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Trip to Haiti June 26 – July 3, 2010 Journal Written by Lisa Foley On June 26th, a group of 12 left from the Stanwich Congregational Church parking lot at 5:45am bound for Kennedy airport and Haiti. Bob Caie, Stanwich’s Mission’s Head was our leader. We were 8 women and 4 men, ranging in age over a span of 50 years- from a college student to a retired nurse. We had two Haitian nurses with us, women who had not been back home since they had left as teenagers. They were determined to go “home” and offer their skills after the devastation they witnessed on the television, and heard about from relatives who still lived in Haiti. The group consisted of a school teacher, an electrician, a bike shop owner, a financial manager, nurses, a French Professor, an Opera House manager, and me- an aspiring Yoga teacher, and devout mission traveler. One might ask- Yoga in Haiti? What skill is that? I always remember many years ago when I was getting my shots to go to Ecuador, the nurse asked me if I was a Doctor, a nurse, an engineer, etc and I kept saying no. At first this made me feel inadequate. But I have learned from studying the Bible, that God has no requirements of us. He just asks us “to show up”, and serve those who have the least. Most of the group had been on many mission trips before, even to places like New Orleans after Katrina, but no one had ever seen devastation like we saw in Haiti. Usually, I find, the news media can make things look worse than they really are, but not in Haiti. Nothing could capture the ruins we saw. The flight from NYC was 3 l/2 hours and right on time, straight into Port-au-Prince. We had each been instructed to bring 2 bags of supplies for Haiti, 50lbs each, that could be checked for free, as we were a mission. We would carry on a small personal bag. This was a lot of luggage! The airport was very primitive, of course no air-conditioning, and I got my first taste of what would be my greatest challenge on the trip-extreme heat and humidity! After we got our bags we entered what our Host group (Touch Global-part of the Evangelical Free Church), coined “The Tunnel of Chaos”! Of course we were struggling with all of this luggage, and out the doors were many men who wanted to help us. We knew we would have to pay for the help, but we didn’t know how much, or who to give it to. After much pushing and pulling, yelling by the locals who all wanted to help, we made it to our vans and our leader gave what turned out to be a “small fortune” to someone who we hoped would share it with others (probably not) We were headed 20 miles West, to the town of Grassier, which is right next to Leogane, which was the epicenter of the earthquake. First we stopped to look at the Presidential Palace which is the huge white structure featured in all of the newscasts with its enormous dome toppled over. Supposedly reconstruction was occurring on this edifice, but we certainly could see no signs of this. It is impossible to adequately describe what we saw on our drive. Twenty miles took 2 1/2 hours. Nothing is left standing. We did not see one standing building, other than what appeared to be a new building right by the airport. The people are camping wherever they can find a space, including in the middle of the road. What should be a median strip on this highway was instead hundreds of filthy, rag-torn tents. And to live with diesel smoke belching from all the tat-tats (small, colorful trucks, packed beyond belief), as your neighbor, would be a nightmare. No running water, no toilets, no electricity in most cases. We passed many fields of tents that relief organizations had delivered. These seemed to be in better condition, but as we learned later, they were sweltering hot, and each tent was just a few feet away from its neighbors. The traffic was incredible, and we kept wondering where everyone was going. The influx of people to the capital from the countryside after the quake has made this city a logjam. Everyone assumed there would be more help available here, but this is probably not true. We arrived at Touch Global Headquarters (coined as the Haitian Queen) in late afternoon. Lorey and Brian, a young volunteer couple, greeted us. Touch Global rents a home that they had been repairing. In the back they had built 2 small army style barracks with bunk beds, and latrines. But inside there were 2 bedrooms with bunk beds and a toilet each. We had a choice of inside or out. When the women heard about resident tarantulas, many chose to be inside. Tarantula or not, I knew I would “die” inside with one small over-head fan, so I chose to be outside. I threw my sleeping-bag on an air-mattress on a bottom bunk by the open “windows” (just openings in the walls), happy to see a mosquito net. As I thought we might be in a “tent-city” of some sort, lying on the ground, with no toilet or shower, I thought this seemed pretty nice. Rosita, the resident cook, for dinner only, made a nice beef stew for our meal. We were given a briefing about our duties for the week. Basically we were given a few choices. We could help put roofs on the structures that Samaritan’s Purse had donated to Haiti. This organization, started by Bob Pierce who also founded World Vision and is currently run by Franklin Graham, which Stanwich supports at Christmas time with our shoeboxes of goods that we send to Africa, has donated literally thousands of simple 12’ x 12’ wood structures, designed to last for about 3 years, and to withstand a force 2 Hurricane. The Haitians are taught how to build the wood structure, and then volunteer groups come by to install the tin roofs by using expensive drills to screw on the roofs. The structures are then wrapped in blue tarp (the walls), to keep out water, and steel footings are dug into each corner, to keep the structure from toppling in the wind. Inside the house there is built a queen-sized bed frame along with three shelves to be used as beds or storage. These are crucial in keeping items off the ground and dry. These are incredibly simple buildings. But the Haitians are delighted and grateful to be given one. The nurses were all hoping to be allowed to work in the local hospital. And the other choice was to work at the orphanage, also located nearby. An American and Canadian husband and wife team had been in Haiti 2 years before the Quake, called by God to start an orphanage. They had been living in a lovely large home, with 30+ orphans when the Quake hit. Fortunately no one in their home was injured. But the house suffered major cracks, and was no longer safe to live in. Like everyone else, they located a field whereby the owner gave them permission to pitch tents for temporary housing. A small shelter had been built to house the babies and toddlers, and another structure needed to be built to house about 15 young girls. Our team was asked to assist with this job. Those of us who were not builders could help with the kids. So our team divided into thirds, with some doing the Samaritan shelters, some the building at the orphanage, and the nurses were delighted to be able to go to the hospital. Fortunately all of our guys were experienced builders. And a couple of the women caught on too, so that our host leaders complimented us on getting so much work done. We finished 50 Samaritan Purse homes in the week. After each home had its roof put on, we found the owner and prayed together. This was a very moving experience. The people were so incredibly grateful to have a “home” to call their own, and not a tent. I kept thinking about my own privileged life and how would I ever feel grateful for what did not amount to much more than a tree-house in a Greenwich backyard. I felt ashamed for feeling this way, but fortunate that God would allow me to be with this wonderful group of fellow Christians to bring a little of his love to Haiti. When I use the term “we” for the building, I use it very loosely. I tried once to get up on the roof and use the screw-gun. Being perched on those sheets of tin felt very unsteady to me. The gun was heavy, and until you got the knack of it, the screws kept falling sideways. Plus it was HOT!!!!! At my undisclosed age, I still suffer from hot-flashes, so I spent a week soaked in sweat. I kept telling myself that this was a good detox for my body!! Fortunately, there was a World Cup soccer match on, the day I was on Roof duty, so I kept sneaking off to watch the game. It was amazing to be in a totally devastated concrete room without a stick of furniture except for a fuzzy color T.V., plugged into a nearby generator. The Haitians love their soccer. On World Cup soccer match days, the streets were impassable with crowds of people peering over each other’s shoulders at a tiny T.V. Everything closed when a game was on. Even the hospital was quiet, unless an emergency, everyone wanted to be by a T.V. On this particular day, Brazil, who the Haitians were rooting for, lost to the Netherlands. Grown men were crying in anguish at this inconceivable loss. I spent most of my time at the orphanage. One day I helped to paint the new structure for the girls that we finished in our week there. But mostly I took care of Baby Ben- 6 months old, and the newest addition, as well as some of the 2 and 3 yr olds. There are 43 children there now. Jasmine and her husband Gregg do an incredible job of making this place work. The children have plenty of food, health- care if there is an emergency, and they are finalizing a formal adoption process so that the kids can become a part of a loving family. By our standards, the place seems not so nice. It is dirty, and because of the over- crowding, many of the children have lice and scabies. They cannot find a teacher to stay for any length of time, so the children are not learning. Several of the children are challenged mentally/physically and so spend much of their time just lying on the floor. I would try and at least get some of the children out of their smelly/oppressive cabins and out into the open air, under a tarp. Of course then the challenge was to keep rocks out of their mouths as the place was basically a worksite to build additional shelters. But it was fascinating to watch how the older children would collect scraps of wood and plastic and make buildings, kites, and anything else their creative little minds would come up with. One day I was with the nurses at the hospital, which was a very impressive series of tents, hooked together, and most wonderfully had air-conditioning! My job was to help organize the supply room which was full of donations that needed labeling. Unfortunately I started to feel ill (probably heat exhaustion) and found myself lying in the birthing room, which was empty at the time, grateful to have a cot and cool air. The nurses, 2 of whom spoke Creole, were needed and very happy to help out in all sorts of interesting cases. One day they even got to travel with the mobile unit to another town, and assist the dozens of people who showed up. Every day someone led a devotion, and then we shared our experiences. We were an incredibly diverse group, and other than 3 of the guys who had gone on mission trips together before, no one knew each other. What I found, as I have found before, is that when you come together in the Lord’s name, to do his work, and leave your own agenda behind, you become incredibly close. I think everyone else felt the same way. After only a week, we had formed a strong bond. We felt we had made a difference in Haiti, not only in the structures we had built, but in the good will and love in the Name of Jesus we had shared with its people. I will never forget praying over one house, and the owner, an older woman, filled with the Lord’s spirit, waving her hands, and crying out excitedly, “merci les blancs”, “merci les blancs”, over and over again. This is French for, “thank-you white people”. All white people in Haiti are referred to as “les blancs”, blanc is the French word, literally, for the color white. The history of the White people enslaving the Haitians is common knowledge, and it has led to a general feeling of hatred towards whites at its worst, and distrust at its best. If there is one good thing that may come from the devastation of this earthquake and all of the thousands of mostly white Aid workers who have descended upon this tiny island, is that Whites are now looked on as saviors for the most part. Perhaps this will change the prejudice that has always existed, and give Haitians and Whites a chance to work together for a better future for all of us.
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