually quiet, the way pretty much all Haitian children are taught to be. We spent years together meeting in the support group, until the day she distinguished herself by sidling up to me in a quiet moment, and opening her mouth. "Michelle!" She bubbled forth, words tumbling out rapidly as she opened her wallet. I had no idea what was happening.
Eventually I caught her words, "Look, we took photos, my aunt took me and my cousin to have our photos taken!" with that she pulled out tiny wallet sized snapshots of herself with another girl close to her age, dolled up in front of the fake backgrounds used for Glamour Shots at Sears. There she was, in front of three different exotic backgrounds. She held the photos to me, beaming. "They're beautiful." I tell her, and she nods proudly, tucking them back away.
She's 21 now, and finished with her school exams. I came back on this trip to work with her as one of our teachers. I kissed her on the cheek today and asked how she was doing.
"My aunt put me outside." She spoke calmly, but her appearance was stressed. Literally to "put someone outside" is to kick them out, to render them homeless. "My aunt is telling everyone I'm sick so I'm going to die anyway, she doesn't want to keep taking care of me. She's having economic difficulties, she kicked out me and my cousin." Josie doesn't ask for anything, she just informs me of the situation. "Miss Flore is helping me, she gives me a little food when she can." Miss Flore is the nurse who took over my old job.
"Josie, where are you living?" I ask her. She's beautiful and I'm terrified of her being in this situation and not having a safe space. "I'm living in a neighbor's house. The house is under construction so they're not living there. They're still working on it, there's no door yet."
"Do you feel safe?"
"I'm safe, my cousin is there with me."
I think about the situation, then ask, "How much does it cost you for food each day?" She gives me the amount in Haitian dollars, and I work out that it comes to US$2, or $60 per month.
We keep talking, and Josie tells me she still has hope, she still believes she be anything if she just tries hard enough. She's keeping herself busy for the summer by going to a neighbor who keeps a library, taking novels and history books, and reading, looking up any words that she doesn't know.
She's strong and tough, but I am terrified about her situation right now and my own powerlessness.
After a while, I ask her if she wants to try the online English lessons. "Please." She nods firmly, then spends the next hour tapping away and taking notes. She tells me, "You have to put yourself into whatever you do."
"Same time tomorrow?" I ask her, and she agrees.
This has been the longest time I've spent away from the city where I lived for three years, Jeremie in the Grand Anse of Haiti. This time I returned with Uplift Health co-founder, Jean-Philippe Therrien and his seven year old son, Julien. Since I left, they've terminated the once-a-day flight, so we arrived on a small, nine passenger plane flown by Missionary Aviation Flights.
We traveled with four donated computers, two in very good condition and two that will be able to perform some functions as soon as we do a little more tinkering.
For the next two weeks we're working with our three students who will be responsible for teaching and leading the program at the end of their four months of training. They are helping us to test and develop the curriculum based on their interests.
We are starting on the most in-demand lessons, English and Spanish classes, now that we've found an online program. The students take their language pre-tests today, then start the first lessons.
Never using a keyboard before, one student requested a speed typing program, so I looked up the very old fashioned typing tutor, and we'll practice the home keys today. ASDF JKL;! They're learning on English/QWERTY keyboards since the vast majority of computers used in workplaces come from the U.S. (as do our donated computers).
Tomorrow we're launching into a discussion of what it means to be a leader, based on weeks of research they conducted on their own to write essays on the topic.
Apologies to our friends still awaiting a thank you and your letter for your donation! They'll be coming very soon. In the meantime a HUGE thank you from all of us.
If you are interested, please let me know and I will email updates about our progress which will include some information that we won't be posting online...