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.

Dinner Fundraiser

Dinner Fundraiser a roaring success

From Here to Haiti held its third annual fundraiser gala on November 8th at Terrace on the Park in Queens, NY.  Our host Lisa Scardamaglia guided the program perfectly throughout evening.  Ellen Rhatigan gave the keynote address and Monsignor John Tosi delivered the invocation.  Guitarist John Ducroiset entertained the guests during the cocktail hour while DJ John Schneider kept them dancing throughout the evening.  A most enjoyable rendition of “At Last” by Megan Latham drew loving couples to the dance floor followed by Haitian flags waving to “Drapo saa” by Jocelyne Dorisme.  Prizes graciously donated by our sponsors made the joy of many winners while Bernard Lebrun, our photographer, made of the evening a tangible memory.  A great time was had by all.

Following are a few pictures from the event — there will be more to follow:

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Dinner Dance Fundraiser

Our Third Dinner Dance fundraiser will take place on November 8th.  Preparations have been under way for months.  Tickets sales are on-going and moving fast.  Below is the flier giving the details of the event.  Visit http://www.fromheretohaiti.org to purchase your tickets or call any of the board members listed on the flier.

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Below are a few pictures of last year’s event:

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St. Francis Xavier in Baudin

In October 2012 our visit in Haiti to assess a few projects took us to Baudin, a small village high up in the mountain past the Trouin valley in the South Department.  As we turned a corner we came to a fairly large church with wide stairs leading to an open terrace.  It was St. Francis Xavier, the parish church of Baudin which welcomes about 700 parishioners each Sunday.  The three wooden entrance doors were locked; the top section had a large crack caused by the earthquake, a sign that there may be more damage hidden from our vantage point.

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Pere Delmas Camy, mild mannered and soft spoken, came to welcomed us with open arms and a wide smile.  He led us to the side of the church where we parked the car.  As we entered the church we were amazed at its spaciousness.  It had been emptied and looked abandoned.  Pere Camy explained that much work will be needed to repair this parish church.  We took pictures and video, we measured, walked, poked and scrutinized every crack; we did everything we could think of to help us make a decision once we consult with engineers and architects back in the States.

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In the meantime, the parishioners celebrate mass and conduct religious service in a makeshift church on the other side of the property.

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The Students of St. Raymond

By Patricia Brintle

My parish of St. Luke in Whitestone has been generous to From Here to Haiti from the very beginning.  The pastor, Monsignor John Tosi, helped fund our first project and donated countless statues that now adorn many churches in Haiti.  This past Christmas, my parish came through again by adding From Here to Haiti, Ltd. to the St. Luke Annual Christmas Giving Tree run by the Disciples in Mission group.  My coordinators were Judy Deangelis and Diane Cantatore.  Thanks to them about ten parishes in Haiti received soccer balls, basket balls, tennis rackets, badminton sets and scooters.  This past April, I visited St. Raymond School in Anse d’Hainault and had the pleasure of witnessing the fruits of the giving tree.

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College St. Raymond is a school of about 500 students and stands half-way up a hill, overlooking the bay and surrounded by trees and because of its location, a constant breeze flows through the classrooms.  We arrived as the recess bell rang and watched a flood of blue uniforms spring from each classroom.  The children surrounded us and we soon realized that they already knew who we were.  They thanked us for the gifts that were sent a couple of months earlier and showed us a couple of acrobatics on the scooter they had received, making sure to inform us that they were the only school in the area with one of those.  I smiled, thanking in my heart the Disciples in Mission of Whitestone.

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I cannot thank Monsignor Tosi and the parishioners of St. Luke enough for their support.  Through their generosity they have made so many children – and adults – very happy.

We need your help – Volunteer – Donate   http://www.fromheretohaiti.org

Poush Pooooooouuuuuush

by Patricia Brintle

When volunteers express the desire to join the team on a project they always ask what to bring, how to dress, what we will eat, about vaccinations, mosquitoes… all questions about the necessities of life.  My informal answer is to plan as if they were going tent camping in a remote area.  At hearing this, some will decline to go but others will embrace the prospect with ardor.  I almost always forget to mention to be ready to push our vehicle if needed.  Vehicles in Haiti are too often used until their very last breath; and even when they die, parts are re-used in other moribund cars or transformed into interesting artworks that are sold for much more than the entire car was ever worth.

At our very first trip back in 2010, although I had not mentioned “pushing cars” as part of the planning, our team got a taste of it.  As soon as we got in the car to leave the Jeremie airport, the driver gave us an impish look with a shy chuckle and asked everyone to get out while he scanned the area for able bodies to help push the car.  Joe, Bob and Eddy immediately stepped into gear and join the other volunteers to the front of the car; as if rehearsed they all let out a unified groan and began pushing.  Ellen and I were asked to remain in the car.

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One, two, three… pooooooouuuuushhhhh… and after a couple of violent hiccups, the car took off.  The guys rushed over and quickly got in the vehicle, a few others jumped in the open back while it was still moving for fear that it would stall.  We continued on our way to fulfill our plans for the day under the applauds and laughs of a few spectators

??????????Pushing the car was a common occurrence for me as a child, especially when crossing a river and the thought of being stuck in mid stream never left me to this day.  We never needed to push any of our cars again but each time we drive through a river, my butt involuntarily rises just a wee bit from the seat as if to lighten the car and keep it from stalling in the water.

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Another school in Lory

by Patricia Brintle

Lory is a small mountain top village of about 10,000 inhabitants in the Grande Anse department in the south of Haiti.  I visited the parish of St. Antoine l’Ermite in 2011 to check on a FHTH project for College St. Augustin, the parish school.  The project entailed constructing a 5-stall toilet for the school which had none.  My task completed, I expressed my sadness at the fact that College St. Augustin had so little.  School supplies were scarce, the school building was unfinished and portions were dangerously open, the stairs          Lory March11 (28)       Lory March11 (25)

were uneven, had no ramp and invited accidents.  The children had to be extremely careful not to take a fall.  They had no toilet but this was being remedied by FHTH.  The cistern in the yard was filled with rain water but it had no cover, a danger to the children, and inside mosquito larvae swam undisturbed.  Pere Charlince Vendredy, the pastor, smiled at my remarks.  He said that he was grateful to have the little that was because just a stone’s throw away, at another school, the children had even less. 

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It was hard to believe, but he took me on a short walk.  Just about 500 feet up the road was a school in session.  I approached the first classroom, an outdoor construction with four posts, no walls and tin roofing.  The teacher had no desk and the attentive children sat with eyes fixed on the teacher as not to miss a word.  Their bench brought tears to my eyes:  a few rocks on which rested a wood plank.

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The teacher approached and welcomed me to the class.  I voiced my sadness at the seating.  He said that seating was secondary to learning and that the students were happy just to be in class even without a proper classroom or bench.  He took me to an edifice where other classes were being held.  They had separate classrooms, desks and benches, but the roof was leaking and the floor was just large rocks strewn about.

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The image of these children remains with me each day.  I cannot help thinking of how much we sometimes take for granted.  We open the faucet and expect potable water to flow; we turn on the switch and expect the light to come on; we attend school and expect to sit on proper benches and walk on an even flooring.  However, to acknowledge how easy we have it can only help us strive to help those who are less fortunate.

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A view from the starting line

By Ellen Rhatigan

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I can’t believe how quickly “From Here to Haiti” has grown!  Pat asked me to go, sort of out of the blue, after a choir rehearsal in the Summer of 2010. Without much thought I said, “Sure, why not?” I had some vacation days to take and where else would I go but a country torn apart by politics and covered in rubble, only six months after the devastating earthquake?!  I still don’t know what made me say “Yes.”  We were not yet a formed organization with a purpose, by-laws and mission statement, just four people who wanted to see if and how we could help.

I expected that trip to be traumatic, filled with sadness at the overwhelming poverty and devastation of Haiti.  Now, don’t get me wrong, that was there in full, but it was only a piece of an amazing experience.  The dire circumstances that surrounded us could not drown out the absolute natural beauty of the land, the resilience of the people, the adventures of traveling across the country, and the desires of so many people there wishing to make a difference in their country.  There are so many stories to tell.  Stay tuned…

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