Every time we come back from Haiti, we think “wow, this was the best trip ever.” It is a puzzling thought because each trip has had a special combination of people and events. This time we realized that the “best trip ever” reflects that each time we see more and more building blocks being put into place and progress is palpable.
Our February trip was one of the largest — 11 people with 5 first-timers– and, “the best trip ever.” Claude Cox, John Greeley, Richard Jaynes and Brooke Taylor passed their Haiti initiation with flying colors. Claude was invited by the men of Nan Mango to move there. John became the Jeremy Lin of LaGonave — playing basketball and making friends. Richard turned out to have amazing problem-solving skills (and memorable dance skills) and Brooke was always surrounded by children. Old timers Deb Griffin, Jim Ingvoldstad and Lee Wilder were joined by Jeannie Westabrooke, an ultrasound tech from Piedmont Hospital, and Jan Macallister, a cardiac nurse practitioner, and everyone’s new best friend Dr. Bob Swerlik, the chair of Emory’s dermatology department. Laura Martin of Ties that Matter joined us for another series of workshops with the women on Nan Mango. We were a team — different personalities and skills, but working together and forging deep friendships.
We journeyed to Nan Mango for a worship service on our first full day on LaGonave, up the long dusty and rocky road. At church, Pere Soner read a message from our minister, Ernie, and passed around a picture of the Covenant congregation from our 2011 retreat. That picture was studied and studied and slowly passed. After church, the whole community gathered for a meal prepared by a group of women and we simply enjoyed the fellowship.
Our medical team went to the Bill Rice Clinic each day and treated over 300 people during our stay. We started early by treating Claude Valdemar’s minor injuries from a motorcycle accident first thing Monday morning at the compound! Did you now that duct tape is a staple in any first aid kit? At Nan Mango, the rest of the group assembled stands for the three sewing machines that we had transported by plane, taxi-bus, speedboat, sailboat and pick-up truck. It was a beehive of activity as all of the men …. from Covenant and a few from Nan Mango huddled over the sewing machine project while the women clustered around Laura showing the dolls and bags they had made since November.
Richard supervised the guttering project on the school building and we all realized that the installation of the Alan Colussy pump #2 on our new cistern was a delightful spectator sport. We played with the children, we worked with the adults. We jumped rope, played soccer, sang, danced, visited, took “fotos” and hugged. We even located a sewing machine repairman at the market in Palma to do the final tweaks on our sewing machines.
One day, we held a meeting with the women’s sewing group to talk about the products, the new machines, the plans and just to visit. Laura Martin was so impressed with the quality of work these women are doing and believes that the business can expand to include more women. At the end of the meeting, Berline, one of the leaders, thanked us for helping them saying, “You treat us with respect and that makes us respect ourselves more.”
Claude, Richard and John led our first meeting with the men of Nan Mango and learned that they are eager for professional skills. We discussed the best type of latrine for the area and proposed a project whereby if they could supply the labor, we would work on furnishing all materials costs. The group had a long talk about the best way to meet this pressing need for latrines in the community and we will move forward on this critical need. We were humbled (again) to learn that the men want enough food for their children. We are now trying to discern the best way to do a school lunch program. At the end of the meeting Claude Cox was invited to move to Nan Mango and we named him the mayor of Nan Mango, we expect great things!
We spent one afternoon de-worming the children of Nan Mango. This is the single most important step in public health. All of these children have worms. Untreated, this leads to malnutrition and respiratory problems. We brought hard candy as the pill has a bitter taste. Claude recorded the dosing and date on each child’s chart, Deb handed them a pill, Richard a cup of water to down the pill and John provided the candy reward. We quickly realized that the cup of water was the true reward. February is the dry, dusty season when water supplies are depleted and each child eagerly swallowed the pill in order to get a cup of water. That was a powerful observation and we all struggled with our emotions. We have committed to the twice a year de-worming protocol — for one dollar a year, we can treat a child. Lewis and Patton Jaynes had generously shopped with Shannon and Richard, sending dozens of new shoes which are a essential element of protection against worms and infections.
Kip Buis, a member of our congregation sent bags of seeds for tomatos, spinach, radishes, carrots, watermelons and more. We gave those to Jean Thoney, the agronomist who runs the goat project. Jean Thoney was thrilled and plans to grow seedlings for the farmers of the partnership communities.
Pere Soner reported that our adult literacy classes for the first phase had just ended and that there was a waiting list for a new series. He told us that many of the literacy students had been marginalized in their communities and learning how to read gave them greater standing. Pere Soner believes that adult literacy is the foundation to all community development work that we are doing. In Port au Prince met with Laurence Camille, the director of Fonkoze’s adult literacy education program. Ms. Camille brought Robert Sterling, the man who supervised all of our adult education teachers, to the meeting and Robert told us how impressed he was with our teachers, their enthusiasm and dedication. He also gave us the thrilling news that all 158 of our students passed the first module graduation test. The LaGonave Partnership program is one of Fonkoze’s best success stories! We will send all of our teachers for advanced training in a few weeks, start the 158 graduates on the second module of literacy training and begin another first level training. All of that in less than a year from when one woman in Nan Mango asked to learn how to read and write.
Thanks to the Covenant congregation for their continued support of this work in Haiti. Even though they do not all go along it is the spirit of a congregation determined to do “Christ’s work in the world” that makes these trips successful.