As November winds down, I am taking a few minutes to sit and reflect on the last year. I dunno about you guys, but me, I can hardly remember two weeks ago, not to mind 10 months ago! The time just seems to fly and personally I often feel like I am a feather in the wind – blown here and there and somehow powerless in the greater scheme of things. In Haiti, it often seems like we are blown from one moment of crisis to the next and sometimes we take a deep breath and think – now what? I say sometimes, because honestly, for the most part, we just keep going and try not to think too much!
Take this morning for example. As I was about to get in the car to come down to our rehab centre, the guy who works at the gate was waiting for me. He has worked in the orphanage for years. Probably he is in his mid-40s. In his soft-spoken, gentle voice, he quietly told me that his four kids had been sent back from school because he owes money to the school for all of them. He told me that he does not even have money to buy food. I did not doubt for one minute that he was telling me the truth because he is not the first one to come to me with this story. The guy painting our house is daily asking me for an advance payment, as his kids are out of school until he pays fees. If I took the time to chat with the 113 employees that I am directly responsible for, or the other 217 working in the orphanage, I would find this story repeated and repeated time and time again. What to do? Can the feather ask the wind why it blew it a particular path?
I know Haiti made it to your TV screens during the awful hurricane. Such devastation! So many of you responded and we are so grateful. A few weeks ago, I bought seeds to the value of US$18,000 and we distributed them to over 700 families. We bought leeks, carrots, spinach, cabbage and broccoli. The people receiving them were so, so, so happy. It felt good to know we were helping people get back on their feet and also to know we were helping to increase the production of badly-needed crops. We also gave some direct cash help to those that had lost roofs of houses. That was all in the mountains where we live.
As you will remember, the area worst affected by the storm was the south of Haiti. I wanted to go to the south because I wanted to visit Finesse and Carmelle’s families. Finesse and Carmelle are long-term directors in our programmes and are among my closest friends in Haiti. I had visited their families many times in the past and now I wanted to go and bring some help.
So, bright and early one Sunday morning, we headed off. We left our house at 4 am and we got there around mid-day. How can I describe what I saw? I mean ye saw the devastation and for sure that was still evident 5 – 6 weeks after the storm. But what struck me more than the devastation was the spirit of the people – and the spirit of the land itself. I saw houses with roofs completely blown away and at the front door they had a small stall selling cookies and other small things. I saw a woman coming out from UNDER the roof of her house that had blown down fully intact. So, imagine the tin roof like decapitated and falling a few feet from the house. She seems to have all her belongings under this roof!! In the doorway of another decapitated house I saw this bright WHITE curtain serving as a door. It stood out because it was obviously new and it was so white!
What else did I see? I saw an old, half blind man (Finesse’s uncle), sitting on a high, straw chair, in the ruins of his brother’s house, watching his son try and repair his own roofless house. I saw one of his elderly neighbours sweep the dirt entrance in to where her house was and all around her were wet, discarded clothes- no point in collecting them – where would they put them? I saw roofs of houses sparkling, showing off their new tin covering. They were the lucky houses – they have been re-roofed and the shiny tin beckons and demands to be noticed under the hot sun. A sign of hope! Really it was incredible and heart-breaking to see house after house after house without roofs.
You know what else I saw? I saw beautiful banana trees – lush and green, growing back with a passion. Yes, they were beaten and battered. Yes, they were chopped in half but, boy, were they growing back so beautifully. I saw Mango trees that had been butchered and maimed by Hurricane Matthew and they too were not giving up. Oh no, they were pushing out new, fresh, vibrant leaves! I saw Avocado trees doing the same. In fact, I saw one avocado tree down flat on the ground and can you believe it? It was producing new leaves also. Unbelievable!
I dunno how many of you have seen coconut trees but every time I see them I always think there is something majestic about them. They are so tall and with their perfect posture they seem to be guardians of the place they inhabit! The hurricane destroyed so many of these graceful soldiers – I felt so sad to see them, heads chopped off and no sign of life. The poor coconut trees took the greatest hits. For most of them there is no comeback. Coconuts are a big part of the diet here and such destruction is a huge loss for the farmers. Everyone talked about the ravaging of the coconuts. I kept looking at them. So many destroyed. Some, it was as if someone just snapped the tops off, like you would snap the top off your crayon, if you wanted to give half to your classmate that forgot his! (Do kids still do this? I know we did!!) Each time I saw a coconut tree that was not killed, I felt great joy. And most often it was only one left standing – one solitary coconut that survived amidst a whole heap of them.
I am taking care to give you all these details because I want you to know that the hurricane hit areas of the country that depend on the land. Out there, this is what people live off. They depend on those trees to survive. They had beans and root vegetables that got destroyed during the storm. The fact that many trees are growing back is very important because this is hope for the future. People need hope and the people I met draw from this miracle of nature and somehow, they get on with it. Don’t ask me how, but they do. Like the trees, they refuse to give up.
But you know what? For now, they are totally dependent on the goodwill of others. They lost their crops and they have to wait at least a year before the bananas will produce again – longer for the other trees. They have lost a lot. We brought some food to those we visited. I asked Carmelle, ‘What do your brothers eat every day?’ She shrugged her shoulders and said that they depend on food and money that she and her family can send to them. It is the same for Finesse’s family and for every other family in the area. This is heart-breaking. Imagine driving through community after community and realising that these families have serious difficulties to access food and shelter. They have nothing to sell. How are they to survive? It takes money to buy beans and corn, and maniok and malanga. How can they plant if they have no money to buy the seeds? How can they rebuild homes unless they get financial help? How indeed?
At 7 am the next morning the motor bikes were waiting to take us back to where we had parked the minibus. To say it was a bumpy ride as far as the river, is to put it mildly. The river has washed away the road and made it impassable – unless on foot or on motorbike. In fact, this river has completely moved from where it used to be and now it seems determined to remove everything close by. On that sunny morning, it looked so peaceful – the blue/green water glistening invitingly and the laughter of children swimming made it all seem like an advert for a holiday getaway. Haiti is such a beautiful country.
We crossed the river on foot and then we reached the car and we were ready to head back. The first phone call I got when we reached the bus (we had no phone coverage once we had crossed the river to go to Finesse’s house) was from a mother of a very severe child that had been in our programme for years. She called me to tell me her child Mylove had died. Another feeling of being completely helpless to do anything. We said our goodbyes and got on our way. It was a Monday morning and school kids trekked to schools that had no desks and many had no roofs. A school director told me that none of his pupils have been able to buy school books this year. I looked at his roofless school and roofless church and I was stuck for words. What to say?
And back we were again. Back to our special needs school, and back to my home in Kay Christine. I always say it – life is very intense here in Haiti. We had been gone for just one day and we had seen so much!
So now, there ye go! That more or less sums up the last few weeks of my life here in Haiti. In the orphanage, we have a new beautiful boys’ choir. They are so cute and they sing so well. Not only that but they are so proud of themselves and rightly so!
Last week we joined with our American friends to celebrate Thanksgiving and before the meal we reflected on the many reasons we have to be thankful. Now we are getting organised for our party for the International Day of the Disabled (we will celebrate this on Friday 2nd December) and Christmas. Our kids always have a lovely Christmas – thank God! They are already singing the Christmas songs and counting down the days to Christmas day. We are cleaning and painting the house so everything is spick and span in time for Christmas.
I hope all of you reading this will have a very happy Christmas. The Christmas message is a beautiful one – please don’t lose sight of it as you scramble to make everything special for your loved ones. Bob Hope once said, “My idea of Christmas, whether old fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others”. I think Bob was spot on!
I want to thank you all for all the ways you have loved us here in Haiti throughout 2016. Your support has allowed us do many beautiful things. We are committed to keep providing services to the most vulnerable people in Haiti. We thank you for trusting us with your donations. Be assured we are putting them to good use. Be assured also that we will continue to seek your help. Please feel happy to be a part of all that we are doing in Haiti. Together we are making a difference. Please keep us in your prayers as we pray for you.