I will now attempt to sumarize our amazing seven day experience.
Here is a brief list of some things we did, in somewhat of chronological order:
Day 1- We arrived in Haiti about two hours delayed, as we were one of the last flights out of Haiti. We spent the afternoon at New Hope Haiti Mission, where we would stay the rest of the week. We were greeted by 21 kids who lived at the orphanage. When we arrived, they were actually having parents day for the kids which they have twice a year. Most of the kids living at NHHM do have parents, but their parents are not able to take care of them in their home town, so the send them to the orphanage to stay until they are 18. The orphanage is able to pay for their education, provide them with meals, and a safe place to grow up where they are well nutured by the amazing staff.
After settling in, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening playing with the kids, learning their names, and of course, a few creole phrases.
Day 2- Today we visited Melissa's Hope Orphanage in Croix de Bouquetts. We had originally planned to stay at Melissa's Hope and work there most of the week, but some things came up that didn't allow us to work there. When we arrived, we were greeted by one of the children living at the orphanage who gave us a tour of the facility and introduced us to the 11 kids living there and the staff taking care of them. Melissa's Hope is an orhpahange for special needs children. It was home to kids with CP, HIV, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and other physical and mental developmental disorders. The kids were amazing. I won't forget their smiles and laugher admist the hard times they were going through. Later, the director showed up and told us that he had been waiting at a gas station for over three hours waiting to buy gas- a common occurence in Haiti. He told us about the broken history of the orphanage and his story of coming back from the States where he spent his teen and early adult years living, to run this orphanage where he felt like he was being called. This experience will definitely stick with me for some time.
Day 3- Today we got the opportunity to travel to the town of Balan, which we had heard about for some time. Balan is located about an hour outside of the capital in a very dry reigon of the country. Because of the deforestation in the area, Balan has not had a healthy topsoil layer in years. We took the "caged" truck to Balan with sacks of rice and beans in the bed of the truck, which would later be distributed to the community members. As we pulled off the main road, the vegetation changed tremendously. What was lush, green plants became dusty, dirty cacti and brown thickets growing along the bumpy, dry road. Here and there we would see a goat wandering through the thicket, or a malnourished cow searching for water. We learned that Balan is located on the largest lake in Haiti. The only drawback is that it is saltwater. Jean told us that even before the earthquake, Balan was one of the poorest regions in all of Haiti, if not the poorest. As we sat in the back of the truck, a line formed as we bean to drive into their community, stopping at the small church in the center of the community. The feeding program has been funded by NHHM for over five years and currently feeds over 2,200 people once a month. The food is said to only last between two-three days. We were later told that often the children are not fed by the food provided. This experience was hard for our whole group. Many of the children were severely malnourished and all they could say to us was "mange"- eat. As the food began to dwindle, the people became desperate as they knew the group would not return for another month. The desperation led to panic as women and children thrust themselves at us desperately asking us to full their shirts, hats, cups with whatever rice and beans we had left. Areas like Balan, although often a more peaceful area than much of the rest of Haiti, is often hit just as hard by the repercussions of natural disasters as they are dependent on what aid workers and locals in the city have available to bring them.
Day 4- Today Jean Claubert, director of NHHM, took all of the kids and us to a soccer field about an hours drive away to play soccer. The kids all had soccer jerseys that had been donated by a soccer coach back in Richmond. We spent a few hours here where the land was lush and farmers worked in their fields as we played soccer. It was in a more rural setting that where the orphanage is located and there were amazing views of the mountains all around us. The rest of the day was spent at the orphanage, helping the women cook the traditional late lunch which is the biggest meal of the day. Most every evening was spent hanging out with the kids, playing games, singing songs, and learning creole.
Day 5- Today we spent the day working at NHHM. Jean had come up with a few project to keep us busy for the day. We worked on taking down the stage that was used for parents day, organizing the pharmacy at the orphanage, and picking up trash around the orphanage. We also helped Jean take some things to his church as he prepared for a New Year's service the next evening. We helped with meal preparation and also took a walk around the neighborhood with some of the kids to pass out information to the community about cholera.
Day 6- St. Rock Medical Clinic.
We woke up early Friday morning to allow time to get to St. Rock Clinic, located on the other side of Port-au-Prince in the mountains. We were invited to this clinic by a team of doctors and nurses we met on our plane ride down to Haiti. The team was from Boston and have been running this clinic for over ten years. Valermie, a medical student who also worked at NHHM, picked us up around 7:00 and drove us to meet the group from St. Rock that would take us the rest of the way to their clinic. Along the way, Valermie took us on a tour of downtown Port-au-Prince to show us the National Cathedral, presidential palace, and other landmarks in the city. Most of the downtown area is covered in tent cities. It is too hard to describe in words what exists in the downtown area. Hoepfully pictures will explain some of what we saw.
We received a warm greeting once we arrived at the clinic. It was set up on a mountaintop overlooking the port. Nate and Peyton worked with a team of doctors seeing some patients while Ian and I hiked to a local orphanage supported by the clinic foundation. We were joined by other member's of the St. Rock team who have been startin local projects in the area to include a micro-loan program, scholarships for the local school, and now partnering with a local orphanage. We visited people's homes along the way to the orphanage. The feeling in the mountains was much different than in the city. There was much less tension in this area and more freedom to talk to people as we met them and interact with the members of the community. We were all impressed with the work being done by St. Rock and were invited back in the future to stay at the clinic and participate in their work.
Day 7- Haiti-->Richmond
Today was a tough day for us all. I think we were all starting to really feel at home and had developed relationships with the children at the orphanage. It was a tough feeling leaving these amazing kids and Jean Claubert who had taught us all so much. As we unloaded our bags at the airport and stepped out of the truck, we had 21 faces that were watching us as we walked into the airport. The kids taught us all so much. All they had been through and the perseverance, hope, unselfish love that they freely gave to all of us. It was more than we could have ever asked for.