Our Last Day in Haiti: Class of 2017

This post was written by Justine Kaskel, GHF ’17, to recount yesterday, August 8.

I woke up feeling strange this morning. Fever? No. Stomach issues? No. Then what? Oh, it was our last day in Haiti.  I was feeling the beginning symptoms of SLH, Sadness of Leaving Haiti.  The group packed their bags after eating breakfast (eggs, fruit, and toast), doing our best to clean the rooms we have been living in for the past couple of days.  After getting ready for our flight home, we headed to the van to visit our last stop in Haiti, the Academy for Peace and Justice.

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The Academy is the biggest and only free high school in all of Haiti.  1,500 kids attend the school ranging from 7th to 11th grade.  One of the teachers who gave a tour estimated that the number would grow to 2,000.

A summer school class on electricity.

A summer school class on electricity.

We toured the school, dropping in on some classrooms to observe some vocational summer classes, such as electricity and plumbing. The computer labs were full of teachers undergoing a training. We saw many kids playing volleyball and basketball, with coaches instructing the proper technique to pass a volleyball.

 

Teachers in a computer training workshop.

Teachers in a computer training workshop.

The high school has an amazing facility, and we were all in awe at the structure.  There were two wings of the school: one for 7th, 8th and 11th graders, and the other for 9th and 10th graders.  A third wing is currently under construction and will be completed in time for the opening of the school year. Next to each classroom there was a sign with a person’s name on it.  The names were people who have committed donations to the school for 5 years.

A sampling of donors at APJ.

A sampling of donors at APJ.

Many celebrities, such as Ben Stiller, Clint Eastwood, Penelope Cruz, and Daniel Craig, were among the names on the plaques. The school has only been open for three years, but it is already an impressive institution.

We headed back to Operation Blessing, International to say goodbye to everyone. We got our bags and headed to the airport, leaving Haiti after a week of learning, experiencing, and exploring.  It’s a bittersweet moment for us all.  Sure we will be glad to be back in air-conditioned houses, eating ice cream and chips, and seeing our family and friends again, but Haiti is something else. It has changed us in a way that being in the States never will, and this experience is something we will carry through our lives forever.  Now we are sitting on the plane, watching the mainland disappear into a world of white. Orvwa, Haiti!  I will miss your bustling streets in Port au Prince, I will miss your colorful houses, and exotic fruit, but most of all I will miss your culture and your people.  I will miss the malnourished little girl who climbed into my lap at the Azil just wanting to be loved. I will miss the kids climbing on top of me to try on my crazy orange sunglasses. I will miss the village woman who helped us at the Toms shoe distribution, who went last instead of getting her shoes right away. I will miss Cecilia, an amazing host at OBI who taught us so much and welcomed us with open arms. I will miss the orphans in Hinche who loved my “tattoo” glitter pens, and my “skill” with gymnastics.  I still don’t understand Haiti, but I don’t need to understand it to fall in love with it.  I may be saying goodbye, but not forever. This is just the start of our journey in Global Health, and I have a feeling that we will cross the path of Haiti again.

Final Trip Reflections/Highlights:

Graham Barbour: When you visit a country for the first time, it corrects and solidifies an image of it that you had in mind before arriving. When we first exited the airport in Port-au-Prince to the last day, this image was constantly being altered, and corrected. Before we arrived, I was imagining a country full of ramshackle huts made of spare tin and trash, a country full of disease, and a country full of miserable people. This however, was not the case. Even though these images do exist in Haiti, it is a broad stereotype. In reality, Haiti is a lively country full of an incredible culture, and great people. Everywhere we traveled, people were very open to us and always willing to let us join in on a game of soccer, or just to have a great conversation. It is no surprise that Haiti receives so much foreign aid, because it would impossible not to help such a great people. When I look back on our trip, I realize that Haiti changes how I think of the world, because it creates a reference point on so many aspects of life.

Nathalie Danso: My first day in Haiti was all a blur. We were surrounded by new people, a new culture, and of course, new driving. It was so much to process but as the week went by I fell in love with Haiti. I no longer felt like a stranger in a new country but completely at home. Each day we spent in Haiti felt like 2.  We did so much it is hard for me to pick a favourite. The Azil was the one that made the biggest impact on me, though. The state of some of those children made you wonder “how could this happen?” People in the US throw away tons of food each day and here are these children who are starving. The girl’s orphanage or the Toms shoe distribution were the most fun for me. The girls at the orphanage were very welcoming and it was nice to play games with them. The shoe distribution, even though hectic and crazy, was exciting and made you really feel like you had made a difference. All in all, the trip was amazing. It was a great learning experience and was a lot of fun. I hope we get to come back next year and hopefully with some projects and ideas to implement.

Ryan Fulmer: Traveling to Haiti was a life changing experience. Not only were we exposed to new situations and new culture, but we were inspired by life in Haiti, and the people who live there.  Although there is a lot being done in Haiti as we speak to improve the nation, there is always more that we can do.  It is our responsibility, as humans, to help those who are in need, and we have been humbled by the adventures we have had.  Choosing a favorite part of the trip is very difficult, but if I had to choose, visiting the Azil, and the village of Medan Belize were probably the most memorable.  I had carried a baby girl at the Azil around for hours, and distributed shoes to people in the village, but the sad part was that in both cases I had met these incredible people under the circumstance that they truly needed help.  Over the next few days, I kept thinking to myself that I never wanted to see a little girl have to suffer like that again, and that it was unfair to see people living with virtually nothing.  The poverty I have seen everywhere has changed my life, and now, more than ever, I am ready to make a difference.

Justine Kaskel: This trip to Haiti has been like nothing else I have experienced, and I love it.  Everything we did was amazing and there was never a dull moment.  I liked visiting the hospitals and comparing one to another.  Seeing the operating rooms where people are saved.  I really loved playing with the kids at the Azil and the village Madam Belize.  Their smiles just melted my heart.  My favorite part of the week?  I can’t narrow it down to one.  In the next four years that I am in this program I am going to do everything I can to make a difference for Haiti, and the rest of the world.

Helen Shaves: This past week in Haiti was like nothing I have ever done before – a complete shock, yet an extremely eye-opening and inspiring experience. It was fascinating to be immersed into a completely different culture from ours, and to see the ways of Haitian life. Originally, before I fully saw Haiti for what it is, I imagined it as a place of suffering where miserable people lived very desperate lives in a tough environment. Although some of this does exist in the country, I saw many sides to Haiti and its people. Haitians are a wonderful, hard-working, proud people that are full of hope and always ready to accept new challenges. I was amazed by the number of students I talked to that chose to voluntarily attend advanced schooling and aspired to go beyond and get a job or apply for higher level schooling. Seeing the kids at the Azil feeding center and distributing shoes to locals in Medan Belize were especially inspiring experiences, and probably my favorites within this trip. Actually being there to see their need and undeniable elation at the attention of being played with, or being given a life essential, moved me in a way I cannot explain. Ever since those two days, I have constantly been thinking about ways to better their lives and to just be able to see the unforgettable joy that will be in my mind and heart forever. Not only do I want, but I need, to change these beautiful people’s lives for the better, and I can’t wait to begin my mission.

Haiti Day Seven: Class of 2017

This blog post was written by Ryan Fulmer, Nathalie Danso, and Ms. Massey.

Today was our last full day here in Haiti. After jam-packed days of learning and new experiences, we are all tired but still learning and enjoying every minute. Everything we have seen, from the bustling streets of Port au Prince to the impoverished community of Medan Belize, has inspired us to make a difference in communities like the ones we have seen here in Haiti.

This morning we woke up and enjoyed a very tasty pancake breakfast, and then got ready to head to Petionville, an affluent suburb of Port au Prince higher up the mountains. Along the ride we saw some high-end buildings as we slowly crept up the mountain in heavy PaP traffic. As we got closer to the American Red Cross headquarters, our driver even pointed out President Martelly’s impressive residence.

Outside the American Red Cross.

Outside the American Red Cross.

An hour later, we were finally to the headquarters, albeit a little late due to the unpredictability of Port au Prince traffic and transportation. We were welcomed by the Deputy Country Representative of Operations, Ken Smith, who had coordinated our visit. We put on our official visitor lanyards and headed up to the conference room.

We were greeted by five more women in the conference room: Sydney West, the Lamika Program Officer, who is actually based out of Washington D.C., Vanessa Deering, a Partnership Coordinator Delegate, Melissa Quimby, an HIV Program Delegate, Kalee Singh, a Program Assistant who is also based out of D.C. and works on HIV/AIDS, and Chantal Sylvie, the Country Representative for Haiti. Each shared their backgrounds with us and provided a brief overview of their current work here in Haiti. They had some fascinating professional backgrounds and had experience living all across the world. It seemed like each one of them brought something different and important to the team, and I could see why the American Red Cross is so successful in places like Haiti.

We were treated to a variety of informative presentations ranging from an overview of the different entities of the Red Cross Movement and their roles around the world, global health issues and projects addressing them here in Haiti, and many anecdotes to provide more context in response to our questions.

With our engaging hosts at the American Red Cross.

With our engaging hosts at the American Red Cross.

One of the most intriguing things that I probably took away from the opening presentation is how widely the Red Cross is recognized around the world.  Almost anywhere they go (for disaster response, blood, service to armed forces, etc.) they are recognized by the community, and they can come in and help everyone.  They explained how they even go into warzones and remain neutral, so that everyone who needs help can get the care they need.  The Red Cross even often has access to Prisoners of War. We also looked at the various ways the Red Cross are recognized around the world by their legally-protected emblems. The Red Cross is also known as the Red Crescent in some countries because of religious reasons, but no matter where one sees the symbol it always represents trust.  We also learned about the fundamental principles of the Red Cross: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality or “HINIVUU”.

Next, we shifted our focus to health issues that plague Haiti. We learned about how the Red Cross specifically responds to infectious diseases like cholera, malaria, and HIV.  For each disease we heard statistics about how many cases there are in Haiti, and how many people die each year from each disease.

20130807-221516.jpgWe learned about a new community-focused, integrated program the Red Cross is starting called “LAMIKA”, “Lavi miyo nan katye pam nan” or “ A Better Life in my Neighborhood”.  The model of this program is designed to comprehensively respond to all of the common issues of a developing community all at once. Although programs like this often take a lot of resources, partnerships, and a wide area of expertise, it is an efficient way to build stronger and more sustainable communities in a shorter amount of time.  The three main pillars of the program are social empowerment, livelihoods for economic opportunity, and physical rehabilitation.  Throughout the multi-year program, the Red Cross plans to see substantial improvement in the communities taking on this initiative.

For the final minutes of the meeting, all of us asked questions that our hosts graciously and candidly answered.  After an incredible learning experience, all of the women graciously gave us their business cards, and we packed up and headed back to the OBI guest house.  Once we got home, we had lunch and quickly got ready for the next chapter of our already busy day.

After lunch, we went to St. Damien’s, a private pediatric hospital in Port au Prince. It was started by Father Rick Frechette, an American priest who has worked in Mexico, Honduras, and Haiti. Father Rick came to Haiti after being a priest in Honduras and Mexico and during his time he realized that Haiti needed doctors more than priests. So when he came back to the US he went to medical school and became a doctor. The hospital was very impressive and is well renowned in the region. Some people even come from 3 hours away to get their children to the hospital because of its services available and its reputation.

Touring St. Damien's hospital with Dr. Potts.

Touring St. Damien’s hospital with Dr. Potts.

The facility contained many open courtyards full of colorful animal statues, and several wards comprised the two-floor structure. The facility seemed very organized and it was well equipped compared to other hospitals we had previously visited. Dr. Brittany Potts, one of Ms. Massey’s classmates from her GHDI course this summer at Harvard School of Public Health, had just arrived in-country and rushed over to St. Damien’s to show us around the hospital. She was joined by a hospital employee, Denso Gay, and they showed us the emergency room, the ICU, the girls ward, the boys ward, the maternity ward, and the cancer ward.

A beautiful memorial for the staff from St. Damien's who died in the earthquake.

A beautiful memorial for the staff from St. Damien’s who died in the earthquake.

Checking out the prosthetics made at St. Germaine.

Checking out the prosthetics made at St. Germaine.

We walked down the street to visit St. Germaine, a day facility for disabled children and those with special needs. At the facility, we saw a man making prosthetic limbs. One he showed us was made of foam so that the children would not have to carry around a lot of weight. We also visited the gift shop where the mothers of the patients created trinkets to sell to pay for their children’s medical bills. We all purchased some souvenirs, such as earrings and embroidered greeting cards.

We then headed back Zanmi Beni so Dr. Potts could meet her group visiting from Harvard. Since Dr. Potts had missed part of her tour there, we showed her around the dorms and out to the tilapia fish farm. We met a few more of Ms. Massey’s classmates, also pediatricians on fellowships with Partners in Health.

Ms. Massey and her classmates from the GHDI program at Harvard.

Ms. Massey and her classmates from the GHDI program at Harvard.

We headed back to the OBI guesthouse for our final night together in Haiti, complete with a dinner of stir-fry (and way too many Starbursts) and after dinner games of Bananagrams. We can hardly believe we’ll be back on a plane home to the US tomorrow. Though we have been fortunate enough to give and serve while we’ve been here, we all know we’re leaving with much more than when we came – new friendships, new perspectives, and new ideas on how to be a part in making a difference.

20130807-222439.jpgHighlights of the Day:

Graham Barbour: The meeting at the American Red Cross.

Nathalie Danso: Learning about the American Red Cross at their headquarters.

Ryan Fulmer: The tour of the pediatric hospital, St. Damien’s.

Justine Kaskel: Learning more about HIV/AIDS prevention projects at the American Red Cross meeting.

Helen Shaves: Getting to tour St. Damien’s, a pediatric hospital.

Haiti Day Six: Class of 2017

This blog post was written by Graham Barbour, GHF ’17.

After starting the day with a delicious breakfast of fried eggs and fresh fruit, we were off to Saint Luc’s, a private sector hospital not too far from our guest house. It has one of the only cholera treatment rehydration centers left in Port au Prince, an Emergency Room, an ICU, two operating rooms, an endoscopy suite, an outpatient ward, a lab, and a pharmacy. Saint Luc’s was originally an offshoot of Saint Damien’s, a pediatric hospital founded and run by humanitarian Father Rick Frechette. St. Luc’s, the adult hospital, was founded in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake. St. Luc’s became an official hospital once it developed its cholera ward in response to the massive cholera outbreak a few years ago.

In the OR at St. Luc's.

In the OR at St. Luc’s.

Once we arrived, Dr. Colas and Dr. Jean Francois, internal medicine doctors, gave us a tour of the medical facilities. Our first stop was the Surgical Suite, which has two operating rooms, which had state of the art technology by Haitian standards, but is unfortunately underfunded so it could only operate two times a week. In order to have the OR open every day, at least four fully trained surgeons would have to be hired, along with the accompanying staff, such as an anesthesiologist. Our next stop was the radiology suite, where we saw one of only five CT scanners in the country. The hospital could only afford a head scanner, but it still looked ominous and it kept emitting strange noises. We were allowed to look at the images of a few patients brains, and we learned that: symmetrical brain=good, and asymmetrical brain= not so good. We learned about what causes strokes and how rampant hypertension is in Haiti. Dr. Colas then led us to the laboratory, where they could identify anything from cancer to h-pylori. We thought of Dr. Lilly when we heard about the endoscopy suite and the GI trainings that have begun to take place here.

In the OR and in the radiology suite analyzing a CT scan.

In the OR and in the radiology suite analyzing a CT scan.

Hanging with some kids at Zanmi Beni.

Hanging with some kids at Zanmi Beni.

We left St. Luc’s and drove to Zanmi Beni, a literal paradise in the midst of Port-au-Prince. Zanmi Beni (ZB), a joint project between Operation Blessing, International and Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante, was originally created to house 35 disabled children who were trapped in a room in the General Hospital when the earthquake hit. They were originally housed in a one-room building, but ZB has since bloomed into a massive establishment for disabled children. It had a guesthouse, chapel, library, living quarters, physical therapy rooms, playgrounds, pool for therapy and play, and fish hatchery. The chapel was finished only three weeks before we arrived. Almost all the buildings had AC as well. We toured the living quarters, and then entered the kitchen, which was industrial sized because it had to feed over 150 people a day. The bakery had massive ovens, and a mixer that you could probably sit in. We were treated to some of the most delicious cornbread in the world!

In the bakery at Zanmi Lasante, tasting some amazing cornbread.

In the bakery at Zanmi Lasante, tasting some amazing cornbread.

The tilapia fish farm at Zanmi Beni.

The tilapia fish farm at Zanmi Beni.

We then visited the tilapia fish farm and were lead on a tour by Cecilia Flatley, OBI’s in-country deputy director, and Alex, the fish farm manager.The fish farm was incredibly complicated. All the fish were separated into different pools by age, because the bigger fish will cannibalize the smaller ones or eat all their food. The pools had to be constantly monitored, and the oxygen, algae levels, and temperature have to be exactly right. We were told that to harvest the fish eggs they had to take the female fish out of the water, open their mouths and shake them so the eggs fall out into a special tank that hatches the fish. The whole process was very interesting. The fish farms actually export 500 pounds of fish per week, 300 hundred of which goes to Zanmi Beni to provide a protein-rich diet for the children. The operation plans to boost its exportation levels, because it has a surplus of fish. They are also working with the government to restock several of Haiti’s lakes, including Lake Azeui that we visited yesterday. This initiative could have huge implications for boosting Haitians’ access to protein and a more versatile diet.

Our delicious lunch of very fresh tilapia!

Our delicious lunch of very fresh tilapia!

We got to try the tilapia for lunch at a new restaurant at Zanmi Beni! Fresh fish, beans and rice, slaw, plantains, and an ice-cold seven-up. Oh so delightful.

We then headed to a baseball field that Operation Blessing is making to help support a new local little league. It is still a work in progress, but it looked good already. The field was grated so that there were no stones. Our objective for the afternoon became painting the entrance gate to the field. We painstakingly painted a welcome message and the names of all four teams – Tigers, TNT, Lions, and Tikrabs, plus the entrance logos. After four hours of work we returned home, a job well done.

Painting the entrance gate to the little league baseball field.

Painting the entrance gate to the little league baseball field.

Back at the OBI guest house, we enjoyed taco night and watched an intense documentary, called Sun City Picture House, which gave us some perspective on how important hope, laugher, and entertainment is in a post-disaster setting.

20130806-204820.jpgHighlights of the Day:

Graham Barbour: Touring the fish farms, and eating delicious cornbread at Zanmi Beni.

Nathalie Danso: Painting the gate to the baseball field while accidentally painting ourselves.

Ryan Fulmer: Learning about how fish farms work and seeing where my lunch started.

Justine Kaskel: Watching a girl with special needs smile when I put my sunglasses on her.

Helen Shaves: Taking shifts painting the entrance gate to a baseball field.

 

Haiti Day Five: Class of 2017

Today’s blog post was written by Helen Shaves, GHF ’17.

Making foot measurement scales for our TOMS distribution at Medan Belize.

Making foot measurement scales for our TOMS distribution at Medan Belize.

We woke up to a delicious breakfast of pancakes and fresh watermelon and banana – something we had all been craving. After our incredible breakfast, we began organizing the TOMS shoes that we planned on distributing later that day at Medan Belize, a village located on Lake Azeui, the largest lake in Haiti. We also made foot scales, created by tracing the bottom of all of the different sizes of TOMS shoes we had, providing us with a form of measurement. Finally, we cut out pieces of paper that we used as tickets that stated everyone’s shoe size after they had been measured. Because the project was one that would last all day, Ryan made peanut and jelly sandwiches for lunch and we brought a giant jug of drinking water along with us that we eventually finished off.

We loaded into two Operation Blessing, International SUVs at 9:30 AM and had our first real experience in Port-au-Prince traffic, a chaotic mess that was only perfectly suited for motorcycles that could fit in between the stop-and-go flow of all the cars and colorfully-painted trucks. After we drove off the main, paved roads, we moved onto extremely rocky, bumpy roads leading into the village. As we neared it, the beauty of where the community was located struck me; the lake was crystal blue and looked like a resort location in the Caribbean.

Medan Belize is located on the shores of beautiful Lake Azeui.

Medan Belize is located on the shores of beautiful Lake Azeui.

Medan Belize.

Medan Belize.

Once we drove into the middle of the small village filled with houses constructed from metal scraps and tarps, little children swarmed around our truck, smearing the mud from their hands onto the windows in an attempt to see us foreign visitors a little better. We unloaded the many boxes of black TOMS shoes underneath an open shelter that provided shade and also served as a place for the locals to make fishing nets.

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The mass of people excited at the prospect of a new, or only, pair of shoes quickly swelled as we set up the different stations to streamline the process; Ryan and Natalie measured the residents’ feet, Justine created the tickets and handed them to the person who had just received their measurement, Ms. Massey served as crowd control, and Mr. Boland, Graham, and I distributed the shoes to people with tickets stating their shoe size.

At the measuring station with Nathalie and Ryan.

At the measuring station with Nathalie and Ryan.

Distribution station.

Distribution station.

Many very little children received their first pair of shoes along with some of the adults whom actually reached tears because they were so ecstatic. One woman even put on her brand new shoes and began dancing! Although it was a struggle to get them to place their feet correctly on the measuring scale and some people proved more difficult than others (attempting to get more than one pair), it was the most rewarding thing ever to see their smiles. It felt amazing knowing that their feet would be protected from the harsh grounds of Haiti that they had to hike on for many miles to fetch water every day. Wearing shoes is critical to prevent parasitic infections, as well. We ended up running out of certain sizes and finished off the project by skipping rocks into the breathtaking lake with some of the younger boys (sporting their brand new shoes, of course).

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Distributing TOMS shoes.

On the shores of Lake Azeui.

On the shores of Lake Azeui.

Painting the new school.

Painting the new school.

We packed up and moved to our next project site – a newly constructed school located in the village that was very well built and nicely aired, but needed painting. It is a joint project between OBI and the Clinton Foundation. We worked with a couple of professional painters, thankfully, because our skills were somewhat lacking. The choice of paint was Carolina blue (much to Mr. Boland’s delight) on the inside and out with white windows that Justine, Ms. Massey, and Mr. Boland sanded from the inside.

Prepping the windows so they can be painted.

Prepping the windows so they can be painted.

We had some trouble with the rollers and our lack of experience, but the professionals went over our work again with a second and third coat. After two hours and the back of the school painted, we headed back through the hectic traffic of Port-au-Prince to OBI headquarters. Today was one of my favorite days so far, because the smiles I saw were priceless and it was evident that we made a true, immediate difference that will be life-changing for many people in need.

After a wonderful Haitian dinner of chicken, rice and beans, and salad (and too many Starbursts for dessert), we watched the brief documentary “Baseball in the Time of Cholera.” We will be meeting Joseph and his teammates tomorrow morning, so the documentary gave us some background information before our meeting. We recommend you check it out here!

Highlights of the Day:

Graham Barbour: Handing shoes to the people and watching as their eyes light up with joy.

Nathalie Danso: Painting the new school in Medan Belize

Ryan Fulmer: Taking pictures with the children in front of the lake.

Justine Kaskel: Watching the little girl show off after getting her shoes.

Helen Shaves: Physically handing the shoes to the locals and seeing their radiant smiles.

Haiti Day Four: Class of 2017

Today’s blog post was written by Justine Kaskel, GHF ’17.

Hoping to see a good sunrise from the hill behind the MFH house in Hinche.

Hoping to see a good sunrise from the hill behind the MFH house in Hinche.

Today we had another attempt to watch the sunrise; we had the same routine, waking up at 6, dragging ourselves out of bed, and bathing ourselves with bug spray.  We heard the dogs barking and the roosters crowing, and people talking as they carried water to their home for the day.  We rubbed the sleep from our eyes as we hiked up to a small dirt hill and waited for the sun to rise.  Unfortunately, the sky was overcast, and so we didn’t see the sunrise we were hoping for. We saw the sun eventually peek through the clouds and then we headed back to the house to try to catch a little shuteye before we really started our day.

Waiting for the sun to peek through the clouds.

Waiting for the sun to peek through the clouds.

First on the agenda was heading back to the Azil, the feeding center for the malnourished children.  As soon as we got to center, kids were jumping on us from left to right.  It was a full time job defending ourselves from the giggling children trying to climb on our back, grab our hands, or stealing my glasses.   We rocked, bounced and swung around the children while they smiled laughed and screamed in excitement of just making new friends.  Though I have only spent two hours with these kids, they have stolen part of my heart forever, as well as almost stealing my sunglasses.  Little details.

Helen's new friend at the Azil.

Helen’s new friend at the Azil.

We headed back to the house for the last time, because we were heading to Port-Au-Prince for the rest of our trip in Haiti.  But before we headed to our new “home” at the Operation Blessing, International guest house in PaP, we stopped in Cange to listen to a music concert played by Haitian children who had were concluding their three-week music camp.  To say I was impressed was an understatement.  Those children were amazing, and I wish the world were there to hear them play because that type of talent must be shared with the world.

The music concert held in the church in Cange.

The music concert held in the church in Cange.

A stop in Cange for the music concert.

A stop in Cange for the music concert.

After the concert we finally started our last leg of the trip to Port-Au-Prince, where everyone promptly fell asleep on the bus.  We missed the crowded streets of the Port-Au-Prince, but I am sure that we will see the traffic soon.  When we arrived at the Operation Blessing, International guesthouse, all of us were in awe at the fact that there was a washing machine, and a dryer!  Air conditioning in every room, cold drinking water, and our own showers.  Showers!  I felt so spoiled after several days of waiting to the shower after 5 people.

Mr. Boland getting competitive over a game of hearts.

Mr. Boland getting competitive over a game of hearts.

So now the day is winding down, a couple of us are playing cards, others are emailing parents, and all are just sitting around a table just talking.  I really feel as though this trip has brought us together as a group.  Maybe this trip is not just to help the Haitian people, but also to help ourselves.  Yes, generally speaking, we are (monetarily) richer than the Haitians, yes we are healthier than them as well, but are we happier?  As I spend more time here I realize how close the Haitian people are versus the people in my own neighborhood.  It’s sad, but I don’t even know half the people in my cul-de-sac. Our driver from Hinche to PaP, a man named Wilbens, smiled and chatted to 5-10 people on the way to each stop.  All I see when I look at the streets are smiling and happy people.  Though the United States is better off than the Haiti in many ways, it seems as though the Haitians have found true happiness despite all the problems they face.  So which is better?  Happiness or health?  Rich or being close to neighbors?  So who really is helping who?  Us or the Haitians?

Highlights of the Day:

Graham Barbour: Learning about the different aspects of Operation Blessing.

Nathalie Danso: seeing the kids at the Azile again.

Ryan Fulmer: Playing cards once we arrived in Port au Prince.

Justine Kaskel: Walking into Azil and being smothered with children just happy to see us.

Helen Shaves: Playing new card games with everyone once we arrived at OBI.

Haiti Day Three: Class of 2017

Today’s blog was written by Graham Barbour (first half) and Nathalie Danso (second half).

We woke up today at 6:00 am to see the sunrise from a supposedly incredible lookout point on a hill overlooking Hinche. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication with the security guard and the gate was locked, and we missed the sunrise (much to the dismay of our group, because we had woken up an hour earlier than usual). We are going to try again tomorrow. Despite this letdown, our first half of the day was so much fun. At 8:00 we headed to the boys’ orphanage, Maison Fortuné, in Hinche. The ride was very interesting, and we were able to experience downtown Hinche. Even though it was early in the morning, the downtown area was bustling with activity. Motorcycles swerved in and out of the cars, and vendors sold their wares on the sides of the narrow streets.

When we arrived at Maison Fortuné – the boys’ orphanage – we sat in on the English classes. Mr. Boland, Ryan and I were with the boys, and Brother Harry was the teacher. We walked in during the middle of the class, and despite trying to be wallflowers we attracted quite a bit of attention. The class consisted of about 20 boys ranging from ages 16 to 33, but they looked much younger. Mr. Boland, Ryan, and I introduced ourselves, and took a seat in the back of the small classroom. The boys continued class – they were listing words ending in “graphy,” but were not very focused and kept casting furtive glances towards the back of the room. The topic soon changed to us again. Brother Harry asked Mr. Boland to elaborate on his profession of “Ancient History Teacher.” He went up to the front of the room and explained that he taught about the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.  After explaining to the boys for the umpteenth time what “Ancient History” was, Mr. Boland called us up to the front of the room. We told the class that we are from Virginia, but the students had a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept of many states within a country. Mr. Boland then opened the floor to questions, and they bombarded us.

The girls' English class held every Saturday morning at Maison Fortune.

The girls’ English class held every Saturday morning at Maison Fortune.

Some new friends from the English class.

Some new friends from the English class.

The girls’ English class had five participants and was led by Brittany Tusing, the In-Country Coordinator for Midwives for Haiti. Ms. Massey, Nathalie, Helen, and Justine partnered up with the women attending the class to practice simple dialogue, ranging from “when is your birthday?” to “what did you do yesterday?” The girls exhibited varying levels of English competency so some conversations were more challenging. The girls had a great time and really enjoyed getting to know some of the local women.

When class was dismissed, we stood outside and had one-on-one conversations with the students. It was a bit awkward to be talking to a 30-year-old who was still in school, and I was astonished at how good their English was, and although our different accents made it a challenge to understand each other, we had some great conversations.

Playing at the girls' orphanage.

Playing at the girls’ orphanage.

We left our newfound friends, and drove to the girls’ orphanage, a few minutes away. When we arrived we introduced ourselves, and were greeted with tremendous cheers. The girls sang us a welcome song, and then we dispersed across the grounds, and played games of volleyball, patty-cake, and soccer. The girls were massaging Ryan’s head, and trying to braid Mr. Boland’s hair. Ms. Massey and Helen painted nails, and Justine gave glitter tattoos.

(The following was written by Nathalie Danso.)

When we came back from the girls’ orphanage, we visited the artisan vendors set up outside our house. We each stocked up on some souvenirs. After lunch we all headed to the Azil, which is a feeding center for malnourished children. When we got there, Justine helped to dress the young children for mass. While Ms. Massey, Mr. Boland, Ryan, Graham, Helen, and I helped feed the younger children a special vitamin-enriched porridge. Helen and Ryan both became close with two of the children and the children would cry if they tried to put them back down in the cribs.

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Feeding time at the Azil.

Feeding time at the Azil.

One little girl who was about one year old had come in with her mother for TB. Her mother had died the day before but thankfully the little girl had survived. The little girl was very malnourished to the point that her skin sagged off her bones and when I picked her up I could feel her rib cage. I helped the nun in charge of the facility weigh her and she came out to 4.5 kg. It was shocking! Several of the children looked significantly younger than they are, with blond hair and extended bellies, which are clear signs of malnutrition.

After feeding time at the Azil, we drove back into the boys’ orphanage at Maison Fortune. There were a few older boys playing basketball and the younger ones were just walking around. Helen had a frisbee on her so we started passing it around with the some of the younger children. Some of the older boys started playing soccer so Graham and Ryan went and played with them. Justine, Helen, and I stayed with the younger children. We played with the frisbee for a while longer then the younger boys started showing us their gymnastics tricks. All the boys were walking on their hands and doing flips. Justine also taught them a few of her tricks.20130803-215842.jpg

We also played taps and some hand games with the kids. There was another group from the US that we met and one of them was a midwife. There were also some high schoolers in their group, and it was nice to meet some similarly-aged students from the US in Haiti. We headed back to the MFH house for dinner and a briefing on MFH’s history and operations.

Highlights of the Day:

Graham Barbour: Participating in the Men’s English class, and having conversations with them afterwards.

Nathalie Danso: Playing with the kids at the Azil

Ryan Fulmer: Holding and feeding the 18-month old girl at the Azil.

Justine Kaskel: Putting pen-tattoos on the girls at the orphanage; their smiles were the best.

Helen Shaves: Attending the women’s English class at Maison Fortuné.

Haiti Day Two: Class of 2017

Today’s blog post was written by Helen Shaves (the first half)

and Ryan Fulmer (the second half).

Our day started off with a trip to Clory, a small village located 30 minutes outside of Hinche. The streets running through Hinche are mostly all dirt and are quite muddy during the rainy season. We ended up having to drive through two (small) rivers to arrive at the hill leading up to Clory. We hiked up the rest of the way, about a 20-minute climb that offered us a great glimpse into life in the countryside.

Hiking up to Clory.

Hiking up to Clory.

Once we finally reached the school of Clory, Theard, one of the two men who started the school, showed us around. The school had been built only a little over a year ago, making things much more convenient for the girls and boys who previously had to walk upwards of two hours to attend school. The main building contained four classrooms, each with 8 benches and its own chalkboard. The school also included an office and a storage room where the ceramics that the students had created earlier that year were being kept. It was pretty impressive as buildings go in Haiti – it looked well built and was large enough to hold plenty of classes for local students.

Stuart's women's empowerment curriculum in action in Clory.

Stuart’s women’s empowerment curriculum in action in Clory.

We waited awhile for all of the girls to show up for one of the lessons in Stuart’s (GHF ’16) women’s empowerment curriculum – a lesson on character-building and exhibiting good behavior and habits. It was very interesting to see Stuart’s lessons in action and to realize the dramatically positive effects that it could have on children’s lives, in this community and beyond.

The two women who led the lesson were students from Midwives for Haiti’s midwifery class who are fulfilling their community outreach requirements. Today they discussed both good and bad behavior, had the girls interact by providing examples of each, and finished off the lesson with a skit in which three of the girls demonstrated good and bad behavior towards someone in need. Gladias translated for us. I was extremely impressed just by the pure idea and commitment that went into creating such an improvement in the local children’s lives, both educationally and physically (in terms of walking distance).

Listening to Stuart's women's empowerment lesson in Clory.

Listening to Stuart’s women’s empowerment lesson in Clory.

Outside the school in Clory with the girls who attended the women's empowerment workshop.

Outside the school in Clory with the girls who attended the women’s empowerment workshop.

After finishing off with a prayer sung by the beautiful voices of the Haitian women and girls and some group pictures, we continued our hike farther up the hill to a gorgeous 360˚ view of the area.

Ryan Fulmer and Graham Barbour in Clory.

Ryan Fulmer and Graham Barbour in Clory.

(The following was written by Ryan Fulmer.)

After our visit to Clory, we arrived back to the MFH house to find many of the midwifery students congregated outside. We headed inside for a few minutes, grabbed a quick snack, and then all of the midwifery students headed inside for case study.  We were lucky enough to get to sit in on the discussion, and even more lucky to have translators to tell us what was going on.

Listening to the student midwives' case study.

Listening to the student midwives’ case study.

The main case of the day was about a baby that was only 29 weeks old when it was delivered, and there was a low likelihood it would survive.  The midwives analyzed the case and luckily, both the mother and baby survived.

After that, we had a hearty vegetable soup for lunch, and then departed for the government hospital down the road, called St. Therese, for a tour by Brittany Tusing, the In-country Coordinator for Midwives for Haiti, and Emily Dally, the Curriculum and Training Specialist for Partners in Health. I have to admit, the hospital definitely didn’t live up to its counterparts in Cange and Mirebalais, and that reality is mostly due to the lack of funding and capacity the government has to run the hospital.

The wards were cramped, and there were multiple mothers who had just gotten out of C-sections all laying in the same small, hot room. There were even chickens wandering around the outdoor hallways. With no personal space in the rooms and nonexistent privacy, this hospital was far from anything one could see in the US. A very different sight!

The saddest part of the tour was the fact that so many people die in this hospital because of easily preventable reasons. Because of low access to simple things like oxygen or pumps, an incredible number of babies die every year. In this hospital alone, at least one baby dies every week. Much of this reality stems from lack of resources.

Touring St. Therese hospital in Hinche.

Touring St. Therese hospital in Hinche.

Although I was somewhat disappointed in the quality of the care in the hospital, it made me feel better to know that programs like Midwives for Haiti exist. In the program, there would be better training for midwives, which will hopefully one day lead to less and less infant and maternal mortality over time.

Creole lesson with Kelby.

Creole lesson with Kelby.

Once we got back to the house after the tour, we had a very fun Creole lesson. Although we aren’t quite Creole masters yet, we did learn a lot of phrases that will quickly come into use as we travel to different places. We learned phrases like “kijan ou ye”, which means “how are you” or “kiko ou sóte”, which means “where are you from.”  I was glad to have the opportunity to learn some Creole because I can now have some degree of communication with the Haitians.

Although the day was exhausting, we went straight to playing soccer in the courtyard at the house. It was exciting because not only did the Haitians at the house enjoy watching us, but two of them ended up joining us for a small 3 on 3 game.

Soccer time at the MFH house.

Soccer time at the MFH house.

An hour and a half of soccer later, we finally came in the house to rest and have dinner. We talked about all of the fun and memorable experiences of the day, and as I ate I continued to think about how much better the medical care here could be. I was shocked after seeing the hospital, and hopefully everyone else in the group is just as inspired as I am to truly make a difference here one day. There is always something that can be done here, and anywhere, to improve and better the community around us. 

 We had quite a jam-packed day, however the group is more excited than ever to continue our experience and see what the global health world is all about. Tomorrow will be another exciting day!

 

Highlights of the Day:

Graham Barbour: Visiting St. Therese hospital in Hinche.

Nathalie Danso: Hiking to the school in Clory.

Ryan Fulmer: Playing soccer with the Haitians before dinner.

Justine Kaskel: Hiking up the hill to the school in Clory, despite the mud, grime, and sweat, the view was amazing.

Helen Shaves: Listening to Gladias’ translations of the midwives’ case study we attended.

Our First Day in Haiti: Class of 2017

This blog post was written by Justine Kaskel, GHF ’17 to recount yesterday, August 1.

Nerves were high and the excitement was evident on the faces of my fellow 17ers and mine, the nickname we were given by Ms. Massey to distinguish ourselves from the first group of Global Health Fellows.  The feelings came after, of course, we got over the sleepiness of walking up at three to get at the airport at 4 AM… Our noses touched the glass of the window as the plane prepared to land, we were all eager to see our first glimpse of Haiti, the country we have been reading about all summer long.

The first thing you notice about Haiti is the people.  The Haitian passengers we first boarded with in Miami looked foreign to our country, yet as soon as we stepped off we became the foreigners and they became the ones that looked at home.  The next things you notice were the streets, crowds, and noise. Oh the noise!  Cars honking, donkeys braying, people chattering, laughing.  You take a closer look at the streets and see malnourished dogs walking everywhere, as well as malnourished children.  The houses were ramshackled and decayed, yet oddly beautiful if that makes any sense.  The pastel colors of the houses seemed to go with the city Port Au Prince with the bustling streets and graffiti walls.   Maybe it was the energy the people gave off, so full of life with noise and all.  After noting this one beautiful thing you look away from the streets to notice mountains. Everywhere.  Some covered with houses, others rocky and bare, and yet still others, covered with lush green trees spotted with random pink houses here and there.  Though Haiti is in a state of poverty, it is truly beautiful.

GHF 17s outside the front entrance of the hospital in Mirebalais.

GHF 17s outside the front entrance of the hospital in Mirebalais.

The first stop of the day was the “greatest hospital in all of the Caribbean!”  in Mirebalais on the Central Plateau. This hospital is a joint venture between the government of Haiti (the Ministry of Health) and Partners in Heath.  The Ministry of Health helps with the running of this hospital as well as supplying salaries for doctors.  The hospital is not only to treat patients, but also to teach and train Haitian residents.  The hospital trains and gives jobs only to Haitians, helping build the economy and the education of the country.  When we first arrived, we were in awe.  The hospital was so advanced that it could compare to the hospitals in the United States.

In one of the dental suites at the hospital in Mirebalais.

In one of the dental suites at the hospital in Mirebalais.

We were also excited to see the hospital bustling full of patients, as the outpatient services are up and running, two of six ORs, the emergency room, and the maternity room. We also toured the pediatric ward which will open in just a few weeks and checked out the 1000+ solar panels on the roof that generate enough electricity for the hospital and some of the local community. We give a huge thanks to Annie McDonough, the External Affairs Coordinator for Partners in Health, for taking time out of her day to show us around the hospital.

Checking out the 1000+ solar panels on the roof of the hospital in Mirebalais.

Checking out the 1000+ solar panels on the roof of the hospital in Mirebalais.

In the pediatric ward at the hospital in Mirebalais.

In the pediatric ward at the hospital in Mirebalais.

A beautiful mosaic at the hospital in Mirebalais.

A beautiful mosaic at the hospital in Mirebalais.

Our next stop was Cange, the original hospital of Partners in Health.  We met up with Cassandre Chipps, a granddaughter of Father Fritz Lafontant who helped Dr. Paul Farmer with his original work in Cange, and she showed us around the complex.  The technology wasn’t as great nor extensive as the one found in Mirebalais, but it was still a very impressive hospital. However it was a ghost town compared to the hospital in Mirebalais! The only sounds were the tunes of a French horn, and the unearthly sounds of a church choir.  There was a 3-week junior music program being held at Cange so Haitian bands were playing as we toured.  We enjoyed a beautiful view looking out from the outpatient ward; you could see the Dominican Republic in the distance!

A beautiful view of Haiti's "mountains beyond mountains"

A beautiful view of Haiti’s “mountains beyond mountains”

Our last stop for day one was the Midwives for Haiti headquarters in Hinche.  A little buggy, a little dirty, a little hot, and a whole bunch of friendly.  Nathalie and I attempted to speak with some of the locals at the house using our VERY limited knowledge of Creole, and we had a lot of fun.  Later on, all of the 17’s played soccer with a local, also a lot of fun.  Now we call the Haitians our zanmi, our friends. I want to end by saying this: Haiti is a contradiction.  Beautiful but ugly.  Lush but barren.  Friendly but harsh. Haiti, a contradiction that we are just beginning to explore.

Highlights of the Day:

Graham Barbour: Traveling through the chaotic streets of Port-Au-Prince

Nathalie Danso:  Attempting Creole with Daniel, Haitian boy at Cange.

Ryan Fulmer: Getting to see the success of the hospital in Mirebalais

Justine Kaskel: Walking up to some locals, despite not knowing a single word in Creole and having a conversation.

Helen Shaves: Getting to see Haiti’s landscape for the first time.