First Day in Haiti
May 6, 2016
Dr. Jane Aronson
The Haiti I Love and Revere
Hard to believe that it has been almost a year since I was last in Haiti. I used to visit every few months. 16 visits under my belt. The team is strong and though the program managers come to visit from time to time, there is no need to be on top of the Haitian youth team. They are independent and they are capable of managing themselves. They just need our love and devotion.
We had the usual day of travel that one has on the way up the mountain to Kenscoff, Haiti. Though the flight is only 3 ½ hours, the travel is somewhat laborious with heavy traffic and the usual stops to equip ourselves for the adventure ahead. We stop for lunch at Visa Lodge and endure the usual sketchy servers, but the food is tasty; then to Delma 34 to visit with Monley Elysee, now 12 years of age, a young boy saved in the earthquake 6 years ago after 9 days in the rubble of his crushed home where his parents were killed. His uncle, Gary, has relocated to Miami with Monley's grandmother and his grandfather, Antoine, who is 82 yo, is now managing the family in Port au Prince. The house is clean and neat and we spent time talking to Monley and his brothers, Moises and Christopher after they arrived home from school. They are very grown up and tall...one of them now taller than me.
I decided to interview Monley about his memories of the earthquake. He actually spoke quite articulately about his memory. He told us that he remembered the rumbling sound and that his father told him that the sound was a big truck. Then all he remembers was the sunlight that he saw when people were digging him out. When I asked him if he thought he was going to die, he said "no". He has come a very long way. For years, Monley was not very talkative and had very disruptive behavior in school. He never smiled and was unable to concentrate. These were all as a result of his trauma from the earthquake. He lost his parents and he likely suffered a near-death experience.
We asked about school and looked at some report cards for all three boys. It looks like Monley is doing alright, but his older brothers have academic potholes. We will delve into this more and see what we can do to help them. I am anxious about what will happen to these kids once they finish high school. Can they go to university? Are there job training programs available? Or will they become aimless and unemployed for the rest of their lives like many young people in Haiti where unemployment is a way of life?
Then we go to Giant supermarket for our treats and then up the mountain to a guest house on 10 Rue de Godet where we have stayed for the last 6 years. The supermarket is fun in that we can purchase Oreos, Frosted Flakes, 7 up, and other recognizable food items that we have in the US, so we can feel at home. The streets of Port au Prince still have evidence of the earthquake....rubble and rebar abound and crushed buildings never fixed are still here and there. No tent villages in sight and many rebuilt buildings are part of my awareness...though we still have a tent village up in Kenscoff where we serve many of their children and adults.
The trip up to Kenscoff which is 15 km is a passing game for trucks and tap taps (painted cars that are Haitian taxis) which carry many commuters packed in like sardines. There are no public buses...just tap taps which are very dilapidated cars and trucks with inscriptions about Jesus and God. The words are poetic and protective for the Catholic Haitians who believe in God and Voodoo.
All those who have not been to Haiti are stunned by the verdant terraced mountains and the wildly lively culture of the towns and markets along the way. We go through Fermathe, Thomasson, and then Kenscoff and then to Bellecour, the guest house. We pass truckloads of produce and witness hundreds of beautiful women clad in festive modern garb with baskets of goods balanced perfectly on their heads. The traffic is just enough to whet our appetites for Haiti, an overpopulated impoverished country that has no government and yet seems to flourish with the excitement and vitality of a culture that is rich and enduring. It is all inexplicable and puzzling and yet magical and addictive for the traveler. How does it all work? Why don't we understand this country? I am here 6 years since the earthquake and I love Haiti, but never have much common sense to explain it.
I only know one thing.... WWO does understand the children and adults we serve and we are devoted to them. We have built a very intimate approach to serve the orphans and vulnerable children in Kenscoff and we have statistics/metrics to show that our intervention, Element of Play, which includes Toy Libraries, sport, recreation, art, music, dance, storytelling, camp and homework support works to strengthen the souls of kids we serve. We are successful in building capacity in youth who run the programs and we hope to do more all over Haiti. We want to create a play revolution here.
Last night we sat as a team and ate dinner and got to know one another. We ate barbequed chicken, scalloped potatoes, rice and beans and even had chocolate mousse as dessert. Everyone sat in the living room and made God's eyes under the supervision of Kris, who hopefully will play her ukulele for us today. We have a very eclectic group of young people who are the junior board of WWO in Los Angeles. They are serious professionals who have done service before in other settings and love WWO. I know some of them a long time and love them. I also brought a long a guest from Orange, New Jersey, Dawan, who is in his early thirties, graduating from Rutgers shortly and an eager advocate in his own backyard to help change the world he has known since he was a child. He has endured trauma and yet has compassion and understanding for his life.
I will introduce you to all the service rangers over the next couple of days: Ed, the photographer, Danielle, Noah, Matt, Kris and Dawan. They are sweet and caring and have a zest for adventure and service. I adore them.
I went to bed late last night reading the adoption files of a Taiwanese baby who was exposed to heroin during the pregnancy and a deaf 6 yo from China who looks perfectly adorable. I continue to be devoted to reviewing pre-adoption abstracts. Though international adoptions are in small numbers these days, it is so exciting to help parents adopt those children who likely are living in institutions that are not served by organizations like WWO.
Off we go this morning to a pre-school where WWO is working to help children be ready to learn. Thanks to the youth of WWO Haiti for taking such good care of the children and us when we arrive to visit.