Thursday, December 13, 2012

Children helping Children

The kids at the LaSalle Christian Church of Christianville (kids in our children's church program) have been collecting an offering for the past year or so.  I gave them an incentive that if they arrived at a total of 2000 gourdes (about $50 u.s. dollars) we could do something exciting with the money.  Last month, they arrived at the goal, so I had the teachers pass out little slips of paper for the kids to write down suggestions about what they thought we should do with the offering money.  Here is the break-down of their responses:

1 vote for:   buy a bike that I need
1 vote for:   buy me a laser gun
1 vote for:   buy me a hose
2 votes for:  food (unspecified recipient)
3 votes for:  throw a party for us
19 votes for:  help the poor with it.
    My favorite response in this category was from a little child named Sendy who said "I would like for us to give money to the old people who are hungry, please.  And give to the children without mother and father that are begging in the streets."

So, the votes for help with poor with it won out.  I have a missionary friend here in Haiti, Michelle Meece, who works for an orphanage down the road and has an orphan with cancer.  His name is Wilson and he has been in treatment at a hospital in Port au Prince for the past several months.  He just finished his chemotherapy and Michelle was scheduled to accompany him on his last visit to the hospital, to say goodbye to the other children on the cancer ward and to receive his tickets for a trip to the Dominican for radiation.  I asked Michelle how many other kids were on the ward at any one time, and she said about 12.  So, I decided it would be nice to use the money that our kids gave in their offerings to buy some Christmas presents and treats for the kids in the cancer hospital.  My friend Cici and I spent every last gourd on chocolate bars, juice, cheetos, balls and barbies, and then we printed out a little picture of our children's church kids with a note saying it was in the name of Christ that we sent these treats, and with many prayers for their healing.  Michelle picked up the presents and delivered them with Wilson on their last visit to the cancer ward.  She took the following pictures, and she said that the staff and parents of the children were very surprised and happy to see that it was a group of Haitian children who had sent the gifts.  Oftentimes in Haiti people just assume that any charity must be from a 'blan'...a foreigner.  So it was nice to prove that theory wrong.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Where Thieves Break in and Steal

History seems to be repeating itself around here.  It's time for the Habitat for Humanity group of 600 American short term mission workers to invade the Christianville property and work on some houses in the Leogane area.  They visited last year around this time, as well.  Before they come, a group of dedicated Haitians and Irish and American workers prepared the way by leveling the ground where the soccer field used to be, putting up fences and tarps (to keep the visitors in, or the local residents out?), setting up mess halls and tents, and erecting latrines and showers on the old eye clinic property.  They also put up big bright lights that shine into the soccer field and into the street all night.  You would think these lights would deter theft, but last year around this time massive amounts of furniture and other valuables were stolen from our friends, despite the lights and added security.  And this year, just a few weeks ago, thieves broke into Ryan's eye clinic, the dental clinic, and the Christianville church.  They stole medicines and equipment, and they even took brother Fanfan's accordion.  What the men's choir is going to do without their famous accordion was a topic of discussion in church this morning.  The pastor also gave a warning, saying he is certain it must be someone local and that the thefts will not be tolerated.  Not sure if anything will come of it, but the thefts were a bummer, that's for sure.  This makes the fifth time in five years that my husband's clinic has been robbed.  For a man who was currently working with less equipment and space than he started with in Haiti (due to the quake), the robberies just make things all that much worse.  But Ryan has been a real trooper about it.  He just keeps trudging along, replacing what can be replaced, dealing without what can't be.  I am proud of him and his determination to help the poor and sight-deprived here in Haiti, despite all the set backs.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Update on Lifrane and family

I just got a visit from a friend from Seguin who filled me in on some news regarding Marie Lourdes and her children.  She is the woman I blogged about last week.  Apparently, her visit to me was a veiled attempt to get me to take Maudeline as a restavek in my home.  Of course, I would never take a child in who has a loving mom and dad, so when she saw that I was not going along with her plans, she went back to Seguin and immediately turned around and gave Maudeline and Joresse (her seven year old boy) to a friend of hers near Kapotye (about an hour down the mountain, where we used to do mobile medical clinics).  The children were only gone from her for about one week, though, because on Monday she received a call from a Haitian pastor friend with the message that there was a person in Texas willing to pay for all her kids to go to school.  This person was insistent that she bring back Lifrane, Maudeline, and Joresse into her home.  So, she did.  My friend from Seguin who was recounting this story to me was a bit frustrated.  He said that the three kids came back very clean, with nice clothes and "round faces".  He said they looked like they had each grown an inch.  He was frustrated that they were back with their mother and father who rarely feed or bathe them.  I asked him, "Were they happy to be back with their family?", and he reluctantly replied, "Yes, they were very happy.... happy to roam the fields and be dirty all day again!"  So, there you have it.  Marie Lourdes is reunited with all her children.  No more tears for the time being.  Although, getting them registered for school at such a late date may prove problematic.....

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Visit and A Moral Dilemma

A couple weekends ago, Ryan and I got a visit from a familiar face.... Marie Lourdes.  She was my neighbor in Seguin.  This is not the first time she has suddenly appeared at our doorstep.  Two years ago, Marie Lourdes and her husband surprised us on Easter and asked that we take her immediately to the hospital because she was so sick.  Last year, she and her husband showed up again, this time even sicker and in need of emergency surgery.  She got the surgery, so this year, when she showed up unexpectedly, she was healthy and smiling and was accompanied by her oldest daughter, Maudeline.

There are a few things that happen to us with every visit we get from a Haitian who has travelled far to see us.  The first thing that happens is that we are presented with a sack full of produce.  Marie Lourdes was no exception.  Even though she and her husband have lost their jobs this past year and lost their crops and livestock in Tropical Storm Isaac, she borrowed money in order to bring me a sack full of potatoes.  She mourned the loss of another sack full of peas and yams that she had bought, but which was subsequently stolen from her on the tap-tap ride over the mountains.  She was sad because she knew I love peas.  I scolded her for borrowing money to bring me a gift and reminded her that she can show up at my house empty handed, then I thanked her and started cooking the potatoes.  I knew she and Maudeline probably hadn't eaten all day, maybe not in two days.

The second thing that inevitably happens with our Haitian visitors from parts remote is that, after initial "how are you's" and some general shooting of the breeze, they nestle down into our couches and fall into a deep sleep.  So, while Marie Lourdes and Maudeline caught some z's, I got busy cooking up a meal with the potatoes as well as any protein I could find, and some rice, since I knew a real meal isn't complete here without it.

After bellies were full, Marie Lourdes and I talked about what was new in her life.  She admitted to me that her 14 year old son, Lifrane, is living with a family - strangers to Marie Lourdes - in the town of Peredo, a little more than one hour down the mountain from her by truck.  The family agreed to take him in because they needed help around the house and with their small business.  In exchange, they are putting Lifrane through school this year and giving him food and a place to sleep.  The family was recommended to Marie Lourdes by her cousin and her neighbors, who know the family and say they will be kind to Lifrane.  There is a phrase here in Haiti for a boy or girl who lives in such a situation - Restavek.  It means "live with", and it is by no means an uncommon thing.  In fact, most Haitians that I know, whether from Seguin or the countryside or from Leogane or Port au Prince, either have a restavek in their home, or have given one of their children to someone else as a restavek.  Christians and non-christians alike engage in this practice.  Some people treat their restaveks with kindness and compassion, as they would their own children.  Others treat them with decency but show them little affection at all.  And still others mistreat and abuse the children under their care.  I imagine it's a bit like the foster care system in the States in that regard.  Only this system is not regulated at all and has no safety checks.  At any rate, little Lifrane, who used to knock on my door every day after I finished working (just as I was getting ready for my afternoon nap) and ask for cookies, is now a restavek.

I asked Marie Lourdes if she visits Lifrane.  She said that she visited him once or twice, but that he cried each time she left, and the family requested that she not visit anymore, because it made him too sad, and he wasn't sad if he didn't see her.  I suggested to Marie Lourdes that she visit him anyway, any chance she can get, and make sure he knows that she loves him very much and has not forgotten about him or tossed him aside.

Here is where the moral dilemma comes in.  Marie Lourdes didn't really come to talk to me about Lifrane.  She came to talk to me about Maudeline, and three of her other children (there are eight total,) who cannot go to school this year.  She said, because of the financial troubles they've had, that she and Emmanuel cannot afford to send any of their children to school this year.  Maudeline, the oldest (besides Lifrane and Dyekivle - who quit school long ago), was especially sad about this.  Marie Lourdes told me Maudeline cries at night, begging to go to school.  I know all of Marie Lourdes' children go without food quite frequently, as well.  So, what's better?  To be Maudeline, at home with mom and dad and sisters and brothers, but without daily food or schooling?  Or Lifrane, to be away from mom and dad and siblings, but with a full stomach and a years' worth of school?  I don't know.  I do know this... I can't single-handedly fix the restavek problem in Haiti.  I can't give every family the monetary help they need to keep their kids fed and educated and at home with them.  I can't even give Marie Lourdes all the money she needs to keep her family well fed and educated and all together.  In the end, I gave her what little I could, and hoped she would make whatever decisions she deemed best with it.

Marie Lourdes and Maudeline got showers that night with running water, and slept long on a mattress that must have seemed huge to them.  The next morning I drove them to Port au Prince to find a bus to Jacmel so they could begin their journey home.  I haven't heard whether they made it back safely or not, or what Marie Lourdes decided to do about school for the children, but I hope,whatever happened, that she at least stopped by the house where Lifrane is living to give him a little visit on her way back up the mountain.

Friday, September 14, 2012


You've probably all heard the news, but I thought I'd post this video here in case you missed it.
Here are some important numbers in our lives this fall:

September 4 made 11 years for me here in Haiti.  Yikes.

September 7 made 5 years here in Haiti for Ryan.

October 4 will make 4 years of marriage for Ryan and me.

November 6 Titus will turn 2.  Nora is 3.  And I'm 10 weeks along with Baby Price #3 which means...

April 4, 2013 may be another important day for us, since that's the due date.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stateside and Tubes in June

I receive many comments and questions from people regarding Haiti.  Most of them go like this:  "How can we pray for you?"  and  "If we come to Haiti, what do you need us to bring for you?"  So, I've made a few little additions to my blog.  On the left, you'll find a list of prayer requests (updated as often as I update this blog...hopefully monthly).  Also, you'll find a list of things that we could always use around here, just in case you're planning a visit here soon.

We spent the month of June in the U.S., visiting family, going to weddings, and enjoying some summertime fun.  The picture above is from the Madison Zoo, when the kids experienced popsicles on sticks for the first time.  Nora was a fan, but Titus thought they were way too cold.  We had a good time in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alabama, Texas, and Georgia.  The kids are glad to be back home, but they talk about visiting their grandparents again quite often.  Well, Nora does.  Titus has a limited vocabulary.  He says, "no, yes, thank you, cheese, mama, ball, book, and bye-bye".

During this past year, Titus has been battling many ear infections.  We tried all the different antibiotics recommended, as well as shots and antihistamines, but nothing seemed to be helping his poor ears.  So, while we were in Alabama, we took him to the doctor for advice.  He sent us to an ENT.  We were able to see the ENT on a Thursday, just a few days after our pediatrician referred us.  We waited for an hour.  The ENT did testing and recommended tubes for his ears.  She was able to get us a surgery appointment for Friday, the very next day.  He went into a nice, clean, friendly surgery center.  The nurses gave him a teddy bear, the pastor came to pray for him, and the drugs helped him relax.  They took him to surgery, and 15 minutes later he had tubes and was recovering.  By the next day, he was feeling much better.  Our insurance is helping us cover some of the costs.  When I reflect on this experience, I can't help but compare it to the experience of my patients in Haiti.  I have several little girls and boys who come to me daily for help with ear infections.  Normally, they and their mom will wait at least 5 hours to see me.  Most of the time, the antibiotics I give them will solve the problem, but sometimes, they are like Titus, and no amount of medicine will help.  In those cases, they will wait another 5 hours to see me again, and get another antibiotic and a shot.  If this doesn't work, the process is repeated, with different antibiotics, until the ear either gets better, or perforates on its own.  This is painful and could cause scarring.  The other option is to send them to a specialist in Port au Prince.  This is often a last-ditch effort for us, since it involves the mom and child going to an unfamiliar place on public transport, spending a lot of money that they don't have, going through many tests they don't have the money for and don't really need, and then, hopefully going through a surgery (which could involve outdated anesthesia and risks of infection).  The difference between their experience and mine is day and night.  Maybe that's why a huge wave of gratefulness mixed with guilt hit me as I walked out of the surgery center with Titus.  Grateful for what God has given us, and sad that not everyone has access to the same care, and guilty that I can't do more to narrow the gap.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Be the Parade

Friday, the 18th of May, was Flag Day here in Haiti.  Usually it's a day when kids dress up in uniform with fake swords and guns and march in formation and sing songs in the streets.  We were told that we shouldn't go out much this year, because the ex-military had warned that they would "show their strength" on Friday.  From what I hear, their 'strength' was broken up by some UN rubber bullets and tear gas in Port.  We didn't see any of that kind of thing in our neck of the woods.

I did hear a parade, though, and thought the kids would love to see it.  Eleanor wasn't in the mood to go outside, so I took Titus and we went down the road to where the kids were lined up, marching with their fake weapons.  A tiny band was playing, and a group of about 20 or 30 people were standing on the side of the road, watching.  Titus and I walked up to join the crowd.  After 10 years in Haiti, I should have known that I can't "join a crowd", especially with a white baby in my arms.  But I had a mental lapse and tried it.  After being there for a few seconds, the majority of the crowd and some of the members of the parade had turned around to look at Titus and me.  All of a sudden, we were the parade.  Ryan told me later that I should have started marching and just gone with the flow.  But I didn't.

I stood there, holding Titus tight as people touched us and asked if I would give him to them.  That's a pretty common thing we hear here in Haiti.  "Give me your baby!", someone will shout from across the road.  I'm not sure what response they are looking for.  "Here you go!", or "You bet, take him!".  I'm not sure.  On a bad day, I ignore them or say "No" grumpily.  On a good day, I remember that it's a bit of an African (and Haitian) tradition to say something off the wall to someone, just to see what funny quip they will come back with.  So, on good days, I usually respond, "I can't, he's my only boy."  That gets them laughing.  Not sure why, but they usually stop asking me to give them the baby, and they start talking among themselves, repeating me and laughing their heads off.  Humor in other cultures is a weird thing.  Sometimes I'm funny to Haitians because I try, but most of the time I"m funny for reasons unknown to me!

At any rate, that was our Flag Day.  We walked along with the parade, trying to 'blend in' and not cause so much of a distraction that the marching kids would trip or lose their step.  I think the people in the parade were happy when we went back home... they got their audience back.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Friends at Easter

Happy Easter! We had a good Easter weekend here in Gressier. My friend from Seguin, Margarethe Jean Phillippe, her three children (Davidson, Joseph, and Marie Phara), and her sister Bethany all came to visit us on Good Friday. Margarethe, as always, brought way too much food! She has so many mouths that depend on her to be fed, and yet she always brings us a ton of food when she comes. She made us some fish, which is a traditional Easter meal here in Haiti. I have to admit, I wasn't excited about it at first, since the smell of the raw fish and fish juice was overwhelming. But after everything was said and done and FRIED, it was awesome. We all ate our fill and had plenty to spare. Titus really liked the fish and veggies, too. Nora, of course, didn't try any of it. She had mac 'n cheese.

Margarethe and I were able to catch up on all that has been happening since I left the mountain. It was good to have her here and spend time together again. My children were a little shy around her kids, but they all ended up playing together (or near each other) in the end. On Saturday, I hid a bunch of eggs and taught the kids about a silly Easter tradition that we Americans do. They had fun running around, finding eggs.
Margarethe told me a few stories of her life, past and present. She told me about how she has eight brothers and sisters, but there used to be nine. She lost her baby brother when he was three years old because of diarrhea. One day he was there, the next he was in the hospital, and the next day he was gone, she said. She also told me about how Ecclesiaste, her husband, is from a family of twelve siblings, but only six of them are still alive. You'd think that these would be things I would know about Margarethe and her husband, since we've been friends for ten years. But I guess, in Haiti, it doesn't come up much. You wouldn't know that she and her husband come from such tragic backgrounds. Ecclesiaste has a laugh that fills up a room (anyone who knows him knows this is an understatement!) Nothing in his demeanor or speech would clue you in to the fact that he's lost half his siblings. I've found that many Haitians are like Margarethe and Ecclesiaste. Tragedy and hardship in the past stays in the past, and doesn't have much bearing on the present. I'm not sure how they do it, but I wish I could emulate it.

Margarethe also told me about how life is for her family presently. She and Ecclesiaste live in Seguin and both have employment. Two of her brothers work, and her father is a farmer and
raises animals. The rest of her family lives in Jacmel and is either unemployed or in school. Her mother, her four sisters, her three children, their four cousins, and one orphan child all live in a two room house together. They all sleep in the same room. Margarethe didn't seem to think this was unusual. She talked about how the children don't fall to sleep before 10 at night. She thought they were night owls. But when they were at my house, they fell sound asleep by 8pm. The yard where they could play had something to do with that, but I also think it was a soft mattress and a room that wasn't full of ten other snoring, kicking, sweating bodies. I gave them a double mattress and two single mattresses for the five of them to sleep, but all three kids piled onto one of the mattresses and fell fast asleep. Force of habit, I guess!

It was a blessing to share Easter weekend with Margarethe. I always come away from our encounters feeling that I need to be more grateful, more joyful, and more content with what God has given me. I love you, Marga! Come and spend the weekend anytime.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Three Churches

We've had a few nice visits, lately. Ryan's home church from Anniston, Alabama visited us in February for a week. They helped out around Christianville and the clinics and also helped build a house for a woman who used to work for us. She lost her daughter (Daphne) and her home in the earthquake, so the team helped to build a new one for her. We were especially glad to see Ryan's parents again, and to see Pastor Mac visit Haiti for the first time. During their stay, Ryan preached at our church here in Haiti. I interpreted for him, which turned out to be a little bit controversial. I didn't know that women not speaking in church also included women not interpreting in church, according to some church members. The leaders of the church were glad that Ryan preached, though, and were thankful for the interpretation. After Ryan preached about following Christ and loving Him, instead of following family traditions, FanFan came up to give an altar call. He is a member of the church as well as an accordion player and a dental hygienist at Christianville's dental clinic. A young woman responded to his altar call and told the church that she had been going to church all her life as a family tradition, but she had never accepted Christ to be her own Savior, and she wanted to do that. It was a great Sunday at church.

In March, my home church from Ft. Lauderdale came to visit us. They helped out around Christianville and the clinics. They built several chicken coops and put up gates at the eye clinic building site. They brought us lots of goodies, just like Ryan's church had done. It is great to get visits from our home church and be encouraged by our church families. I was especially glad that Kent and Dennis got to return on a trip to Christianville. They came to help out when I first moved to Haiti and lived in Seguin, and they hadn't been back since, so I was happy to show them the new place where I'm serving.

While the Community Christian church group was here, we also attended a service at my church here in Haiti. This time, Ryan didn't preach. Our head pastor didn't preach, either. It was a deacon without any seminary experience who preached. His sermon was directed towards women, since it was the international day of remembering women, or something like that. He chose two Scriptures to build his sermon around. The Scriptures he chose were very thought provoking. One was the story of the mother of James and John in Matthew 20:20-23. The other was the story of Hannah, from 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2. He began to compare these two mothers, saying that the mother of James and John was asking for her sons to be powerful, and the mother of Samuel didn't care if he was a servant, but just wanted him to be dedicated to the Lord. Then, he veered off onto a tangent about not letting your children play with scissors, or they might poke their eye out, grow up to resent you, and eventually kill you for it. Before the tangent, I thought he was on to something good, but he never got back to it.

Let's pretend he did get back to it. Let's keep comparing those two women. The mother of James and John wanted them to be with Jesus because she saw that He had power and could lead them to positions of greatness. Jesus warned her that His type of greatness was going to involve much sacrifice and suffering. Hannah, on the other hand, prayed that God would give her a child. She vowed to dedicate that child to His service, no matter what the cost to her son or to herself. As a mother, I find it easy to pray for my child's safety, for his health, for her to prosper and be successful in life. But I also pray with all my heart for my children to be saved, to know Christ, and to serve Him with all their heart and life. Like John and James' mother, I like to ask Jesus to bless them. But I also need to be like Hannah, and pray that -no matter what the cost- they will serve the Lord. Even if it means they grow up to serve Him in a country far away, or choose ministry over financial security, or stay single in their service of Him and never give me grandkids, or serve Him in a dangerous place. Even if they suffer for Him. That is a much harder prayer to pray. I know my mother was a Hannah in her prayers for me, and I'm thankful. I ask for God's grace to make me a Hannah mother in my prayers for my children, as well.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday School

Maybe 2012 will be the year that I make 12 posts on my blog. Doubt it. But I'll try.

Ryan and I attend Lasalle Christian Church of Christianville (we're Christians, can you tell?). It is right down the road from us. We have been quiet observers in the past, but recently we have stepped up our involvement a little bit. I noticed a lot of little heads in the pews, nodding off, making noise, bugging the people in front of them, and generally not having a good time in the "grown up" service. So, I decided to start a Sunday school program at the church. Our church had one in previous years, but it had lacked one for at least four years, and the congregation was ready to start one up again. I only go to church every other week as it is, because our kids are so little and there is no nursery program, so Ryan and I take turns attending every other Sunday. So, I didn't want to be the main teacher of the Sunday school program, because then I would miss church service completely, and so would Ryan (because he'd be home with our kids). So, I asked Pastor Fanel if he could find me some volunteers. I was hoping for at least four. He found me eight. I was delighted that so many wanted to help. When we had our first meeting, I realized that they didn't even want me to be a teacher at all. They were just expecting me to be the coordinator. That was great to hear, too. They divided themselves into four teams of two, and we decided each team would only have to teach Sunday school once a month, so they wouldn't have to miss too much church. I provide the curriculum, lesson plans, memory verse, activity ideas and materials, and felt board. Every Friday, I meet together with the team that will be teaching that Sunday, and give them the materials and lesson plans.

We started this program back in the fall of 2011, and it's been going well ever since. We have about 50 kids, ages 3 to 14, in the class right now. The teachers took the initiative to put on a Christmas program with the kids, and did a great job on their own (since I was in the States). The teachers also come up with good ideas for me to incorporate in the lessons. One of the teams recruited a pianist to come play for the children during the weeks that they teach. One teacher gave me a song sheet to print out for the kids, so they could have their own song booklets. For the most part, the program is going well. My goal is to give up a little more control over the program as time goes on, so that eventually it will just run without me.

When we studied Abraham and God's promise to him to give him a son in his old age, our memory verse was "With God, nothing is impossible." The activity I chose to reinforce this lesson was for the kids to write out something that they felt was impossible in their lives. Then at the end of the lesson, we prayed that God would work in our lives and listen to these prayers about these impossible things. I told the kids that God would answer them, but not necessarily with a "yes". It might be a "no" or "not yet". The kids had some interesting things that they thought were impossible. Most of the kids drew pictures of planes, or cars, or bikes. They figured they'd never get to own one of those. But some of the kids went a little deeper. One 10 year old girl wrote a long essay listing all the things in her life she felt were impossible. The list included "Mom and Dad getting back together", "Not having to live my with grandparents", and "My grandfather to come to the Lord." I hope she holds on to the hope that nothing is impossible with the Lord, and that God answers some of her prayers with a "yes".