Friday, May 20, 2011

Thank you party at the school

I woke up on Tuesday to Kompa music playing at Gentille Hirondelle school around the block. They were getting ready for a party at the school.  The 18th was Flag Day and my birthday.  And teacher appreciation day is also around this time.  So, we celebrated all three things in a ceremony and performances all day long at school.  The teachers wore suits and ties (in this 100 degree weather!) and all the children wore their best outfits.  The children, teachers, and administration also took this opportunity to thank all of you who have donated to make the roof and all the projects possible and the day was dedicated to you too!  They made a huge sign with the names of those of you who donated $500 or more (to be replaced later with a permanent one) on the wall.  They all sang happy birthday to me, thanked me for helping them, hugged me, recited speeches for me, and gave me a gift.  I pass on all this love and gratitude to all of you who supported this project. 

Despite the horrendous earthquake destruction in Port-au-Prince, the lack of sanitation, rationed electricity, oppressive heat, huge unemployment, insecurity, cholera, hurricanes, and everyday fight for survival, all of these precious moments, appreciative new friends, and those singing, dancing, laughing children give me hope that one day Haiti will be okay.  It is all truly inspirational and I am reminded again why I fell in love with this country 13 years ago.   Thanks to all of you who have donated money, books, art, and time; your gifts are truly appreciated and you really HAVE made a difference in the lives of so many Haitian children!  

Decorating the School

Last Friday we decorated the school with all the beautiful artwork created by the children in Hawaii. Those drab cinder block walls were transformed into colorful classrooms! The children were so excited and all found rocks to use as hammers to hang up the art. Thanks to all the Hawaii children who brought so many smiles to the children in Haiti.                                       

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Getting the library ready

As you know, one of my goals here is to create a small library at the school.  I’ve never seen a library in Haiti, so this will be something new for the children.  We plan to teach the children how to treat books and how a library works since this is a completely new concept.  To give the older children some responsibility, we’ve decided that the 6th graders will be in charge of the library.   

We went on a 2-hour errand yesterday to buy supplies for the library (glue and envelopes to glue inside the books and index cards to write the book name and child’s name who borrows it).  We ordered a wooden bookshelf to hold the books.  Someone is making it by hand and it should be ready tomorrow. 

Here are some pictures of me and the family working together to prepare books.  There was no electricity at the time so we were using the oil lamps.


Teaching at the School

children at the school loving getting their picture taken

at least 10 kids hugging me at once!
6th graders with their new pens and notebooks

I’ve been teaching English all week to seven classes of children at Gentille Hirondelle school.  I’ve become somewhat of a celebrity at the school and I can’t do anything without all 200 children wanting to hug me, hold my hand, touch my hair, or take a pictures.  They always ask me to take their pictures (and they are all very serious in the photos) and they LOVE to see them afterwards (and giggle like crazy).  A couple of the girls asked if they can call me “mama”.  How do you answer that?  Unfortunately, I worry that I am distracting the children from their regular teachers. 
A friend in Honolulu donated a huge box of pens to the project.  Many of the children didn’t have anything to write with at all, so my first day I gave all 200 children a pen.  I’ve never seen children so excited over a pen!  That same day, when I asked each class to copy the things I wrote on the board, about 25% of them didn’t have any paper!  So thanks to all of you donors, each child now has a simple notebook as well.  The children sit on 4-foot long benches with a 4-ft long piece of wood attached to the top as a writing surface.  In this four feet, at least 6 children smoosh in so I am going to use some of the donated money to purchase more of these "bancs"/benches.
All the children have class in the auditorium since it is the only covered area thanks to our roof, but as a result, it is extremely loud.  Each teacher has a chalkboard that has seen better days, and they each get a piece of chalk to use for the day; no white boards, no markers, no computers, no copies, no worksheets, no photocopier, no overhead,  no visual aids, no materials to manipulate. There is no hands-on learning and everything is copied from the board.  I noticed they do a lot of singing/chanting so I think it may be used as a teaching tool.  The school doesn’t have electricity or running water …or toilet paper!  Basically all it has is walls and a roof!   
The children get free lunch of rice and beans everyday, donated by the World Food Program.   So, if you've ever donated to this organization, it is helping a lot in Haiti.  Additionally, they get a package of cookies with tons of vitamins in them.  The children don't like them that much, so they take them home and moms prepare a porrriage with the cookies, water, and sugar. 
vitamin supplemented cookies
lunch at school, paid for by the World Food Program

Monday, May 9, 2011

Earthquake damage and destroyed National Palace

I asked about seeing the earthquake destruction in downtown Port-au-Prince, where I heard it was worst.  Although I knew entire streets were completely destroyed, I still wasn’t prepared for the sight that greeted me.  It looked like a war zone; like entire neighborhoods were bombed by enemy aircraft.  For the most part, the rubble was cleared, which did surprise me.
No doubt, the most difficult part about today was seeing the Palais, the National Palace, the “Haitian White House”.  When Mario pulled his dusty SUV up across from the palace, I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer.  The sparkling white Palace had entirely collapsed and it was totally in rubble, still surrounded by its security fence.  “What do you think?” Mario questioned.  “It is so sad.  It makes me cry”, I replied as I tried to hide my tears and cracking voice.  And so I cried for you Haiti…and I can’t stop.  Mario said, “You are true Haitian”. 

The next wave of sadness overcame me when we drove by the National Cathedral.  The beautiful pastel pink, yellow, and white cathedral was a landmark in downtown Port-au-Prince.  It was probably the prettiest building in Haiti.  It too was only a shell of its former grandeur.  I could recognize it right away because of its pastel colors, but the remaining rose window and graceful features were only skeletons in the sky.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Photos of typical Haiti

Here are some typical Haiti photos.  People are busy going about their daily business:  shining shoes, selling neatly stacked piles of potatoes, carrying cold drinks for sale, balancing baskets of toiletries on their heads, and scurrying about trying to make some Gourdes to survive.  Unfortunately, one of the changes I’ve noticed since my last visit is people are no longer happy and joyful; no one smiles or waves hello.  Of course I can’t blame them given the conditions they live in, but that triumph of spirit and resiliency is what I most loved about Haitians and I am sad to see it gone.

These photos above are typical Haiti: a woman styling her mom's hair, a man selling drinks from a cooler on his head, women selling fruit and veggies on the side of the road, There is also a couple of the tent camp in Petionville and the tent camp downtown. And one with me and two girls in a Montessori school.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The roosters woke me up!

I arrived in Haiti yesterday after a thankfully uneventful day of flying.  All my flights were on time, all my luggage arrived, and everything (including all money for the new school that I was so worried about) made it safely.  It’s 5:14 AM and although I’ve been trying to sleep longer the roosters started crowing about 4:40 and I’ve been trying to get back to sleep ever since! I can also hear the distant beat of music out my window…at 5 in the morning!

My host family is wonderful!  Mario speaks great English so he and I are using that to communicate.  Evangeline and I use French together, and I use Kreyol with the children at the house.  The children and I only understand about half of what the other is saying but its good practice for me!
The home where I am staying is quite spacious and nice.  They have running water for the bathroom-it comes from a tank on the roof, I think, and Evangeline puts bleach in it once a day (she didn’t have to do this before the earthquake).  Also before the earthquake, water came out of her kitchen sink faucet but now she needs to get it from downstairs and put bleach in it before she uses it to cook or wash dishes. 
Music, dancing, and art are a huge part of Haitian life and last night, after a tasty dinner of Haitian food (fried plantains, beans and rice, salad, and fish-I didn’t eat the fish though), I was reminded of that.  The family cranked up the Kompa Haitian music and we all were dancing in the dining room.  If you heard Haitian music you would find it impossible to NOT dance!  Without warning, the music stopped and the house went dark.  The electricity went out!  And so it goes:  on then off then on then off…it has gone off at least 5 times in the 15 hours I have been here!  It’s a good thing the roosters are my alarm clock and I don’t have to rely on the electricity!
On the trip from the airport to the house, Haiti was exactly as I remember it.  I didn’t see tons of earthquake rubble as I feared I would, although the worst damage was in Port-au-Prince and I am staying in suburb.  Tons of people were along the road selling things as the dusty road meandered through lots of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.  I don’t get the impression that it is significantly more dangerous than when I was here last-it feels just the same.  That frenetic energy I so love about Haiti is still here. 
The old, earthquake destroyed school is actually the bottom floor of the house where I am staying, which worries me quite a bit but I try not to think of it.  If there were another earthquake, I am sure the entire structure would collapse.  Out the window, Mario and Evangeline pointed out a new, green, roof in the near distance.  The new school!  They walked me to the school, which is just a block away.  The roof looks great!  It looks very solid and very professional.  As I stood there with pride, Mario said, “this is because of you” and I added, “it is really because of my friends and family and students”, to which Mario added, “we are thankful that God brought you to us”.  I am thankful too.  Thanks again to all of you!
The completed portion of the roof covers the “auditorium” area, a large room used by several classes, as you can see in the picture.  About a third of the school doesn’t yet have a completed roof, so most of the classes are now meeting in this main room.  There are a handful of other classrooms that are not yet covered.  Above you'll see a picture of the bathrooms at the school-not much privacy there!  The lot and building are both quite large and the school currently has about 200 students.  It is a non-profit, and the monthly tuition is a whopping $10 US!  Things in Haiti seem surprisingly expensive so I am happy to hear that school is so inexpensive.  Teachers in Haiti make about $150 a month so $10/child for school can really add up on a teacher’s salary. 

Julie Peters Akey