Friday, June 26, 2009

Good Day, Bad Day

The view of one of the kid's houses from the volunteer house

Going to market

The view from the volunteer house

Yesterday, I went up the mountain to Kenscoff on a bus with some kids from Tabarre. It was an unbelievable twisty bumpy ride through one of the only green areas of Haiti, as most of the country is extremely deforested. Last years terrible storm season combined with a lack of anything for the soil to hang on to had caused mudslides, and we saw one house that was dangerously close to sliding right out of its place and down into the road.

We arrived around 9:30, and first went to meet the children in the special needs house of Kay Christine. There about 30 people living there- not kids necessarily. Innocent, one of the oldest residents, is about 28 years old. He immediately grabbed my hand and took me to meet everyone, and would not let me go willingly for the rest of the day. Innocent has cerebral palsy which has at least partially paralyzed one side of his body. He tries to speak, but is impossible to understand. At fist I thought he was just speaking creole quickly and stuttering, but then was told that no one can understand him. He kept kissing my cheek, and if he couldn’t reach, would kiss my hand over and over until I said “mesi, mesi!” (thank you, thank you) and took it away.

Innocent took me to the play ground area where I met several more of the special needs children. One of my favorite little buddies was Olsen, who is confined to a wheel chair and blind, but starts to laugh uncontrollably when you sing to him. I sat down and about 5 little girls from other dormitories came over and started to talk to me in French. They discovered my camera and took literally 200 pictures of each other before it died and I had to put it away. Roselene is a 12 year old girl who stayed by my side the entire day, and asked me a million questions. When others asked the same ones, she would answer for me, and remembered everything right down to my parent’s names. It wasn’t until a good hour into sitting next to her that I noticed she was missing a leg under her long skirt. Norma told me that when she was younger, she broke her leg and was not taken to the hospital for however long, and by the time she went her leg was too infected to be saved. The hospital she went to amputated, but at a place that made a prosthetic impossible, and it wasn’t until she came to NPFS that her leg was again operated on and fit with a prosthetic. She gets around with just a slight limp, and literally fought off Innocent at one point when he kept trying to pull me away. He wanted to me to go away from all the other children with him but they kept following, and he was getting very worked up. After you kissed him on the cheek though, he was all smiles again.

I had lunch with Maive in the volunteer house where I will be staying when I spend some weekends up there. They have a dog named Nina and are separated from the other houses down a really beautiful path with wildflowers and an amazing view down the mountain. It’s a lot cooler than Petionville and especially Tabarre. People actually wear long sleeves without dying of the heat, which would be a welcome relief from the mosquitoes and potential sunburn.

Gena came up on the bus with me and the kids from Tabarre, but lives at the orphanage so I was the only English speaker on the bus ride down. Thursdays are market days, so everyone was gathering their produce and other sellable things and carrying them down to the closest town, usually in overflowing baskets on their heads. At one point, I saw a woman carrying 7 chickens tied by their feet and hanging down out of the basket on her head. I was extremely confused when we pulled over and people from the bus started talking to her. It got pretty heated and we started to drive off, before someone leaned out the window, yelled one more things, and we reversed so a woman could buy 2 chickens that she apparently had been bartering for. The bus driver then saw that I was confused and tried to explain it to me in creole and broken French, before just laughing and handing me a peach to eat.

Today was a very difficult day at Tabarre. I was sitting in with Norma at a physical therapy session and she was explaining to me how the water will affect the children with cerebral palsy so I can be prepared when I start taking them into the water next week. Someone came in and said something very quickly in creole, and Norma handed me the boy she had been working with and said something was wrong with one of the children and she had to go see. I stayed in the room and talked to the other physical therapists in French a little and held the little boy (who had cerebral palsy). People were in and out and I tried to understand what was being said. I’m getting better at understanding the creole, but if someone is not addressing me in particular, it’s very difficult to follow. I understood that a girl had been injured somehow and was taken to the hospital across the street. Awhile later, they told me she had died. Norma came back very upset and told me that the girl was being fed by her mother in an improper position and some of the bread she was eating had gotten caught and she had asphyxiated. They had taken her to the hospital and Norma had tried every procedure, but it was too late.

Emilie was 5 years old and had been coming with her mother for therapy for 4 years. She had contracted meningitis when she was a baby and was left severely retarded, with little to no muscle control. Norma had been working with her whenever she was in Haiti for the last several years, and said that Emilie was making huge improvements, which were largely unexpected. Her mother was obviously devastated- she had 3 children, the oldest of whom she had given up and was adopted in Italy, an 8 year old boy and Emilie. She had no husband and was extremely poor even for Haiti standards. Every morning she carried Emilie onto a tap tap (bus) for a very long travel to Tabarre. Often, the meal provided to the parents and kids was the only meal they ate that day. Norma took her home in an NPFS van, and said she lived in a shack of scrap metal, and was surprised Emilie, as a special needs child, was able to survive there. The funeral is tomorrow.

Things to know

In front of the Father Wasson Center

Here's my room, with my malaria preventing net

The view from one side of the building

FYI because people have been asking: NPH stands for Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (our little brothers and sisters) and was started in the 50s by Father Wasson in Mexico. There are homes in 9 countries: Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. Haiti is the only non Spanish speaking country, and we are called Nos Petit Frères et Soeurs (NPFS). I know it’s a little confusing with all the names and cities. Summary:

Kenscoff: The program started with the orphanage called St. Helene which is high in the mountains in Kenscoff. There are about 450 children living there at the moment, and they receive education up to 9th grade before being able to earn scholarships for secondary school in the city. It is the site of Kay Christine, the special needs home Gena runs.

Petionville: This is where I live, in the old hospital which has been turned into administration and volunteer housing and is called the Father Wasson Center. It is also the site of Kay Elian, a rehab and physiotherapy center for special needs children. Petionville is about an hour down the mountains from the orphanage.

Tabarre: After several years, the new hospital called St. Damien was opened in Tabarre, an hour away in the opposite direction. It is the only free pediatric hospital in Haiti and has outpatient services, cancer and AIDS/HIV treatments, and focuses largely on malnutrition and tuberculosis. This year, the rehab and physiotherapy center called St. Germaine was opened across the street from the hospital, and also has a small school for children with a range of mental and physical handicaps. This is where I will be working with the small pool they have, as well as with the feeding of the children. Tabarre is about an hour from Petionville, so 2 hours from Kenscoff. The site is right next to the huge American Embassy.

So basically, I’m right in the middle, which is good because there is are centers for the special needs children at all 3 locations. It can be difficult to keep track of, because there are multiple programs in each city and within centers, and people refer to where they’re going or working by either city, specific program name or the larger program.

As far as the other people, here’s that:

Robin: The volunteer coordinator, American from Chicago, early 30’s lives the floor about me and does her work from Petionville. She’s been here for about a year and is staying indefinitely.

Alfonso: The family services person, a Mexican in his late 40’s who travels often to other NPH homes. He lives in Petionville, too. He’s been here for 20 years, and has no plans to leave as far as I know.

Norma: A physical therapist in her 40’s from Argentina who lives on the same floor as me in Petionville and works at all 3 locations with the special needs children. She’s been here for about 4 months, and isn’t sure when she’ll leave.

Gena: The special needs children coordinator who came to Haiti from Ireland 16 years ago when she was in her early 20’s and never left. She works everywhere, but usually stays at Kenscoff.

Maive: Also from Ireland, Maive works with the children in Kenscoff. She is in her early 60’s and retired, and is a year and a half into her 2 years.

Liz: Also from Ireland and is here to teach art for the summer. She’s in her late 20’s/early 30’s and stays at Kenscoff.

Father Rick Frechette: The American priest who started this entire operation in 1988, who is also a medical doctor. He is everywhere all the time, and has recently been travelling all over outside of Haiti to raise money for the rising costs of NPFS. He lives at the hospital in Tabarre.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Je suis arrivée

After Delta lost my luggage for several hours, 2 delayed flights, and 24 straight hours of travel, I am all moved into my new room in Haiti.

I left Seattle at 8:30 AM for Atlanta, where I had a few hours before my next flight left. I got to Ft. Lauderdale at 1030 PM, and was told that my luggage was still in Atlanta, but would be on the next flight out. 5 flights and 4 and a half hours later, my bag made it, but it was too late to check it again so I had to sleep in the entrance to their airport until American Airlines opened at 430 am. I got onto the airplane in Ft. Lauderdale for a quick 2 hour flight to Port-au-Prince at 830, but storms came in and they had to close the airport for about an hour. We finally got out right before they closed the airport again.

Gena was waiting for me at the airport in Haiti, with one of the NPFS vans and drivers they use to get around. We first stopped at St. Germain, where I’ll be working a lot. In addition to a small school, this is where about 50 children with a range of mental and physical handicaps come for therapy, support and meals. I met some of the children, and saw the pool I will be teaching the children to swim in. They also want me to work with children individually on feeding themselves, as many have the ability to but have never been taught.

After a tour, the driver came back with a jeep to get across town to Petionville, where I am living. In the hour drive, I saw literally 30 Tallulahs- Geo trackers are apparently very popular here. We got to the Father Wasson Center and Robin was there to help me get moved in and show me around the house. It reminds me a lot of a hostile, with a big living room and kitchen area on the top floor. This is the old hospital (the new hospital is across from St. Germain) and has been turned into administration and volunteer housing. The orphanage is another hour away in Kenscoff.

My room is on the 4th floor, next door to a few other volunteers. I have a bathroom inside the room, and a balcony that overlooks the street below as well as the construction of a new hotel they are building next door. It is incredibly loud 24 hours a day, and the noise carries right down the street so it always sounds like the noise is right outside, as opposed to 4 floors down and 2 blocks away. Thank goodness I have earplugs.

I actually get the wireless internet in my room, 2 floors down from where it is suppose to be centered, which is nice and surprising to everyone. Skype works, and I’ve had no problem accessing everything I need so far. It’s very weird that there is wireless internet and a dominoes pizza a few blocks away, because on the other hand, there is no mail system or hot water (ever).

I visited the therapy center 2 floors down this afternoon, and sat in on a physical therapy session. The first was a little girl, probably 2 years old, who burnt her left hand very badly and had surgery recently. Her finger were bent forward over the scar, making her hand permanently deformed. The therapist was trying to get her to bend her fingers the best she could, and even though they told me it was definitely hurting her, she didn't make a sound the entire time. The other girl was probably a year, and had issues with the muscles in her legs. She couldn't stand up without pain or point her toes downward. The therapist was massaging and moving her legs into the painful positions and the girl was clearly in alot of pain. She was able to stand with help, and hopefully they'll have her walking on her own soon.

Tomorow, I'll be going up to Kenscoff with Gena and the kids from St. Germaine!