Tuesday, December 29, 2009

BTI Graduation

The weekend before Christmas I had the chance to go back to Les Cayes to help with the graduation at BTI…or The Bishop Tharp Business and Technology Institute.

In an earlier post I wrote about what a great program BTI is and how it helps train students in job skills like business and computer sciences to help them get jobs. The last time I was there I got to listen in on a seminar about Entrepreneurship and particularly a discussion about ways to reuse water bottles. You can find used water bottles thrown everywhere. It was so exciting to hear these students think outside the box and come up with ways to support themselves, help their families and even grow and strengthen Haiti’s economy. So needless to say I was happy to help out with the graduation.

I also got to help with a kids Christmas party. BTI offers English classes to kids in Les Cayes and this was their holiday party. Santa even came and each kid got a present and I got to make the placemats!

Here are some pics from the Christmas Party and the Graduation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Playing Catch Up

I’m sorry that it has been so long since the last time that I wrote. It has been a very busy few weeks. Here are some of the things I have been up to

Trip to Les Cayes, Okay…
In November I had a chance to go to Les Cayes…or rather OKay which is what most Haitians, I am told, call it. Apparently it was called OKay and then the French made it Les Cayes…I’m not to clear on the details…Anyway I went there.I was excited because I knew during the trip I would get to visit the town of Torbeck. About 20ish years ago my church back home had a relationship with the church and school there and I was excited to be able to see it. And lets be honest, I was also excited because it meant I got to leave Port au Prince for awhile. The drive to Cayes was beautiful with the mountains and driving along the ocean…Haiti’s landscape is a truly amazing.

Anyway in Cayes I was working with a bunch of American partners that were visiting the area, particularly a group from a church in Atlanta that was looking to begin a relationship with some sort of project in Cayes. The group was there to get a better understanding of Haiti, of Cayes and see what project would best fit their parish. It was wonderful to be able to spend time with these people and help them in their search. Spending time with them also meant that I got to see a bit more of the area than I may have normally…It also included a trip to the beach at Port Salut and my first time eating Lobster (So good!)

Port Salut

Eating Lobster

I also learned more about 2 exciting projects that helped to give me hope for Haiti and re-energized me a bit. The first one is Maison de Naissance. It is a clinic that deals with Maternal Health and it has been able to do amazing things in the area. I also think it is not just the clinic but the nurses go out into the field to visit and educate women. From what I could gather it seemed to be a great organization that was taking a holistic approach to health and development and took into account local knowledge, which I appreciated. It is also cool because it is all run by nurses!

The second is BTI, The Bishop Tharp Institute of Business and Technology. It is kind of like a community college that the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti runs. It is exciting because it is training people in skills that are needed so that they can hopefully find jobs. I wish I could give you the percentage of students that find jobs after leaving but I forget the exact number…I do know that when considering the very high unemployment in Haiti, the number of students who do find jobs is impressive. If you want more information about BTI just let me know and I can get it for you.

The group from Atlanta also decided to partner with BTI and build a guesthouse. This will give housing for visiting partners, visiting professors and could potentially be housing for nursing students (the want to have nursing students train with Maison de Naissance). But if a guest house were to be built, the thought is that BTI will add a hospitality component to its curriculum…which is good because Haiti is currently trying to grow its tourism industry again.

I’m headed back out to Cayes this weekend to help with BTI’s graduation…I will let you know how it goes.

First Trip to Cité Soleil
Also in November I took my first trip to Cité Soleil…the first of what I hope will be more, but so far the timing hasn’t worked out. In case you didn’t know Cité Soleil has been called the biggest slum in the Western Hemisphere. While I was there I was helping with an organization called LAMP which is a clinic.

So I went not knowing what really to expect or what I was going to be doing…and I had heard a lot about Cité Soleil and not much of it was good. For example, I told someone I was going and they proceeded to tell me that the other week 5 people had been shot and killed…not really what you want to here before you go somewhere.

So I had those thoughts running through my head as I arrived at the clinic and as soon as I got there I was immediately thrown into preparing and distributing prescriptions to patients. And by that, I mean, that there was a table filled with bottles of medication and you tried to put the right amount of medication, into the right envelope as quickly as you could. But I have to say, somehow it all worked.

Afterwards I walked around with the woman who manages the clinic, first to look at some land that LAMP is considering using for a feeding program and then to visit some of the schools in the area. The woman I was with tries to take care of the children in the schools as much as she can. For example, many of the children come to the school with out shoes so when she has extra money she tries to buy some shoes.

Overall I enjoyed my time there and am looking forward to going back…I also want to add that I felt completely safe the entire time I was there.
Street in Cite Soleil
Last year I didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving because I was living in Northern Uganda but this year I was determined to celebrate Thanksgiving complete with turkey and cranberry sauce.

I have a girl who cooks for me sometimes but she only speaks Creole. I asked her if she would cook Thanksgiving Dinner for me and some of my friends, and with some help was able to successfully ask her to make turkey and something with pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes. In one the grocery stores here we were also able to buy ocean spray canned cranberry sauce (my favorite).

Thanksgiving Day, we went to an English service in Petionville and afterwards some of my American friends here as well as a couple Haitian friends gathered at my apartment for dinner. It was a good time and we even added a Haitian twist to our Thanksgiving…Rum Punch

“Pilgrimage” to Mirebalais, Cange, Hinche and Cap-Haitian
The day after Thanksgiving I left to go on another trip with Lauren and Pere Ajax (the same people I went to Cayes with). It was really good and the only thing that would have made it better was if I hadn’t been sick with a cold the whole time. And I apologize that there aren't pictures up for this yet...I didn't take any pictures on this trip and am waiting to get some but I will post some when I get them.

Anyway we left Friday, only 2 hours later than planned. We stopped in Miribalais which is in the Central Plateau for a couple minutes to talk to the priest there and look at the Episcopal School. Mirebalais seemed like a nice town but we were there for no more than 20 minutes and then we were back on the road again.

An hour or two later we stopped in Cange, also in the Central Plateau. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with Paul Farmer but he is a doctor who founded this incredible health facility in Cange called Zanmi Lasante. He did this in partnership with an Episcopal priest. So while I was in Cange I had the opportunity to visit Zanmi Lasante, to see the hospital and all the other medical services they offer, as well as the Episcopal Church and School which are incorporated into the facility. What they have done there is really incredible and it feels like stepping into another world.

Finally at the end of the day we reached Hinche, also in the Central Plateau. One of the first things we did was take a small tour of the town…the highlight for me was the airport…which was a field filled with kids playing soccer and livestock grazing…We stayed there that night and the next morning there was a big Mass to celebrate St. Andrew…the Episcopal Church in Hinche’s namesake. The service was really nice but my favorite part was the beginning when the band, all the choirs (there were at least 5 choirs) and all the clergy processed around the public square and into the church.

After the service and quickly eating some really good food, and King Cola Banana Soda we were back on the road and on our way to Cap-Haitian. That night we got to Cap-Haitian and did another little tour of the town. Cap-Haitian is in the northern part of Haiti and right on the ocean…The rectory also happens to be right on the water. Cap-Haitian seemed like a really nice and chill town.

The next day was the First Sunday of Advent and we went to L’Eglise Saint Esprit, the Episcopal Church in Cap. It was a beautiful church and I was excited to recognize some of the melodies of my favorite Advent hymns even if I didn’t understand the words. I think I should also point out that I got phone numbers from 2 guys before we had even had Communion.

In the afternoon there was a graduation for the Episcopal Vocational School in Cap. The school has been around for maybe 30years and has about 1,000 students, studying everything from accounting to auto mechanics. This particular graduation was just for the students who had studied accounting. My travelling cohorts and I were given seats in the front of the ceremony as special quests…we even got boutonnieres to wear. It was a little awkward and the ceremony was a little long but at the end when the new graduates sang Michael Jackson’s “We are the World” and I could not have been happier

The next day we visited the L’Eglise Saint Esprit School. It was an incredible school; it was clean and seemed like a very happy learning environment. It was surprising to learn that the entire school had been constructed without the help of outside partners. It had been paid for entirely by the community. And just trust me when I tell you how rare I think that can be here. I think it would be exciting to see what this parish and its priest could do if it were given a little outside assistance since they have already been able to do so much on their own.
In Cap I was also able to see my first Bat...one night I was out late on the balcony and had started to fall asleep when it swooped past my head...I yelled screaming into my room and of course the bat followed...but then left. Also, Cap taught me to always bring a mosquito net.

Overall the “Pilgrimage” as we called it gave me a great opportunity to see a lot of Haiti and I feel like now I am starting to get a better sense of the country and the work of the Episcopal Church here.

…I am sorry this post was so long…I promise not to wait so long before my next post…