Christmas Message from Gena Heraty, Special Needs Programme Director

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.

Separating seeds to share with neighbours.

Separating seeds to share with neighbours.

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.

Visiting with Finesse and Carmelle.

Visiting with Finesse and Carmelle.

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!

Post-Hurricane Matthew scenes in the south.

Post-Hurricane Matthew scenes in the south.

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.

Post-Hurricane Matthew Scenes in the south.

Post-Hurricane Matthew Scenes in the south.

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!

Post-Hurricane Matthew scenes in the south.

Post-Hurricane Matthew scenes in the south.

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.

Post-Hurricane Matthew scenes in the south.

Post-Hurricane Matthew scenes in the south.

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.

Motorbike transport on visit to the south.

Motorbike transport on visit to the south.

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!

The new boys' choir at Kenscoff.

The new boys’ choir at Kenscoff.

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.

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas!

Love Gena

 

https://nphspecialneedshaiti.com/get-involved/donate/

 

Visit from Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA (Hope)

The St. Helene home for orphaned and abandoned children played host to two very welcome visitors last week. Kieran Tansey and Leo Quinn from Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA (Hope) were with us for six days to carry out essential works around the orphanage site. This was the fourth trip to Kenscoff for Kieran, the first for Leo and the sixth time that volunteers from Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA had visited in just two years.

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Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA is a fully-registered Irish charity dedicated to supporting vulnerable children in Haiti. It was established in 2011 and 100% of donations to this Irish NGO go directly to their projects in Haiti. ESPWA is the Haitian Creole word for hope and Kieran and Leo set to work with great enthusiasm to bring just that to the hundreds of children living at Kenscoff.

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After 30 years, many places in the orphanage badly needed a facelift. A concrete path was laid to improve vehicular and wheelchair access at the complex, hurricane debris was removed and new washing facilities were provided at Kay Christine, home to over 30 residents with special needs. It was an ambitious work programme, given the short time frame involved, but all works were completed on schedule and to the great satisfaction of everyone involved.

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The remedial works for Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA’s latest visit were identified in consultation with Gena Heraty, with whom the organisation has established a strong and effective working relationship. Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA believes in building relationships with local partners in Haiti and this was evident in the respectful on-site exchanges and in the friendly after-hours banter!

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Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA also believes in empowering the people of Haiti to foster independence and sustainability. This has been put into practice by employing local labourers and training them in basic construction skills on a short-term but recurring basis. The latest crew had 11 members with natural ‘foremen’ emerging as confidence increased. Six days of employment for 11 men converts to a significant cash injection to a local economy still reeling from Hurricane Matthew.

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Kieran and Leo were full of praise for the hospitality extended to them at Kenscoff, while Gena was equally positive about the team’s commitment and the significance of their contribution to day-to-day life at Kenscoff. She said, ‘As always, Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA did a super job. Apart from the regular crew, we also had some of the young lads in the orphanage helping out. These young lads were very interested and it was very clear that they have learned a lot from Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA these past two years. Everyone here really appreciates the high quality of work and the commitment of Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA to NPFS Haiti’.

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The final working day ended with a quick visit to three houses occupied by the younger children, where sweets and apples were distributed to the delight of all. A spontaneous ‘thank you’ song was sung, which spoke for everyone – for your good work, for your regular visits, for your much-appreciated moral support, we say a huge and heartfelt ‘mèsi anpil’ to all at Haiti Orphanage Project ESPWA. We look forward to seeing you again in 2017.

http://www.4haiti.ie/

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Hurricane Matthew – Home Visits in the Aftermath

By Gena Heraty

By now you are all well aware of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. You probably have seen more images on the news than I have and without doubt you all feel very sad for the victims of this powerful force of nature. Earlier this week I was visiting some families in the mountains close to us. While we were not hit as badly as the south, and the mountains are still lovely and green, some of our neighbours have lost everything.

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In a small area, there was devastation all round. I met a family of 6 – they were sitting around chatting and had a warm welcome for me. There were two small wooden houses beside them and I presumed they lived in one of them. I asked how they were affected. They pointed to an empty space in front of me and told me that their house used to be there! I looked at the spot and could not imagine such a small area could have housed 6 people. As I looked closer I saw the flowers – every house in the country has a few flowers growing outside. These flowers were growing away – apparently oblivious to the fact that the house was gone. I took a few pictures and promised to be a part of some solution and continued to the next house.

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In this house the roof was blown off. They have tried to cover it with tarps and old pieces of tin but when it rains the whole place is covered in water. In one bedroom, a tarp is bulging with yesterday’s rain and Edner gets a bucket and lets the water down. Next time you are lying on your bed, look up and imagine looking at a flimsy tarp sagging with water! Then be very thankful you are not a poor person living in Haiti right now with as much rain inside your room as outside!

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Another house is made from straw – the roof is a patchwork of blue tarps and clear plastic. The owner is sick and unable to work and he and his wife have two small kids. I wondered what they eat every day. I asked Edner and before he answered, I answered myself – most days they don’t eat. Full stop.

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I could keep going but I think ye have the gist of it. Three things struck me that morning as I was visiting.
1: These people were very poor BEFORE the hurricane. Their houses are small and made from wood. They were totally dependent on their crops/animals.
2: This hurricane has placed them in a very, very difficult, critical situation. They have lost everything and they do not have rich relatives that might help them get back on their feet. They do not have a monthly salary to depend on. They do not have a social welfare allowance. They do not have a medical card.
3: Like the people in the south of Haiti, they need help. They need resources to help them help themselves. They need to get a dry roof over their heads and they need seeds so they can replant. They need some kind of food support until they can get back on their feet. They need people to imagine what it must be like to lose everything. To imagine what it must be like to have no access to relief funds. The people of Haiti need you to imagine what it must be like to have all your clothes wet and strewn about the place and even if you want to gather them up where will you put them? Your house is gone and what is left is full of water.

 

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Really the situation is heart-breaking. The men and women we are working with are devastated. So many of them come from the south and their families are in dire straits.

I know so many people are worried about giving to charity. I know there have been terrible scandals related to charities. Please do not let a few people stop you from doing good. I am here 23 years now and you know that any money we have received during those years has been well spent and has made a big difference in the lives of many people. The recovery for people will be a slow process. But with help we will make a big difference. With money, we can get help to many.
I promised these families we would get them help. Today we sent some food to them. Next step will be to help them buy tin so they can cover the roofs. We will help rebuild. They have the skills. They just need the resources. We will do it. You will help us. So many of you have already sent in money. Thank you so, so much. Keep it coming. The more we get the more families we can help. Every euro/dollar counts, so let no one worry that they cannot afford to help. Of course you can.
When bad things happen, good people need to do lots of good. Let’s do good together. This is a very difficult time for Haiti. We have heavy rain every day. I remember after the earthquake each rain had us worrying about the people in the tent cities. Now each rain has us worrying about the people that have nowhere to shelter from the rain. They don’t even have a tarp or a tent.
Cholera is like a big devil waiting to strike. Last night I was talking to one of the night staff Guichine. Her father is law just died from bad diarrhoea and vomiting. Two of her brother in laws are seriously ill in hospital from the same complaints.
There is a lot to be done! With your help, we will keep doing our part of this lot! You can donate by going to this page: https://nphspecialneedshaiti.com/get-involved/donate/

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Special Olympics Visit

There was great excitement in Kay St. Germaine last Friday with the arrival of a team from Special Olympics Haiti headquarters.

Special Olympics Haiti were visiting the school and therapy centre to assess a number of children for their training programmes in a variety of sports. These year-round programmes provide opportunities for physical activity and social interaction that are very beneficial to general heath and self-esteem. By providing a platform for achievement and new social networks, Special Olympics Haiti makes a measurable difference in the lives of children with intellectual disabilities.

The children of Kay St. Germaine enjoyed demonstrating their skills and talents and gave all activities, including bocce, their very best shot.

Many thanks to all at Special Olympics Haiti and their partners at the Digicel Haiti Foundation for their visit to Kay St. Germaine and their interest in our children.  Who knows? Maybe there are some future Olympians among this very enthusiastic group!

 

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Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti on Tuesday 4th October 2016 with winds of up to 230 km/h. The country is one of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, with many residents living in flimsy housing in flood-prone areas. The most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade left widespread destruction with over 800 people dead and 60,000 displaced. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed or damaged including homes, schools and churches. Farmlands have been flooded, key infrastructure swept away and communications cut off. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases are likely to follow.

A UN representative has called Hurricane Matthew “the largest humanitarian event” in the nation since the earthquake in 2010. Listen to Gena Heraty, Director of Special Needs Programs at NPH Haiti, discuss its devastating impact on Morning Ireland with Cathal Mac Coille:

https://www.rte.ie/radio1/morning-ireland/programmes/2016/1011/823045-morning-ireland-tuesday-11-october-2016/?clipid=2304624#2304624

The needs here are immense and very urgent. If you’re in a position to make even a small donation to emergency relief works, please do so here:

https://nphspecialneedshaiti.com/get-involved/donate/

Many thanks.

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Wedding Cards

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Have a look at these handmade banana leaf wedding cards, made here at our workshop by the mothers of the children in Kay Germaine.

If you, or if you know of anyone getting married; why not celebrate the event with these uniquely original cards. All the proceeds go directly to the mothers and back into program.

If you have a specific design or another type of card in mind, please let us know. It is possible to tailor them to your suit your needs.

For more information, contact us through Facebook or contact Colin at colin.brennan@nph.org

Please like and share! These are high quality cards, made by fantastic craftswomen, for a worthy cause.

World Earth Day 2016

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Today we celebrated World Earth Day in Kay Germaine. The students and staff celebrated by singing, dancing and planting trees. The older children planted Moringa trees (known in Haiti as the tree of life) which they will take home when the graduate in June. While the other children will also take home Corossol and Papaya plants when they leave for the Summer.

The goal is to make the school as self sustainable as possible while also teaching the children about cultivating food and healthy eating.

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April 2nd – World Autism Awareness Day

 

KAy Germaine

We wake up this morning to International Day of Autism and the month of Autism Awareness. Imagine living in a country where only a select few accept and understand special needs. Where you and your mother are jeered sitting on taptaps. Your mother is advised to abandon you, or put you in an orphanage from the moment people realise that you are ‘different or crazy’. Imagine how stressful this is for your mother…day in day out being told to abandon you.

Yet, Kay Ste. Germaine’s Therapy and School Program give your mother a sense of hope. She makes the difficult journey Tabarre for the first time. As she enters the grounds, she hears laughter and learning. She stands with her child in her arms to the singing of the National Anthem. She looks around in amazement. There are children with the same autistic traits as her child singing or moving in their special repetitive movements to the National Anthem.

Sitting in line for therapy, she shyly looks around, she realises that there are many mothers, fathers and grandparents in the same boat. She and her beautiful child are not alone. She begins to hope for the first time, she hopes her child will walk, will talk and will come to school just like the other children singing their National Anthem.

Ste. Germaine School provides a safe and welcoming learning area for autistic children in a country which has little or no understanding of autism. Please continue to support us and give families hope for a better future and a more compassionate society.

Jacinta McGuane
Teacher Trainer NPFS Special Needs Program

Special Olympics Florida

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Congrats to Christopher, Ketia, Jefferson, Verlanta and Darline who were invited to take part in The Special Olympics in Florida last week. They all came away with ribbons. We’re all very proud!!! Also, a big thank you to everyone who made it happen!

Equitation: ……………………………Trail:
Christopher 1st……………………..Christopher 1st
Ketia 1st……………………………….Verlanta 3rd
Jefferson 5th…………………………Ketia 3rd
Verlanta 1st………………………….Jefferson joint 2nd
Darline 3rd……………………………Darline 4th