Verso of Ile a Vache Postcard

By Patricia Brintle

In October of 2012, we travelled to Ile a Vache to assess St. Antoine de Padoue School which is administered by the Petits Freres de Sainte Therese de l’Enfant Jesus.

In the months prior to leaving, whenever I would tell someone about our destination, I would hear about the beauty of the island, how it is a little paradise where couples spend their honeymoon, a beautiful little corner of the world that civilization had not touched.  I would hear about spectacular sunrises and sunsets; about lounging on the beach sipping on a coconut laced with Barbancourt Rum; about that little sandbar you can walk to and claim as your private island for a day.  I was filled with anticipation.

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Brother Anthony Saint Juste picked us up the morning after our arrival and off we went.  We stopped at Riviere Froide Café-Lompre near Leogane to visit their mother house, have breakfast and discuss the project with Brother Leandre who is in charge of the congregation.  The brothers are hard working and try their hand in agriculture, bee keeping, iron work, and just about any work to raise money to survive.  They do most of their own construction but too often need financial help to purchase materials.

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On the road to Les Cayes we could not help notice the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy just a week prior.  Huts were submerged underwater, plantations flooded; many trees uprooted, especially in the banana fields where they all laid broken in the muddy water.  The damage was tremendous.  In early afternoon we were boarding a small open boat from Les Cayes to Ile a Vache.

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We sat in the middle of the boat and were given a plastic sheet which we thought was to protect us from the sun but quickly realized it was to shield us from the sea splashing abundantly in the boat.  It was a very bumpy 30 minute ride which slowed a bit as we approached the island and cruised along the coast line until we reached the small village of Madame Bernard.  We docked and walked across a waterlogged plaza and up a hill to the home of the brothers.  They welcomed us with open arms and bright smiles.

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After washing the sea salt from our hands and face and went on to assess the school along with the local engineer and other members of the community.  We visited the building, inspected each room and took many pictures.  The edifice was in such bad shape that we were surprised children and teachers could actually use the space. We measured, pulled, pushed, jumped on board, and made extensive notes to be discussed with volunteer architects and engineers in the US.

 

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The evening meal was spent discussing getting to know each other and discussing what to expect from the community of Ile a Vache.  We learned that the inhabitants feel left out and separated from the mainland.  Life is difficult there.  It takes much effort to transport goods, water is scarce and the soil does not lend itself to a very successful agriculture.  We spoke about the hotels and resort on the other side of the island but were told that they were very beautiful but that the owners and guests are far removed from the poverty that exists on their side of paradise. We could feel the pain in their voice.

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The next day we celebrated mass at the nearby church and admired the boat shaped altar and the crucifix made from an anchor.  We prayed for the community of Ile a Vache and for the means to repair the school.  Soon after, we took the boat to Les Cayes and to an SUV toward our next destination:  The mountain top village of Baudin in the diocese of Jacmel.

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NY Times Article on Ile a Vache history:  Efforts to colonize African-Americans under President Geffrard.  See link below.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/the-le-vache-from-hope-to-disaster/

SURGEON IN SPITE OF HIMSELF

 by Patricia Brintle

We never know what surprise awaits us when we leave to work on a project.  However, we always learn something each time we travel and subsequent trips are always safer and better prepared.

It was the second day of our stay in Chardonnette to repair the wall of St. Gerard church back in August of 2011.  We had just had breakfast and were leisurely going over the schedule for the day and reviewing each team member’s assignments.  Ellen and Bob would help mix cement, Joe and Eddy would be on the scaffold with the workers, and I would be with Pere Emmanuel ensuring that the work was moving in time.

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Suddenly we heard a loud commotion at the front gate.  There were screams, yells and cries of distress from the cook: “docte Levek, docte Levek, vini vit” (Doctor Leveque, Doctor Leveque, come quickly) she said addressing Eddy, our vice president.  We rushed outside to find a young man holding his head and blood rolling down his face.  He had gotten into an altercation with his friends, things got heated and a rock was tossed.  The young man got hit in the head leaving a three-inch laceration.  At the sight of the blood the others ran from the scene.  Pere Emmanuel took a chair and set the young man down while scolding him for getting into a fight.   He was from the parish and lived nearby.

 

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Eddy went on “M.D.” mode and sent Pere Emmanuel to find a suture kit at the school clinic.  I was to serve as the attending nurse while Joe, Ellen and Bob watched in awe.  In no time, the wound was cleaned, sutured and the head bandaged.  The young man closed his eyes and did not move during the operation, nor did he utter a sound while his head was being sutured without anesthesia.  Eddy gave him a couple of pain pills and sent home with his friends and careful instructions on caring for the wound.  We all took a few deep breaths and continued our plans for the day.

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Although we always travel with a first aid kit, we knew at that moment that packing a suture kit or, at least, some butterfly wound closure strips would be a must in the future.

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My thoughts about From Here to Haiti

By Joanne Weir

When I think about From Here to Haiti, I think about its members, and the passion they have towards helping people.  Sure non-profits raise money to get something done.  Sounds simple, right?  But NO – It’s not at all that simple!  The members of From Here To Haiti are not only executives running a non-profit organization.  They are the administrators, schedulers, fund raisers and foot workers going from door to door, collectors and shippers of items in need, repairers, painters, and sculptors of broken statues for Haitian Churches.  Their “to-do” list is never ending, and that is all before they plan their trip, meet up with other volunteers in Haiti, lay out the plans, and then start the physical part of the job!  It’s exhausting, and to them, it’s exhilarating!

From the moment a job is decided upon, From Here to Haiti members start to sweat.  I know their sweat increases their passion, and like their “to-do” list, their passion does not cease.  Hundreds of organizations are researched for grants; hundreds of calls, texts, emails postal mailings are made to raise more funds or for donations of statues, clothing, and whatever else is needed to help people.  Every donation whether it be $1.00 or $1,000.00 is appreciated with gratitude.  And, don’t forget, there are many, many obstructions that need attention in order for them to progress.  When a job is completed, you see on their website exactly what was done.  This is the simple part:  another job completed out of love.

I do not know much about non-profit groups helping Haiti rebuild from the earthquake of 2010 except for what I read in the media.  Sometimes the news is positive; sometimes it’s negative.  From Here to Haiti is very different to me because I know two of the members personally.  I see with my own eyes and feel inside my heart the passion that my friends have towards rebuilding, and improving living conditions in a place very close to their hearts.  I get to see what their process involves in raising whatever money and materials they can so that they can help rebuild even a small portion of Mother Nature’s destruction to communities.  The hope and faith of the people affected by this destruction are no doubt reinforced as From Here to Haiti lands on their soil.

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http://www.fromheretohaiti.org

fromheretohaiti@gmail.com

A basketball game in Mouline

In June of 2015 we went to the small town of Mouline to build a roof for St. Paul Church.  A strong hurricane wind took the roof off back in 2011. A make shift structure was built to accommodate the faithful each Sunday, but within a couple of years, the temporary structure itself began to leak. It became imperative for St. Paul to be renovated.  In one week, the church received a new roof, a new coat of paint, and the parishioners were delighted.

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Among the many toys we brought with us when we traveled to St. Paul Parish were a basketball and a net – the hoop was too large to fit in our suitcases. St Paul Mouline (1)

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As we set out to play, the ingenuity of the children became obvious and they showed their skill in making do with their meager resources.  They formed a hoop from a piece of iron they found on the construction site and tied it to the existing soccer goal post. They were able to play undeterred by the uneven ground.

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No sooner had they gotten the hang of shooting the basket that they realized they needed something sturdier.  They conferred and disappeared in the thicket next to the house of the priest.  Moments later they reappeared carrying a nice post.

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They chose a spot where the ground was flat, dug a hole about 2 feet deep and planted the post.

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They borrowed a hammer, took some nails from the workers and placed their hoop solidly on the post.  Soon they had a line of children practicing their skill at making a hoop shot.

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Never underestimate the resourcefulness of children.

Donate…..volunteer….

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A needed well for a small village

Notre Dame de la Merci, the parish church of the seaside village of Petite Riviere de Dame Marie in the Grand’Anse extends beyond the villagers’ pastoral needs.  The school counts over 250 children and many come to attend class from the neighboring mountains.  Those who live in town, however are plagued by a water source that is brackish and unsanitary due to the close proximity of the sea. An artesian well was requested by Father Belony, the pastor of the church to alleviate the resulting sickness and restore health to the community.

Fundraising for the well was made possible by the help of the 7th Grade class of St. Luke School in Whitestone who enlisted the support of their parents, their friends, their teachers and the students of St. Agnes Academy in College Point, Queens.  In February Pere Belony and the well digging company (Kris Kapab) dug the well using very rudimentary means efficaciously.

wordpress pix 1Digging of the well

Wordpress pix 2Water gushes out — but it’s dirty

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 Little by little the water Becomes cleaner
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Water runs until it becomes clear.

wordpress pix 5Children are the first to come get water.

No sooner was the clear water gushing from the earth that children ran home to tell others and returned with buckets to bring back clean water home.

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Then  an old man comes… look at his happy face

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The word spread fast and soon over 50 people came to fetch the precious commodity.

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The word is out… Everyone comes to get water

Pere Belony is third from the left.  He said he was the first to drink from “St. Luke Well.”

Once all the village had their homes filled with clean water, work started to build a hand pump for the well.  The well will be named “St. Luke Well.”

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Now work starts to construct the top with a hand pump.

Make a difference in the lives of the people of Haiti

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Saved by the rules

by Patricia Brintle

My friend Eddy Leveque, FHTH’s Vice President, gives me so much advice about my expectations of Haitian work ethics that I’ve started numbering them and define them as rules:  Rule #1:  Always have plans A, B and C when traveling to Haiti.  Rule #2:  Never plan a stay of less than five days when traveling to Haiti.  Rule #3:  Take an open return on your ticket when traveling to Haiti.   Rule #4… And the list goes on.  I was born and raised in Haiti but having spent a half a century in the US caused my work habits have become rather Americanized.

It was in March 2013.  This particular trip was to be very short:  Day 1:  Travel from New York to Port-au-Prince and take care of business – Day 2:  Catch the morning flight to Jeremie and take care of business – Day 3:  Catch the morning flight back to Port-au-Prince and connect to the flight to New York.  Sounds simple, right?  Except that I had disregarded Eddy’s Rule #2 and only planned a three-day stay.

I arrived to Port-au-Prince in good order and took care of business.  I spent a wonderfully restful night at my cousin’s home up in the mountains of Fermate and woke up early the next morning in plenty of time to catch the 8:00 am Tortug’Air flight to Jeremie.  On the way to the airport we caught an unusually heavy traffic and were told that the road had been blocked.  We backtracked, made a right turn, and went down one of the most vertiginous road through the side mountain.  I was holding on to dear life through the bumps and turns and ups and downs.  When we reached town we sped when we could… you see, cars, trucks, tap-taps, pedestrians, sellers, hand carts, and even goats, all fight for space on the streets of the capital and without a horn to clear the road here and there, cars would be at a standstill.

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We pulled in front of the terminal; I jumped out of the car with a fleeting goodbye to my cousin and ran to the counter.  “I am sorry madam, but the flight was full and the plane is already taxiing.”  My heart sank and for a minute I lost my breath:  I missed my flight.

I looked around in disbelief as if somehow something or someone in that waiting room was to solve my dilemma.  To one side was another counter, with a bright yellow sign: Sunrise Airways.  I remembered Rule #1 and changed gears to Plan B.  I walked over and the young man at the counter, to my disappointment, informed me that all their regular flights had been discontinued and they only took charters of six or more passengers.  I sighed heavily and without losing another minute switch gears to Plan C:  Charter a two-seater.  I called the flight school and to my delight, they had a trip scheduled for that afternoon.

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It was the first time I rode such a small plane.  No room to ensure you don’t get stuck with a bad seat, or to select a window or an aisle… There was only one seat and it was a window seat.  I was given a set of aviation headsets and was astonished at how much they reduced the noise.  Talking was almost impossible which gave plenty of time to enjoy the views.  The southern coast offers breathtaking sights.  The countryside is lush and green.  The coast is strewn with cliffs that seem to rise as soldiers holding back the crashing waves.  We flew low, so much so that we could almost see people walking along.  What an experience!

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I arrived in Jeremie in enough time to do business, enjoy a fabulous meal with friends, have a most restful sleep, catch the morning Tortug’air flight to Port-au-Prince, connect to the New York flight and have a delicious dinner with my husband that night.

My trip was saved by Eddy’s rules.

A Cohesive Team

When we work on a project and call upon the community to join in the work force for a week of intense construction and refurbishing, we never know who will show up.  We hire men, women, young, old, mothers, single, Catholic, Protestant, or any other denomination.  For that week, our work becomes a unity of effort. The town is mobilized and everyone becomes part of the project.

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Haitians are a welcoming people and everyone watches out for our safety and well being.  The entire project becomes a sort of “family affair” at the town level.  By the time we arrive, the town has known about our arrival for several weeks already and we know it will be successful because we learn as much from the villagers we meet as they learn from us.  Learning from each other is as essential as working with each other.  There is a mutual desire to improve on the town and its inhabitants.

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Salaries become secondary as the group pulls all their resources together.  We are all one.  Each person contributes their talents with no fear of being diminished.  For one week we become the ultimate working machine and as someone once said, it’s  a “kombit a grande echelle” where everyone pulls in unison.  One of our main goals is to always leave the place in a better state than we found it; the reality is that we are the ones who always leave better people than we came in and the next project is always better because of the experience of the last one.

Come volunteer with us.  Whether you travel or just work in the administration, it’s always a life-changing experience.