Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Returning to Haiti...

I can't tell you how much it meant to me, only that I'm grateful for the opportunity to return to Haiti again.

Since my cancer diagnosis in February, the hugs from friends and family have been longer and a bit tighter... Haiti is no exception. Our friends did not expect to see me again until March 2009 so it was a surprise to them when Jeff asked them to come to the airport and greet a "new friend" that he had coming in. It was pure delight for me to see the look on their faces when they saw me. The hugs were longer and a bit tighter... and they came with squeals of happiness too!

Only by the Grace of God has this trip been made possible. I was humbled to learn that 600 school children we sponsor and 2 churches had been praying for me. It was like they saw their prayers answered... a bit chubby and with very curly hair!

As we drove to the hotel and turned up the bumpy, washed out road, with a blazing pile of garbage and a big pig scrounging around it, I told Jean and Fanfan "See what I have missed?" and they laughed. It felt and smelled so good to be back!

Street Kids, Sledge Hammers and Pizza.
The first day, Jeff and I hopped on a tap tap and went to find the street kids we have been supporting and sending to school.
Jeff thought they might be at a busy intersection washing car windows as people waited for the light to turn. After walking a couple blocks, we finally spotted one of them. He immediately called some of the others over... boy were they happy to see Jeff! This was the first time I had met them. Jeff told them in broken Creole that he had a job for them to do. No questions asked, they followed us, all eight of them and got onto another tap tap and headed to Bobby's soccer field.

When we arrived at the soccer field, Jeff opened the container and got sledge hammers, axes, picks and shovels out and told the boys we were going to "bust up" the wall. These tools were like magnets to these kids as they each vied for the biggest one.
You see, when our container tipped over, it knocked over a concrete wall next to it and we now had the job before us to break it up and haul it away. They were quickly hammering away with concrete flying every direction.
As I watched, I thought to myself "This is an accident waiting to happen." But the only accident this day was Jeff falling over trying to avoid a large falling section of the wall, ripping a big hole in the seat of his pants... another good laugh.

These kids worked so hard! They had no idea how much they were making. They had not negotiated any price. They didn't know how long the job would take and there was never any bickering... they actually made fun in it. I suppose letting a young man loose with a sledge hammer does have some entertainment in it.

One of the pure joys I had today was flying a kite made of sticks and plastic with homemade string that a little boy made from garbage. He came to see what was going on while flying his kite. After a few minutes he motioned for me to fly it. He was so sweet and this was such a touching moment.

After about 4-5 hours, the wall was down and neatly piled in front of the container.
As we took a break and drank some badly needed water, one of the street kids pulled a pink folded piece of paper out of his pocket... it was his report card from school... his very first one he'd ever received.
Others quickly unfolded theirs, some carefully taking them from a plastic bag used for protection. Soon 6 or 7 of the kids were all waving their report cards showing them to us. They were all so proud. We had told each of them last August, that we would pay them $1 US for each report card as an incentive to keep them going to school. They now wanted to be paid. When we took this picture, Thomas, the little one on the right in the front kept turning his around because he wasn't sure which way was up. These boys are between 13-18 years old and are just learning to read. Jean (our director in Haiti) says they really don't know how old they are or what their real names are because they have no paperwork or family. Imagine, being 13, living on the streets alone... in one of the poorest countries in the world. We are so blessed.

It was starting to become dark as our dump truck pulled up from a long days work. Piece by piece, bucket by bucket we lifted the broken concrete up into the truck. It was grueling. Everyone was dirty, covered with dust, tired and exhausted... but never a complaint. They were all happy to have a job. By the time we finished, it was completely black out... with no lights around... it was dark.

We asked the boys if they'd like to come back to the hotel for Pizza. They were so excited as they climbed up onto the top of the dump truck for a ride to the hotel... and they were so very tired. Some actually fell asleep at the table while waiting for the pizza to come. I gave them all hand massages with wet ones and lotion, wondering when the last time they had been lovingly touched was.

One last observation. I commented to Jeff what good manners they all had. He told me he had had them for pizza in August and Jean and him had to teach the kids how to use a fork and a knife... can you imagine? Please pray for these precious children of God.

Food for Schools and Cité Soleil
The next day, we headed back down to the container to prepare and distribute more food. Mialta Miracle, the director of Reiser Heights, our school in the mountains of Lespinasse, arrived in a hired tap tap to pickup buckets of food for the school children.

He also received a check for teachers salaries and the nurse at the school clinic. He told us of the devastation that the September hurricanes had brought wiping out crops, banana and plantin trees, making it very difficult for parents to feed and pay for their children's education. He was so happy for the help and support and thanks the Lord for our generous donors.

Afterwards, we started to prepare for our Cité Soleil distribution. Cité Soleil is one of the worst slums in the world with a population of over 300,000 people in a 4 square mile area. Because of the desperation and lack of food in Haiti, and because of our lack of a concrete walled facility and previous experience with food distribution in Cité Soleil, we determined it was too dangerous to distribute the food openly without causing a food riot. So we handed out ticket vouchers in Cité Soleil neighborhoods to elders, pregnant women and mothers to be redeemed for food at the soccer field the next day. We hoped this would allow us to control the crowds of people as they waited for food.

Earlier this fall, I had packed food at Feed My Starving Children to celebrate a group of friends fall birthdays.

Now I'm repacking the food for final distribution... it was coming full circle.

Jeff, Kevin and I spent the rest of the day counting and packing 600 bags of food for tomorrow's distribution, 14 bags of Feed My Starving Children food (84 meals) for each ticket holder.

We knew tomorrow was going to be a long day and headed home for the night.

Desperation, Anguish and Frustration.

One might think that handing out food to those in need might be joyful or even fun. But the anguish on people's faces is sobering. It breaks my heart to see so many people, so desperate and frustrated. Desperate for food to feed their children, frustrated they have to walk a mile or more to redeem their voucher, anguished about whether there will be food left by the time they get in the gate. It breaks our hearts to see the pain of daily life in Haiti.

This morning, Jeff, Fanfan and I took a tap tap down to the soccer field to prepare for the food distribution. We arrived at 9:30 and people were already lined up for the distribution scheduled for 11am.

We met with Kevin and began to instruct our helpers how it would work. We knew that more people were coming every minute.

The word was out that we were distributing food and some people outside the gate did not have a ticket.

For us to have enough food for all the ticket vouchers we handed out, we would have to make sure no one without a ticket was allowed in. We learned from other missions that it is best to establish a system within the gates that would include multiple checkpoints and a "maze" for them to follow allowing only a limited number of people in at a time. This would help to create a single file line that would hopefully be orderly.

We decided to test our system so at 10:55, we opened the gate to let the first 5 people in. As soon as we unlocked the door, the people stormed the gate, pushing, shoving and yelling to get in. It took quite a few of workers to safely pull the first five people through the gate and get the people pushed back so we could lock it again. We now knew what we were up against. Good people desperately fighting for the basics of food for life. We wonder, what would we be like if we we could not provide for our children... would we also push and shove and yell? Would you?

I think this is what it means to see life through a different lense. We might look at this and become frustrated ourselves, that our own needs of feeling fulfilled are not being met by these circumstances... but it is not about us. We need to constantly take ourselves out of the picture. It is not about us, it's about being the "hands and feet" of Christ and getting into the middle of the brawl to try to do something good. It is not about these people appreciating what we are doing but about us appreciating the situation they are in... dire poverty with complete and utter desperation. Hearing all the yelling and commotion, I sat back at the end of the table and thought this is what starvation sounds like.

After sending some workers outside the gate to try to quiet the crowd, we reopened the doors... letting only 5 people with vouchers in at a time.

Little by little as people got in and out, the process started to function.... but as always, there is never enough.

After 3 hours, all tickets had been redeemed and their were still over 100 people outside the gate begging for food. We decided to assemble some more packets with what bags we had left and handed out another 50-60 packages. Even though it was good to see so many people receive this food, we all ached knowing many went without.

Fanfan, Jeff and I walked for a while afterwards, then took a tap tap back to the hotel. We were silent and tired... and emotionally drained. Please Dear Lord, heal Haiti.

Alyn and Jeff

Monday, December 15, 2008

This is Haiti... (part 2)

Everything is Hard in Haiti.
It seems like everything in Haiti is more difficult than it should be. And this trip is no exception. Friday morning we went to the port to finish repacking the container. We decided to get a jump on distribution by packing some of the items in our dump truck so we could start delivering while we waited for the container to be delivered. Here is a picture of our container being lifted off of a stack so we could finish.

It is an amazing thing to watch a 60,000 lbs. container being pickup and moved around like a tinker toy.

First Stop
Our first deliver was 300 empty five gallon buckets that were donated to us by ER Systems. These buckets are used by Haitians to retrieve water for their families. They will be handed out by Father Rick from St. Damien's Children's Hospital in Tebarre.

Also in the truck for the hospital were medical supplies and stuffed animals for the children. Each of the workers asked if they could have a stuffed animal. It was amazing to see fully grown men, cling and hold their stuffed animals. Dave said "It just touched my very heart that grown men would cherish these toys... it almost brought tears to my eyes." We wondered if they ever had one when they were small. How can it be that we have so much and they have so little?

L'Athlétique d'Haiti
Our second stop was to Bobby Duval's Soccer Program in Cite Soleil. Bobby has a heart moving testimony. He was a professional soccer player for the Haitian National Team before being imprisoned for two years by the Duvalier's, ruthless dictators of Haiti in the 70's and 80's. He saw 180 people executed while in prison and had one die in his arms. Twelve days before his own execution, Jimmy Carter intervened and successfully obtained his release along with 12 others. Here is a picture of Dave and Bobby together.

During the worst violence in Cite Soleil, Bobby started a soccer program in Cite Soleil to give the children something to do instead of becoming a gang member. He taught them soccer, fed them and gave them mentoring and a safe haven from the streets. He now has several hundred children come to his soccer field every week.

We delivered water buckets and boxes of used school books that he will use to teach the children.

We also delivered food donated by Feed My Starving Children. It is wonderful to see someone who cares so much for the children of Haiti as does Bobby Duval.

A Painful Contribution
Everything in Haiti is hard including heavy lifting in a 100+ degree container three days in a row. During all the moving and lifting and loading of tens of thousands of pounds, Dave's back went out. Haiti is not the place to have a bad back (I'm speaking from experience). Here is a picture of Dave and our friend Fanfan hiking back to the hotel after a hard day's work and a bumpy Tap Tap ride... (can you feel his pain?).

To make matters worse, we received a call from Jean, our director that the container was not being released and we were to come down to port immediately. By the time we arrived, the problem was taken care of and were promised a Saturday morning delivery.

What is the worst that could happen?
Saturday we patiently waited with anticipation for the phone call telling us our container had been delivered. Little did we know what call we would receive. The phone rang and Kevin said "The container chassis just collapsed, knocked over Bobby's wall! Take a TapTap down here as soon as possible". I thought to myself, "sometimes doing God's work for the poor is really difficult"... this was one of those times. Here is a few pictures of our newly delivered container.

The load of 60,000+ lbs was too much for the ground under the right front leg of the trailer. The leg sunk into the ground two feet taking the container with it.

For the next few hours, we talked about many different options for securing and leveling the container but came up with none. Several small tow trucks heard about our dilemma and showed up willing to hook up and pull it straight but none of the ideas made any sense. We were now resigned to emptying the container on an angle. We didn't have time to wait for a crane... especially one that could pickup 60,000 pounds.

Plan B.

Believe it or not, there is life after your trailer collapses. It's what Dave calls "Plan B". We are so thankful and thank God that through this all, no one was hurt, nothing damaged except for the wall. While things are difficult in Haiti, it could have been much worse... and this was our blessing for the day.

We carefully opened the back doors on our container and pulled out buckets to load in our dump truck. It adds a certain amount of extra work and uncertainty working at an angle.

BioSand Water Filters
Our next delivery was to an organization that builds water filters for the poor of Cite Soleil. Charles Adams, a contractor from Queensbury, NY is working to provide clean water to the poorest of the poor by building concrete biosand water filters that filter bacteria and parasites form dirty water making it drinkable.

Last year, armed men grabbed Charles from his car near the Port-au-Prince airport. The gunmen took him to a house in the slum of Cite Soleil, near the international airport, where other kidnapping victims were being held. Adams was released within 24 hours, apparently without having paid the $500,000 demanded from his captors. The kidnappers reportedly told Adams that kidnap-for-ransom is their only means of support. The FBI, now says Haiti has surpassed Colombia as the riskiest country in the Americas for kidnapping.

Each one of our buckets will accompany a water filter for a family in Cite Soleil. We are grateful to ER Systems for their generous support.

Terra Promise Ecole
Elder Morland, Director of Terra Promise School in Cite Soleil, a school we fund, brought a taptap to pickup his food and buckets. To save room in the container, we packed 1000 buckets full of Feed My Starving Children meals. He was so happy to receive both food and buckets and thanks God for the support of our donors. We tell him, all the glory is God's... we are only blessed with the opportunity to do His work.

Sunday Service
I asked Dave if he wanted to go to church or deliver buckets. He said "We're here to serve God, I think that's the best Sunday service we can go to." So Sunday morning, bright and early we started to pack 280 five gallon pails of food for Titanyen.

Because Dave's back was out, we hired some of the street kids that we send to school to come and help with the buckets. They were very hard workers.

It was like a plan made in heaven. We estimated how many buckets we needed in Titanyen and when fully loaded, had zero room for even one more bucket... God is Good.

Titanyen, Haiti
Titanyen is where we are building Grace Village, a place where God's loving Grace can touch the people of Haiti. It is also the village where our orphanage and eldercare programs are.

Our first stop was at our orphanage to visit with the children and drop needed food. Food in Haiti has doubled in price since the first of the year making it very difficult for many Haitians to care for their families. Here Dave meets the children of the orphanage for the first time.

Here is a photo of the children celebrating the arrival of food and buckets.

Here is a photo of the children holding signs made by the children who packed the food at Feed My Starving Children back in Minnesota. These cardboard signs were on the tops of each skid of food. They contained, greetings, prayers, blessings and pictures for the Haitian children. We brought them along to let the orphan children know that children in Minnesota care about them. It's such a blessing to be the conduit for this.

Grace Village
In between deliveries, we stopped at the site of Grace Village, 16 acres of land on the outskirts of Titanyen, future home for the orphanage, eldercare and feeding programs.

When Dave first got out of the truck on the top of the land he said "This is just a perfect picture of God's beautiful artwork". Again... we are so blessed.

A difficult job...
Like being on the water truck, we knew going in that we did not have enough food for everyone. That's what makes this part of our job bitter sweet. It is a blessing to be able to hand out food to those in need but there just is not enough.

Most of the roads in Titnayen are too narrow for the dump truck so we off loaded buckets into the back of our pickup truck. Word spread fast and very soon we were surrounded by people desperately seeking food.

The anguish on some of the faces was heartbreaking...

A time for babies...
In between the chaos, Dave and I stole some badly needed hugs and kisses from the children. We needed them as much as they did.

Desperation as an Emotion.
These final photos are of some of the food distribution from the dump truck. It is completely incomprehensible to understand the feelings you have when you experience the utter desperation in Haiti. We are so blessed to be able to just go to the corner store, stocked with any and everything we can imagine. I cannot explain the feelings but only wish everyone, once in their life could experience it. It would truly change your life forever!

When all the food is gone.
When all the food is gone, all we can do is drive away. The children continue to chase us hoping we will stop again and start distributing food again... please Lord, heal Haiti.

Blessings from Haiti...
Jeff & Dave