This post is the final post from Tufts Hillel's trip to Haiti in May.
Today (Monday) was our last full day in Haiti. We're all feeling a little sad about our trip coming to a close, but we still had a great day!
We spent a full day at Zamni Beni, a Partners in Health-run home for children in Port-au-Prince. Zamni Beni houses about 60 children and has a staff of 100, meaning each child is given a caretaker who functions as a parent. Zamni Beni is working towards complete self-sustainability through running a tilapia farm and a bakery, each of which provides an income for the program.
Some of the children at the home have mental and/or physical disabilities: most have experienced trauma prior to arriving there. Zamni Beni is equipped with PIH staff that do physical therapy, special education, and social work to help the kids succeed.
Our work at Zamni Beni involved painting a fence and bench, and sorting the books in their library by level and language. We all had a great time looking through their collection, which included a French version of Harry Potter and a TI-83 calculator manual.
If anything, though, the takeaway lesson of the day was one of flexibility. Let me explain. When we arrived, our group of 15 was divided into two: one group to organize the library and one to restore and reinforce the wooden barriers that outlined the center's soccer field. I (Eitan)was in the latter group - the group that quickly learned the tools necessary to work on the barriers wouldn't arrive for the next three to four hours. Haitians, like Jews, tend to run on their own fine time aka not really fine time at all. Though disgruntled at first, I and many others found the inconvenience to be a blessing in disguise. Not one of us had travelled to the poorest country in the world to sit around and do nothing, so we elected to use our free time to interact with the disabled children at the facility. Hands down, it was one of the most gratifying experience this trip had to offer. Brining smiles to the faces of children with no parents, no means, and no chance of healing was a sobering yet intense reality - a very human experience to say the least. True, we could do the same in the States, but there's something to be said about these efforts in Haiti, language barrier and all.
We later learned that some - and I hesitate to say fortunate - children would receive life-changing operations in the States in the coming years. I certainly hope they receive the treatment they need, free of complications. Unfortunately for many of the children, they're fated to remain at Zamni Beni for the rest of their lives. Bringing them happiness is the best we, or anyone else, could do. And so we did, to the best of our abilities. Some ensconced themselves in their wheelchairs at first, but their timidness soon faded. We laughed and played with the children for the remainder of our time there. But none of it would have been possible had we not exercised an ability to adapt to the current situation. From our flexibility came a mutually beneficial experience.
After spending 4 days in the port au prince area in an urban setting, our whole group is really excited to be moving south and seeing some of the countryside of Haiti. First, though, we visited the only state sponsored rehabilitation clinic in Haiti.
As we walked in we saw patients receiving world class care for physical injuries using innovative tools similar to the ones we saw at the AFYA clinic. We were greeted by the female doctor who ran the clinic who illustrated for us the challenges of bringing the notion of rehabilitation into Haitian culture but also illustrated the success of her clinics work demonstrated by its growing number of patients.
I (Brad), as someone who is interested in the health profession, found it remarkable that this physician was able to use her knowledge not only to help people improve their health but also to combat social stigma. Our visit to the clinic was very informative but very short, so we were soon on our way into the mountains for the ride to Jacmel, where we planned to spend Shabbat. I (Julie) had been observing these mountains from Zoranje all week and was floored by the true beauty of this country. Although I tried to capture the amazing vistas with photos, it's really impossible especially inside of a bus.
Both of us were captivated by the natural beauty of this country, but were also saddened in a way that the lacking infrastructure and actual government support for tourism in Haiti has caused this native resource to be totally under appreciated by the majority of the world. After seeing an hour or so of jaw dropping views from our bus, we stopped to visit an area called Fondwa.
Our first visit was to the Heart to Heart Clinic where we began by touring the facilities the clinic uses to treat their patients. The clinic relies on volunteer doctors and staff to provide their services and are currently working to build a lab to increase their testing capacity. We found it remarkable that this clinic, which is located in a very isolated location, was able to provide healthcare services to this population that is so far from the typical societal map. Next we visited the partner school to this clinic which had been originally destroyed by the 2010 earthquake.
They're currently operating in a temporary school, but construction is underway to build a new more stable school. The sister who is in charge of this school told us one of the craziest statistics we've heard to date: that students walk 3-4 hours (hours!!) to school everyday and still attend class on a consistent basis. Because of this hurdle of accessibility, we were surprised when we were informed that this school has had the highest performance in the region on Haiti's standardized exams.
We could see how the farmers coalition of Fondwa, which has organized the community and supports this school, has really promoted education as a value and taken a holistic approach to support the youth of their community through healthcare, education, and social engagement. Our last stop in Fondwa was the for profit food co-op run by this farmers association. They provided us with an amazing spread for lunch in the typical Haitian style, and for dessert we each got an entire mango, which we peeled and ate with only our mouths and hands. They were absolutely delicious, a fact which was solidly supported by the orange goop smushed all over all of our faces and the serious need for toothpicks to remove all the orange strings from our teeth.
We hopped back on to the bus and drove for another hour until we reached Jacmel. Our hotel was situated on a cliff on a beautiful cove with sparkling blue water, and we were thrilled when we saw that our rooms had ocean views framed by the towering mountains in the background. We cleaned up and reconvened for Shabbat, courtesy of the Shabbat committee (Rachel, Amanda, Cece, Dani, and Julie).
We had a Kabbalat Shabbat service in the hotel and walked down to the beach for kiddush and motzi. We had a traditional Shabbat dinner with our Haitian baked challah and cherry manischewitz. Apparently Haiti is the third largest consumer of manischewitz worldwide, only following Israel and the U.S. The wine is sold in multiple flavors on all the markets. After dinner we played a game called salad bowl, a mix of charades and taboo, and turned in for the night. The next morning we slept in, or at least Julie did, while everyone else woke up early and got a lesson in traditional Haitian breakfast food poolside.
After breakfast the group went for a walking tour of Jacmel, the highlight of which was an art gallery with a garden in the shape of Haiti. We found the New Orleans French quarter style architecture beautiful and really didn't want to leave! For the rest of the day we mostly lounged around in true Shabbat style and some of us ventured down to the beach to take a dip in the ocean. Spending Shabbat in a tropical locale was something that few of us have done before and definitely added some additional relaxation to this traditional day of rest. Clearly we enjoyed these past two days in Jacmel, and are looking forward to spending the day in the area tomorrow!
Today we woke up bright and early at our beautiful hotel in Jacmel and after a delicious breakfast we checked out and started on our way to Bassin Bleu.
I did not know what to expect from the site, all I knew is that we would be swimming. We drove up a huge mountain where we could see a gorgeous view of Jacmel until we got to a small village from which we had to walk the rest of the way up to Bassin Bleu because the path is very rocky and narrow.
Our fifteen minute hike lead by a few local tour guides took us up and down the mountain and over a few creeks. When we finally reached our destination in front of us was a beautiful natural basin of water inside a cavern. We all slipped into the cool water and swam out to the rock in the middle of the natural pool where we could marvel at the beauty of this basin.
We were surrounded by tall rock walls and a waterfall. I took some time to just lie on my back and stare up at the blue sky far above me thinking about how beautiful the country of Haiti really is.
After swimming and jumping in the pool for a while we had to leave the basin. Our hike back felt much faster and easier since we were more experienced with the trail. After quickly changing and drinking some coconut milk straight from the coconut we continued on our way.
Our next stop was a visit to a community called La Montagne. We enjoyed a beautiful lunch and then learned about this incredible community from Lucia (a Tufts alum, go jumbos!). La Montagne is a rural area high in the mountains of Haiti. One of the main problems with the area is that the majority of the youth seek higher education and jobs outside the community and do not return.
Consequently the community suffers from an attrition of talent. In response members of the community living in Jacmel decided to return to La Montagne and form OPADEL which now runs a series of community programs.
OPADEL helps build subsidized houses, schools and communal coffee processing equipment. In addition they have experimented with cheaper, local building materials. After taking a tour of a house they built and some of the other community spaces we were given the opportunity to talk with OPADEL members.
They stressed that they are creating sustainable solutions for their community. Unlike many NGOs OPADEL does not give anything for free. For example building a house may cost up to 6,000 USD, however OPADEL will build one for a family on the conditions that they contribute 2,000 USD and help in any way with the building.
Over the last few years OPADEL has succeeding in building a stronger rural community and has even sent students to university who have returned to aid OPADEL. Before we left we were treated to a dessert of mango, pineapple, and Haitian apricot, which actually tastes more like apple. We loaded up the bus and started on our three hour drive from Jacmel to Port-au-prince.
Once again we woke up, had a pretty great breakfast (today we found cold milk) and headed to zoranje.
I've recently discovered an obsession with Haitian mangos, and made sure to make a mess during breakfast. Driving in Haiti seems to always be experience; between the beautiful mountains, craziness of markets, tap taps and the insane traffic there really is a ton of action. After arriving in zoranje we met up with the twenty locals who went through a leadership training.
We broke off into groups and had a discussion ranging from the differences in last names (when Americans introduce ourselves we just say our firsts, Haitian usually give you their full name) to community development. It was relieving to me that the Haitians had similar concerns with the project and that they worried the community would not keep it clean as we did. After the conversation we went to paint the kiosk and received a lesson in Haitian time: the paint didn't arrive for another hour. Once we got started the project went quickly.
A problem we ran into was that many Haitians wanted to help, but we only had enough supplies and food for those who had committed to the project. Naturally we would encourage and appreciate the extra help especially in that community .
But if we allowed the Haitians to help that weren't committed to the leadership training course, they would have been disappointed because we would not have been able to offer them lunch as well. This would have caused division among the community members, which is something we wanted to avoid.
After lunch a DJ came to play music. We danced and chatted with the hundreds of Haitian children that had just gotten out of school. It's safe to say we all had a lot of fun because we ran late to our next activity. Our next activity was a visit to Afya's warehouse in the countryside. At the warehouse some of us labeled crutches and wheelchairs and others played soccer with the locals. It started raining so, we packed up and headed back to the hotel to get ready for our night out.
Today was the day we had been waiting for; the promised highlight was that we got to visit a middle school classroom and the kindergarten at the Ecole Nouvelle in Zoranje, Haiti (the amphitheater we are working on is directly adjacent to the school, in between the school and the community center)!
We had an early morning, all getting up at the ungodly hour of 6am. After a quick breakfast, we made it to Zoranje in time for the school's raising of the flag. It seemed almost ritualistic - even the tiniest children knew exactly what to say and do as the flag was being hoisted. Then it was back to work on the amphitheater. We continued our work from yesterday, again with the help of the Zoranje locals. Shosh and I (Barbara) both take French at Tufts, and felt more comfortable trying to strike up conversations in French with the people we were working with. They had lots of questions for us, and we had so much to ask them too! All of the community members were very curious, but kind and receptive to what we had to say (and they beared with our broken French). Shosh's crowning moment was when she explained where her home state of Ohio is to all the community members.
All of us had a chance to go to the kindergarten; we went half at a time while the other half went to either a middle music or English class. In the English class, we taught them how to play hangman and used their English workbook vocabulary words. We also found common ground while singing Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. It was a little unexpected how much they wanted us to be involved; we were just expecting to observe but we ended up having fun with them all.
The highlights of the music class included teaching them "The Wobble'" performing Journey and Spice Girls songs, and learning a rap in Creole that they performed for us at the start of the class. They all had so much energy, and so much swagger when it came to rapping.
The kindergarteners were precious! They were so happy to see us and loved to climb all over us. It was hard to refuse when the kids asked to wear our hats, and even harder to ask for them back. Monkeying around with the kindergarteners and their smiles and laughter was the highlight of our day.
We ended our day by testing our haggling skills at le marché en fer, or the iron market. We are going out to dinner tonight and are looking forward to some live Haitian jazz!
Today was our first full day in this beautiful country. It started with a lovely breakfast at the hotel, followed by a 40 minute drive to Zoranje, the town a little bit outside of Port au Prince. On the way we passed the largest produce market in Haiti, which was really more like the largest market of anything you could possibly need. Looking out the window, it was hard to see anything except people and breadfruit.
At first it didn't seem like a market, because there were just piles and piles of trash. This was a stark example of poor and ineffective publicly planned waste system. It was also difficult to resist taking pictures of this massive market, but it also felt wrong to be sitting on an air conditioned bus taking pictures of the chaos of poverty that we saw.
Zoranje is a town that was originally part of government planned housing. It's a bit of an impractical location because it is removed from the city, which limits the number of accessible jobs for its residents. Since it is removed, though, we got to see some of the rural lives of Haitians. ProDev, the organization we have been working with, built a school and a community center in the town, and now has 570 students and provides jobs for the community members. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the world's most adorable kindergarten gym class and a short tour of some of the houses. There were four different "neighborhoods", each named after either a Haitian president or the president of the county that "built" the houses (Venezuela and Cuba). The most interesting part of the houses is that there were several "expo homes", which were built as part of a competition to see who could design the most efficient home. But nothing really came from them, and now squatters live in them. But there is nobody to tell them not to live there, so if there is an empty house, why not?
After the tour we got to work cleaning the amphitheater that was built in 2003 by Jean Aristide (the president at the time). Like many things in Haiti, this was plopped down and never taken care of, so the community decided that it would be an important task for our group to work on. But it turned out to not be just our group.
It started off with five other Haitians, but throughout the course of the day, more and more joined us until there were at least three times as many residents as Americans. We were inspired by their willingness (and curiosity) to help, which made us wonder why it took people from a foreign country to initiate a change. This is a theme, we learned, because a lot of Haitians have big ideas for ways to change the country, but assume that nobody wants to do it with them.
We were joined by some of the most adorable children once they got out of school. We played soccer, they braided some of our hair (which was a large task considering that there are 13 girls and 2 boys), and chit chatted about our favorite rap artists. (Rap battle on the way)
After cleaning up at the hotel, we had a reflection session where we discussed how our Jewish identity plays a role in our moral responsibilities.
We walk off the cool plane into the blistering Haiti heat. Just a second later, however, we were saved by the lovely music of an all male Haitian band in the cool airport. As we arrived at baggage claim, men in red shirts surrounded us offering their assistance in exchange for a bit of money. It is difficult to arrive in a new country—unaware of the culture and mannerisms. We make our way to the bus with our local JDC associate, Jerry, our guide, Cyril, and our driver and security guard. Safety and sense of security overwhelm us all.
We are off to lunch at first at a beautiful restaurant with a sky blue pool. Buffet style (as it seems most of our meals are). Fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado make the perfect start to our Haitian cuisine. And of course, there is rice and beans, and some fish, and meat. After filling ourselves, we scurry back to the bus toward a small building (similar to a wooden or clay shack) just outside of Port-au-Prince. I think we were all a bit confused about what this building could be until a man in a bright orange shirt that read “Afya” appeared.
Afya means “good health” in Swahili. They are an organization that collects, sorts and effectively ships medical, recreational, office, and other needed supplies to developing nations. Our personal Afya guide explains the purpose of Afya and its work in Haiti. They have created physical rehabilitation centers in a few locations throughout Haiti. Afya supplies the resources and trains technicians to treat the disabled; they also encourage them to create their own inventions to help patients to provide sustainability to the facilities.
We saw a homemade hand splint, a wheel attached to a wall to help with elbow and shoulder exercises, and a contraption meant to stretch one’s fingers. The tech showed us how the hand splint was used; he handled his patient with such care it was heart-warming. We then got a chance to ask the patients some questions and all we received was praise toward the wonderful changes Afya had supported in their lives. People with disabilities may be ignored, or even shunned from their families and communities here, so Afya allows them to rebuild their lives, and continue on in a meaningful way. Each of us left the clinic in such amazement by the wonders that occurred among such distress.
We then went on a tour of Port-au-Prince. Behind a fence stood the Parliament before the earthquake. But now, nothing remained but an empty piece of land. It is amazing what a natural disaster can do. But it was cleaned up well enough that having not been informed, one wouldn’t have guessed anything was missing.
Across from this was the most famous statue in Haiti: a man with his lips on a conch shell. And next to this statue was the “eternal light;” it is always burning. It reminded me of the eternal light that is ever-burning above the ark in a synagogue. Through the van windows we saw many school children, all in uniforms, a private Catholic school, and many street-vendor-like stands. Also, we saw peoples’ homes. They are so different relative to those we are accustomed to, and beautiful in their own way, despite the lack of adornments and paint. We passed what looked like a village community filled with many small homes boarded with metal and sheets for ceilings and walls. This is completely different to the majority of homes we see on a daily basis in the United States but it is important for people to see how people exist and are so self-sufficient and make the best of life with what they have and are given.
Next, we went to the hotel and some people went swimming. Then we showered (which felt so nice because it is so hot here!) and went to dinner with Maryse, the president of PRODEV. The food has been very good! A lot of rice and beans, though they are not a traditional Hatian staple, according to Cyril. Also for dinner, we had fish, chicken, cooked vegetables, salad, and orange potato-tasting vegetables. It was a great first day and looking forward to the rest of our time here!
Yesterday we visited a rehab clinic run by the Afya Foundation-- a JDC partner NGO in Haiti providing much-needed care to the physically-disabled.
We learned from Afya professionals about the lack of resources and education concerning people with disabilities in Haiti as well as the social stigma they face.
We met with Haitian physical therapists who showed us some of the self-made equipment that they use to administer physical therapy (pictured below), as well as with patients who explained how this free clinic was significantly improving the quality of their lives.
We start our big service project today - stay tuned.
My house is a mess. My stuff from college is strewn about downstairs, a bittersweet reminder of my illuminating sophomore year and of the hard work (finding myself in my last two years at Tufts, plus five loads of laundry) still to come.
And yet, not even unpacked from school, I am already embarking upon my next adventure--this Monday, I, along with 14 other students from Tufts, will be traveling to Haiti with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Tufts Hillel.
As I begin to organize myself and pack my suitcase for this next part of my life, I start to realize how much of what I need to and choose to bring along equates with my ultimate goals and values in life. While seemingly mundane, these objects in a suitcase are really so much more.
First, my welcome packet from the JDC. Full of facts about the JDC and its work, figures about Haiti and the devastation left behind by the 2010 earthquake, and itineraries for Tufts' upcoming trip, it represents the importance of education and the necessity of overcoming the ignorance that plagues much of the modern world.
Sunscreen and bug spray--I am sure my mother ran for industrial-strength formulas the second I expressed interest in applying for this trip. These items are my protection, the tether I will always have to home that I used to resist but now embrace.
Hand in hand with protection and a connection to home comes adventure, represented by my waterproof shoes. Not something I would normally need on the Tufts campus or in suburban New York, these shoes and the challenged they foretell also speak l the adventures--exciting, scary, unknown--in my future.
I also see the journal, which seemed silly when I bought it, but I now realize that my adventures' meaning would get lost without a place to record and look back on them. My journal reminds me not to forget my past, and also to learn from all those I encounter and to let people I meet have an impact on my, just as I hope to have on them.
Beneath the journal, the reminder to allow others to touch my life, is an assortment of beach balls and thin paperbacks--donation to the school in Zoranje, Haiti with which we will participate in a service project next week. These donations evoke a commitment to social justice, to do what I can for those who can't, that I will carry with me forever and that I will bring to all that I do.
Finally, I need to pack my passport. I have made copies, thought long and hard about a safe place to store it, and been on the receiving end of many reminders not to lose it. Of course, even without all of these precautions, I know it could never be misplaced. My passport is a ticket to all that I want to see in the future, a representation of all that I want to achieve, and a reminder of who I want to become.
Hello! This is our trip blog. Check back here for more updates before, during and after our trip.
This weekend we met Evan Rosenstock from JDC at our orientation. Evan is planning and staffing our trip and has traveled a lot with JDC Entwine. We discussed our service program, learned all about the JDC and what the situation is like in Haiti, and began working on our pre-trip project of collecting items to donate to the community in Haiti. We can't wait!