Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 5: Sakala

If you've been following our trip and want to help Haiti, please visit the What If? Foundation's website:  Our trips to Haiti have been inspired by the wonderful work of the people at What If?

The major part of the Haiti trip has come to a close today, with two remarkable days at Na Rive and Sakala.  We've seen, felt, and experienced things that we will carry for the rest of our lives.  For tonight's blog each student is sharing  one photo/video that captures the single most important idea that they never want to forget.

Kwele Serrell

"Appreciate the beauty of small/simple things"

Emily Sheppard
"Physical boundaries are cultural"

Kirsten Wong
"Solidarity is the greatest pleasure"

Sofia Demay
"Little by little we arrive"

Zodie Waxman

"Find yourself and then give it away" 

Kyle Schank

"Pay attention to our similarities, not differences"

Kenny "blow-baby-blow" Greenwood

"Attention to detail allows one to paint a clearer picture"
Simon Tesfaiohannes
"Don't prejudge, allow the mystery of the experience" 

Seth Weiland 
 "Brotherhood: the willingness to sacrifice for another's joy"

Jane Verlaine

"When you feel compelled to act, give, trust, and hold onto hope"

Rachel Sackrin

"Finding joy despite hardship, staying positive. No matter what."

Craig Sutphin
"Generosity: I give you the best I have"

Joe Palladino
"Two countries, one language" 

We head off to Jacmel tomorrow for a little Caribbean ocean relaxing.
Peace, and all good things! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day 4: Sakala

If you've been following our trip and want to help Haiti, please visit the What If? Foundation's website:  Our trips to Haiti have been inspired by the wonderful work of the people at What If?

Today we spent the entire day at our translator's youth empowerment program located in the heart of Cite Soleil.  To give you an idea of our visit, each student has written a brief account of their most authentic moment of the day. We've interspersed some photos throughout the reflections.  Hope you enjoy this new format.

Kyle Schank: 
Since arriving in Haiti, one of my biggest desires was to play soccer with the Haitian children. Sakala made this possible, and while playing one moment encapsulated the feeling around the camp. After putting the ball through the legs (nutmegging)  of one of the children, he broke out in laughter and a ear to ear smile emerged on his face. I could feel the elation of the other Haitian children as well as they knew I had somehow managed to embarrass this enthusiastic, outgoing individual. For me this young man, who then went on the high five and hug me, is a perfect example of the mission of Sakala. In the heart of Cite Soleil, one of the most impoverished cities in the world, these children can experience such joy. While it may have just been a simple nutmeg, in this moment the true nature of the Haitian people came forth. They simply are so resilient and the laughter after the nutmeg, for me symbolizes there ability to shrug off the bigger obstacles the countries faces and find solutions, Sakala a perfect example of one. 

Kwele Serrell:
Today was my first day at Sakala and quite frankly I wasn't sure what to expect, I found myself trying to compare my recent experience at Na Rive in order to prepare myself and feel comfortable for what was ahead. From the amazing fruit to the exchange of cultures with some teenagers at Sakala I began to feel comfortable with my surroundings even though it was the first day. Spoons, who knew a card game could make a first day feel like being at home with friends. From the laughter to the competitiveness of wanting to win the game, I shared genuine laughter and felt friendship from people I didn't know existed just a few hours ago. Even though I'm considered a "Blan" today I felt apart of the Haitian community. 

Kenny Greenwood:
It wasn't a particular moment that stood out in my mind from the day today, but more of an appreciation of an observation. Daniel, today, talked for a while about his program at Sakala and what his goals are for the program, for his town of Citi Soleil, and for Haiti as a whole. Along with this, he mentioned, somewhat jokingly, his coming retirement. For a lot of programs, especially one like Sakala that has only been in existence for 7 years, this would create uncertainty for the future of that program. However, not only did Daniel introduce his program to us, he introduced the other leadership of the program including a young man, fresh out of high school, that is recognized as Daniels successor. For me, i found it interesting to observe the level of trust and hope that Daniel has put out unto his protégés, so to speak, and their willingness to respond to his call, and contrasting  it with the lack of willingness  larger, more powerful hatian leaders, have to respond to this same call. I just found it ironic how in a place where opportunity and ability is considered to be minimal leaders can lead effectively, yet in a place where opportunity and ability is optimal, leaders have failed to lead effectively for centuries. It just goes to show that the perceptions of disfunction and inability in Citi Soleil need to be erased..the same perceptions that Daniel has dedicated most of his life to erasing. 

Simon Tesfaiohannes:
Though most consider it a very competetive sport, the Haitian kids at Sakala look at basketball as a resort. The harsh life that most of these kids have living in Cite Soleil is almost forgotten once these kids step on the court. Whether or not you score, or whether or not your team wins, you are bound to have a great time with every individual on the court. There is nothing but love shared between all people, whether they are teammates or even opposing players because everyone understands that watching that ball go through the basket symbolizes much more than just a score; it symbolizes hope, hope that these kids can one day be just like the basketball, and find their ways to achieving their goals. 

Seth Weiland:
I was standing on top of this building that overlooks the soccer field right next to Matthew 25 where we stay and I was watching a soccer game with Kyle and the hundred or so Haitians that were there. I looked down from the building and there was a group of Haitian kids staring up at me. They had stern looks on their faces at first but as soon as I smiled and waved at them, they returned the gesture with bigger smiles than mine and laughter. Their response is pretty much the same response I get from every Haitian kid who I say hi to and never before have I encountered a whole group of people who are so friendly and loving.

Rachel Sackrin:
I wasn't able to go to Sakala the first time we came to Haiti, so I had very high expectations of what it would be like. Today exceeded those expectations. It was great seeing all these kids who live in such an impoverished neighborhood, splashing around in a pool, playing soccer and basketball, and just enjoying themselves like nothing was wrong or stopping them.  Being able to play soccer with them and participate in their dance class made me feel like they were welcoming us into their community. There was not one person within the grounds of Sakala who was bored. Everyone was doing something. Sakala has an aura that gives off beauty and happiness amongst so much pain and suffering. For so many kids who have so little, Sakala is a place of hope for the children of Cité Soleil.

Emily Sheppard:
One of Daniel's wishes for the kids of Sakala is for them to feel valued and to not be judged based off of the violent perceptions of people from City Solei. At the end of our visit a group of us played card games with a group of older kids from Sakala. As they taught us their favorite, and complicated, game called "Casino" you could tell that they felt respected that we were playing the games they normally play. Later we taught them the game "Spoons"; as the game grew more intense our bond became more natural and it felt like it was just a bunch of friends playing cards and loving each others company. This experience reminded me of the warm feelings of comfort and respect that the strong brotherhood and close community at Sakala gives children. 

Zodie Waxman:
One of the items we brought down to Sakala were two inflatable pools for the kids to bathe in. Due today's blistering heat, they decided to set up the pools for the younger kids to cool down in. When I arrived to observe what was going on with the pools, two little kids, probably no older than three and so cute they seemed unreal, were already splashing around. One by one, I began to notice some boys, probably no older than eleven, stumbling with giant buckets of water to fill the second pool for more of the younger kids to swim in, albeit being young kids themselves. One boy who must've been about struggling so much with his bucket that water was sloshing everywhere. I tried to ask the boy if he wanted help, but he didn't understand due to the language barrier. Finally through some motions he understood what I was offering and nodded his head. Together we lifted the bucket, which was actually really heavy, and carried it the remainder of the way to the pool. Once we had dumped it, the little boy turned to me with a huge grin and murmured a heavily accented  "Thanks" in English before going to refill his bucket. 

Jane "that's my name" Verlaine:
We arrived at Sakala today with skateboard decks and parts Sutphin had scavenged for at flea markets back home. Upon our arrival, the kids aided us in assembling the boards and without hesitation began riding around the program space, none of them having ridden a skateboard before. It doesn't seem like there would be much of a "skateboard-calling" in Port-au-Prince seeing as there are very few paved roads in the city, however much of the Sakala area is located on a slick slab of concrete that is perfect for skating. Everyone dove head first into this new venture- losing their balance, falling, sliding, and nearly colliding with each other. Each time they failed they got right back up with smiles on their faces, their resiliency radiating from this small act. It makes me wonder if kids in the U.S. would approach this in the same way. 

Kirsten Wong:
At SAKALA I once again saw a good friend I made during the March trip, Wenley Moise. Besides practicing Spanish with him and playing a great game of spoons with him and some others, it was cool getting to hangout with such a driven and humble guy again. During a history skit that was presented, he seemed the most interested and inspired, afterwards thanking the group for reminding him of his history, and promising to share the story of Haiti with others. He's one of the many young people I have met here who really inspire me.
Sofia Demay: 
The moment I stepped out of the van I was greeted by friendly and familiar faces. One older boy, Daniel's right hand man Delto, approached me right away and gave me a kiss on the cheek. The last time I had visited Sakala we had played ping pong right before I had left, and ever since I had argued that I was still a better player than him even though I had lost. So once there was a more relaxed moment, I jumped on the opportunity and challenged him to a re-match. We begun playing , but as i begun to lose badly he suddenly stopped the game. He then suggested that we play with partners. I was all for the idea because I was losing, but then I looked around and saw that we only had one paddle. Despite this he confidently invited two other people to play. I was going to say that we couldn't possibly play four people when he explained that he would hit the ball and hand the paddle to his partner so that once I hit it his partner could hit it to mine. It was just such an innovative idea in my eyes, but to him it was simple and obvious. Of course he would include everyone.It made the game so much more memorable and fun.  This experience really embodied the spirit of solidarity and sharing that we have sensed in all the people that we have met this week.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 3: Na Rive, Haitian Historian, and the Waterfall

If you've been following our trip and want to help Haiti, please visit the What If? Foundation's website:  Our trips to Haiti have been inspired by the wonderful work of the people at What If?

Now, on to the blog...We have a special blogger tonight, her name is Zodie Waxman, and here is her account of the day....

After a rather long, restless night of sleep in the stifling heat, we awoke to a small deviation in our plans. Daniel had arranged a meeting with a Haitian historian who spoke to us eloquently about her beliefs in liberating Haitians from foreign oppression that holds the society back from the potential it has and keeps it in a circle of poverty. 

She talked at length about how Haitians need more self-knowledge, to know their history, and to reclaim and understand the dominant versus subordinant roles brought about by the colonial past. Re-education of the population was another point that she stressed, a theme which has been present in our discussions over the last few days. Her compelling narratives and opinions stuck with us and inspired further discussion throughout the day about our role as foreign oppressors and how to decolonize our minds. 

Once we left the historian, we returned for a few hours to Na Rive where we conducted interviews with the older students who work as counselors for the summer camp as well as Lavarice. 

From the student interviews, there were overwhelming themes that emerged. Each student had aspirations to one day be professionals such as doctors and lawyers, to do what they can do for their people. Every single one of them also possessed a strength, perseverance, and hope for the future. We also had a chance to interview Lavarice about his relationship with Father Jean Juste and how his role changed as the assistant to the Father to eventually fill in his place after Father Jean's passing. 

From the relaying of his experiences working closely for justice with Father Jean Juste, who was practically a Martin Luther King Jr. for the people of Haiti, to his current involvement with Na Rive and the What If? foundation it became clear why the program functions so well. It is Haitians working together to provide food, education, and opportunity the children of community backed by financial support in the U.S. There is no imposition of American beliefs of what will benefit the Haitians; it is Haitians providing for themselves. Lavarice also mentioned his hope to develop the program further, to reach more people in more parts of Port Au Prince.

After leaving Na Rive for the day, we jumped into a sweltering hot van for a long drive through the countryside of Haiti in search of some water to cool down in. Outside of the packed city of Port Au Prince, the land is lush and green and inhabited by people living in small huts doing farm work. After a drive that seemed to last hours, we arrived at the falls. 

They were simply breathtakingly beautiful. But among the beauty was a myriad of trash and some kids trying to hustle us for a bit of cash, although these kids also kept us from slipping to our demise. As Pally put it, Haiti is a place that is full of both overwhelming beauty and sadness. We returned home through a short cut where we saw sights between a kid riding on a donkey whilst talking on a cellphone and moments of simplicity that seemed to be from practically another era.

After a late arrival back to the Matthew 25 House, we watched another hotly contested soccer match between two of the larger neighborhoods in Port au Prince. Despite the giant hole in the middle of the pitch and the fact that the field drops 15 feet, this is some of the most tenacious and skilled soccer most of us have ever seen.  We were told some of the players in the tournament are part of the national team.  What a treat.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Day 2: Na Rive

In addition to a blisteringly hot day (the heat index was around 120), we experienced life on the streets of Haiti: a woman rear-ended our van.  Both vehicles' bumpers locked up.  When we finally pulled to the side of the road (if you could call it that), we awaited as the two drivers worked out an arrangement for the incident. No insurance company or police needed, or available, and we rode off towards Na Rive.
At Na Rive, we witnessed 400 kids, spread out through several buildings, learning academic and practical skills.  For most other kids in Haiti, no such programs exists, making it very difficult for education to take root throughout Haiti.  Lavarice, the director of the Na Rive programs, showed us many projects, including the crocheting of clothes.  


We also witnessed computer skills, English, music, cooking, sewing, arts and crafts, braiding.  After a tour of the summer programs we walked through the neighborhood to see the food program that feeds 500 kids a day, as well as the food preparation site.  As you can see, the sun was stalking us.  Students used words such as stultifying, suffocating, smothering, choking, violent, oppressive.  Everyone in Haiti moves at a measured pace in this heat and always seems to have beads of sweat on their foreheads.

Back at the summer camp, we played with the kids and conducted some one-on-one interviews with the older kids to get a sense of what their lives are like and how these programs are creating opportunities that otherwise wouldn't exist.  Everyone keeps saying the same thing: "education is the path to liberation and opportunity and the transformation of the Haitian society."  They seem to want education for a reason that is slightly different than our's; they want to use education to create a common good that all Haiti can participate in.  They never say I want an education to get a job and make a lot of money.

The kids continue to hang on Jane, asking her to dance or simply wanting to hold her hand.  She said they feel like family and it feels right to be so close to strangers.                                                                                                                                                  


Back at the Matthew 25 House, the neighborhood park was hosting the first day of a citywide soccer tournament.  Raggaetone blasting the concrete off the park benches, crowds of several hundred rabid soccer fans, an announcer rivaling any Mexican soccer match, and several dignitaries made the evening special.  The Saint Mary's students had no problem integrating into the soccer community, preferring to watch the match with the Haitian rather than from inside the walls of the Matthew 25 House.

The day ended with a brilliant presentation by a young civil rights attorney, named Ellie, and her friend, a young Haitian training to be a lawyer.  The dominant themes that emerged were 1) the belief of activist Haitians  is that true transformation of society is through the complete re-education of all Haitians; 2) the cure must come from the people and not the corrupt political systems; 3) Haiti must undo the consciousness of "dependency" that reaches back more than 300 years.  This can only happen through an education revolution, where everyone re-learns what it means to be Haitian--and human.  This education can happen in both formal schooling and culture programs.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 1: Travel, Tour Port au Prince

13 members of the Saint Mary's community met at SFO on Sunday night at 5:00 pm to embark on the second Haiti immersion trip this year. Thanks to all the support from the parents, we checked nine additional bags full of essential supplies for our partners at Na Rive and Sakala. Many thanks go out to Tre and Susan for organizing this Herculean task.

The flight went smoothly and we made all our connections, though I don't think anyone slept a wink during any leg of the flight.  

Tired, cranky, and bedraggled, we walked through a slightly refurbished Haiti International Airport, greeted by what sounded like a Mariachi band.  Our spirits were temporarily lifted, that is, until we walked into the July Caribbean heat.  One weather report said 98 degrees, but feels like 120 degrees due of humidity.

Our driver got all 13 of us, including more than 20 bags, safely to our lodging at the Matthew 25 House.  

Our friend and partner, Daniel Tillias, met us at 1:00 pm and we took off for a tour of Port au Prince.  We started with a massive climb to the top of the surrounding mountains, so we could get a feel for the scope of the city.


We ate some local chicken at the vista point overlooking a stunning and beautiful Port au Prince, words you don't usually associate with the Haitian capital.

Daniel wanted to contrast the wealth and privilege of the Port au Prince hills, so he took us for a drive through some of the poorest and more chaotic slums of the city.

Garbage everywhere we turned.  Crumbling building, with vendors still selling on the ground floor.

 This women is carrying more than 100 pounds of coal on her head, redefining what we call the "hustle."


Despite the heat and absurdity of this chaotic market, we saw this woman sweeping garbage away from her stall, attempting to maintain some order and beauty.

To conclude the day, we ate a delicious meal at the Matthew 25 house followed by a group prayer. We all agreed that we come to Haiti with fresh eyes and an open mind, and we're ready to take in all it has to offer. Tomorrow, we head to Na Rive, to begin work on our project.