LaGonave was incredibly dry and dusty and people are anxious for rain. The planting season will commence with the rains and successful crops are critical to feeding families. We found that “our goats” had stripped all available foliage at the goat project and were able to give Pere Soner enough cash to buy food for the goats until the rains come and the plants produce new growth. There has clearly been a good deal of roadwork up in the hills which has made the trip from St. Francis to the Bill Rice Clinic much shorter. Conditions on LaGonave looked promising. There is some road work taking place and some new homes are being built. On the other hand, the population appears to be permanently larger due to migration back from Port au Prince and the job opportunities on the mainland are scarce. The key question is how the island will fare after the growing season is over.
Each trip to Haiti has a unique flavor–often because the “old timers” experience Haiti anew through the eyes of the first time visitors. This trip, one of our largest, had a group of 12 including 8 first-timers. Four Blincoes (Bill, Marti, Camy and Keller) were joined by Doug and Nancy Payne, a couple who has housed a Childspring patient and Dr. Jim’s partner, Dr. Helen McSwain and her daughter Sallie. Debbie Griffin, Lee Wilder, Jim Ingvoldstad and Jeanne Westebrooke, an ultrasound specialist, rounded out the group.
Bill Blincoe, Jim Ingvoldstad and Helen McSwain — all physicians at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, held clinics at the Bill Rice Clinic every day. Jeanne Westebrooke performed ultrasounds on dozens of pregnant women. As always at the Bill Rice Clinic, medicines are in short supply and the need is always great. Bill, a cardiologist, examined a little girl identified by Childspring International and cleared her for life-saving surgery in Port-au-Prince. Jim followed up on a number of Childspring kids in addition to his usual ob/gyn patients. Bill, Jim , Helen and Jeanne saw over 200 patients and Jim performed 3 surgeries.
Using materials left by First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, we conducted floride treatments on over 200 children at Nan Mango. We left a supply of vitamins with the principal of the school and gave each child a toothbrush. It is a long term dream to add dental care to the services available at the Bill Rice Clinic. Marti Blincoe did several physical therapy consults. Camy and Keller Blincoe did “Hokey Pokey” demonstrations and then Bill brought down the house with his jup rope skills — topped only by Keller and Bill jumping in tandom. It is hard to describe the squeals of laughter. Camy and Keller, both recent college graduates, were so moved by the children on LaGonave that they returned to Atlanta and launched a fundraising appeal for the Children’s Nutrition Program. In the first month after their return, they raised over $850.
We distributed over 18 large duffle bags of donated shoes at Nan Mango. We have relied on the 100 lb per person luggage allowance to bring shoes, clothing and supplies to Haiti. The needs are great and as much as we bring, it is never enough. The luggage policies have changed and,henceforth, international travelers can only check one 50 lb bag free of charge. We do not expect to do any large scale distributions in the future, in part because of this new restriction and, more importantly, because we want to focus on community development.
We have completed fundraising (thanks in large part to a $10,000 challenge grant) for a new cistern at Nan Mango and classrooms — needed due to the increase in enrollment. All construction will be done by Haitians. A key part of our plan for any project to generate local employment opportunities.
The two new bucks for the Goat Project are now in Nouvelle Citie. Due to the dry season, there is very little for the 37 does in residence to eat and we made an emergency advance of funds so that Jean Thony could buy ingredients for feed at market. We also delivered vitamins and syringes.
We continue to have very meaningful conversations with Pere Soner who has the enormous responsibility for supervising 11 schools and churches. His long term focus is education and the need for jobs on LaGonave. We had a very productive meeting about the prospects for a trade school and are proceeding with a grant proposal and a search for suitable land. This is a very long term plan but it is time to take the first steps. Among the trades suggested are: diesel mechanics, sewing, solar/electrical technology, machining, motorcycle repair, building trades, computer and business skills, plumbing.
Debbie Griffin had a critical and successful meeting with the head nurse at the clinic and a seasoned comunity healthworker These two women hae been designated to lead the new children’s nutrition program (Meds and Foods for Kids). They will undertake a pilot program of 30 children, funded through a grant that Debbie secured. Upon completion of the pilot program these two women will train the other community healthcare workers. This program has proven success and is becoming a national model (now endorsed by Partners in Health). The cost per child will be the same as our current program .
We had three homemade sundresses (provided by Marilyn Roberts) which we gave those to the head of the women’s project at St. Francis in Anse a Galets, as examples of potential products for the sewing group.
We report back, after each trip, about what we “did” but it is equally important to reflect on our growing and deepening relationship with the people of this village.
- Three women brought us handmade gifts… these women who are so desperately poor.
- The children surprised us with a song that they had written and rehearsed for us… a song in English. The first line, “We are so happy to see you” tell is all. Not a dry eye in the house after that.
- Most importantly, and most profound — we had a community meeting for the women. Our wonderful translator Bob told us that this was a very bad idea, that we would be hit with a wish list of things the women wanted us to bring. We told Bob that we were prepared for that but just wanted the dialogue. The women talked about the need for healthcare for their families and the ongoing need for water. They expressed an interest in sewing. And then, a slender woman from the back of the room raised her hand and came forward. She said, “you teach our children and help with our school but we want to learn how to read and write too.” The room exploded in applause and we were overwhelmed by this simple, most basic desire. It is incredibly humbling to have women with overwhelming hardships just ask to learn to read. Our group resolved right then and there that we WILL make this happen.