Thursday, July 31, 2008

School supplies for Pestel

Now is the time to buy a few extra packs of pencils and pick up an extra eraser or two! One of my nurses informed me that BigLots is having a sale right now.

You can either drop off the items with us (Fredricks), at church (Slate Hill Mennonite) or give them to my family in Claremont, NH. We've already started collecting. It's a simple way to make an impact.

A short video of a school building in Pestel (to give you an idea of what they may or may not have):

Here's a quick reminder of what we're collecting:
What we're collecting:
  • Pencils
  • Colored Pencils
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Erasers
  • Pens
  • Rulers
  • Book bags
  • Crayons
  • Chalk
  • Board eraser
  • Maps
  • Bottles of glue
  • Scissors

What we're NOT collecting:
  • Paper
  • Glue sticks
  • Markers

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alternative Cistern idea

Dr. John Leininger of Harvest International has been bringing teams down to Haiti for about 30 years, I believe. He works just up in the mountains at the edge of Pestel in a village called Joly Gilbert [on the map below it is south of Deze...To give you some perspective, the distance from Deze to Joly Gilbert in a straight line is 2 miles, but that is a LOOOOONGGGG two miles]

He recently sent me this photo of a cistern that they've put in place:

The setup seems to work quite well, and a real bonus is that it has a spigot (I thought it was 'spicket' but apparently that's not a real word)--one of the main ways the water becomes contaminated is when a dirty pale is placed into the water...contaminating the whole water supply.

The cost is substantially less than that of the concrete/block cisterns. Dr. Leinginger got them for about $400...including the PVC piping.

Does anyone have any thoughts about this construction? See any potential pitfalls? Any suggestions for improvement?

Also, any ideas of how many gallons this would hold?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beyond Borders

Beyond Borders is a top-notch organization working in Haiti. They are helping the people of Pestel directly by providing education and leadership training for KPA (see Partners for Pestel website). The foundation they are laying is crucial and a real advantage for the communities of Pestel.

Please take the time to watch their powerful and well-done video (and also check out their site! Please consider supporting Beyond Borders):

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

What is going on here? Chapter 1

Today starts a four-day video-series (if I can 'glamorize' it by calling it a series) that I'm calling "What is going on here?" Basically, as you'll see, the video plays through and you get to guess what the story is behind it. Some are obvious. Some...not so obvious. Some are fun...some more serious.
Either way I thought it would be a good way to share some of the snippets from the trip in a hopefully more interesting way.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dear Diary XI

Sister Fidelis was my host and guide. She has been a great encouragement to me, not only because of the courage and strength she exhibits by living among the needy in Pestel, but also by her kind words and prayers. Our friendship has grown tremendously in the relatively brief times that we've shared together.
Sister Fidelis lives by herself in a remote spot up in the mountain. There is no electricity, running water, or cell phone access here. Her house cannot be reached by road, but rather by "nature trails" or cow-paths. You can see the coast from her house, and while she only lives about 3 miles from the coast it takes a good bit to hike up there.
She is kept company by her dog (I've sadly forgotten his name) and donkey, Rosebud (who you can see in the video!). She also has a right-hand man who is quite indispensable.

Click HERE for a video of Sister Fidelis' house.

Click Here to go to the interactive map of Pestel to see where Sister Fidelis lives.

View Larger Map

(click on the map icons to see more information...I'm working on putting photos on the map as well...)

A lot is asked of her. She meets needs left and right. Her local development group (KPA) has already successfully built a number of solid cisterns in communities throughout Pestel.
KPA is a group of concerned citizens (initiated and led by Sister Fidelis) from about 12 of the villages around Pestel. Another village recently "signed-on". Each village selects 3 delegates that attend a monthly meeting. I met a good number of them at one of the first meetings (see previous blog), and I was very impressed by their attitudes and initiative.
It is this group that we will largely be supporting. As they thoughtfully and prayerfully decide which cisterns should be repaired next, where a school building should go up, I pray we in the US will respond to their needs.

Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. One way we do this by giving to those in need. This is what Christ has done for each of us. He is our model for living. There is a degree of sacrifice to which some of us are being called. The importance of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness cannot be overstated.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dear Diary X

On Wednesday we traveled to a hard-to-reach place (I wanted to see first-hand the challenges we would face in providing care to these villages as well as the challenges they face day-in-and-day-out). This was a brutal walk.

Desye is a small village where probably a couple hundred families live. Interestingly, their homes are more spread out compared with the more centralized appearances of many other villages.
First, the setting is breathtaking. Tall, steep hills surround the area. It makes a wonderful place to live except there is no good way to reach it. The foot paths are challenging and exhausting. The way from the nearest village includes a field of boulders that at some points blockade any motorized vehicle (including a motorcycle). The villagers are determined to make a road, however. They send out brigades every Friday to smash the big rocks into smaller rocks, but even still, I simply don't see how a vehicle could traverse this landscape.

CLICK HERE For a video: The Road to Desye

The meeting in Desye was well-attended with about 75 present. It was the first, however, to unenthusiastically endorse our commitment to education. One of the teachers spoke up and said that while he teaches a class of about 30 kids, only 2 families had paid the $80 Haitian (or $11 US) per year. Sensing a lack of commitment to education I asked a question of the group that I had also asked of other villages: "How important is education to your community?" The obvious response simply did not come.
I was taken aback. I glanced as Sister Fidelis seated to my right, and she raised an eyebrow, then shook her head. Building a school or providing educational opportunities was not to be on the top of our list for Desye.
Before I could switch subjects, however, they did. Their overriding priority is a road. Much depends on a road. They cannot sell at markets, cannot send their kids to Junior High or High School down by the ocean, cannot access any healthcare...all because of a road. This was their contention, and I believe they are right.
They are invested in their families and their families live in Desye. They cannot move to a better location because 1) they don't believe they should. This is their home. This is where their local loyalty and history lives. They have good, productive land. They can survive here--they cannot thrive, however. 2) They cannot afford to move. In Desye (as in all of Pestel) they own plots of land. Do they abandon the property? Heaven knows they cannot sell it (who would want to buy it?). If they moved closer to the ocean they would have to rent land and a house, which is entirely out of their financial reach. I can see why they do not move to a 'better location.' Whether from a pragmatic-economic standpoint or a socio-historic perspective, there is little compelling reason to move.
They do need some basic infrastructure to be in place before they can hop on the first rung of the economic ladder. These are the rungs that provide opportunity (for education, training, health care, arts, sciences, electricity, etc).
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to Pestel.

Update on Leila

Hi All,

Here's an email from our friends, the Grants.  They've been hosting a little girl from Burkina Faso named Leila for heart surgery.  Please see their update below.

Dear Friends & Family,
> We've been very blessed to have Leila in our home the last couple
> months, but last week she was cleared medically to go home.
> She's recovered completely from her surgery and is going home off of all
> medication! It's amazing to see how she's grown since we got her off
> the plane. Before the surgery, she couldn't even eat a meal without
> growing short of breath and needing a nap. Now, she walks and talks
> (English :-) ) like any other 2 year old (Molly taught her "NO!").
> Thank you all for your prayers and support. Please continue to pray for
> smooth transitions after she goes home:
> - Our family's - we will miss her very much.
> - Leila's - she has really grown comfortable with us and will have to
> travel 30+ hours with a stranger before reuniting with her family.
> - Leila's family's - They've been missing her terribly, and will be
> quite surprised by her progress. She has a lot more energy now!!
> Also, we found out today that the organization that arranged for her to
> come over needs about $2000 to purchase a ticket to get her back to
> Burkina Faso. If you are able to help in any way, please contact
> Children's Medical Missions at
> <>.
> You can donate through PayPal, or by regular mail. They can also use
> donated frequent flyer miles (preferably Air France or American, but the
> website says "any airline").
> Thanks again!
> Lori & Devon Grant
> Devon & Molly

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dear Diary IX

The needs of Pestel are great, but the people are not complainers. They are frustrated because they strongly desire education and good health and opportunity for their children. They want them to learn English because they recognize the value of education and knowing languages--opportunities may open to them.

They are frustrated that they do not have reliable water [photo on the right is a cracked cistern located next to a school]. They cannot get their health needs cared for [there are two physicians for 70,000 people]. Their self-identified health issues include 'fever', TB, back pain [from hard, physical labor], respiratory diseases, diarrhea, rashes, malnutrition, chest pains, and 'acid' (GERD). Sister Fidelis is about to open 2 medical clinics--one of these will be in Abrico, and her announcement of this received a great deal of applause--both at Abrico and Lasalla (another village located about one hour away from Abrico by foot).

Another comment about education: at the Abrico community meeting one man from a nearby village [Toma Elli] stood up and mentioned that he is a teacher, but that he frequently goes unpaid. He has two other teachers and when money does come in from the government, he pays them $100 Haitian each, but that is not every month.
Some quick math: $7 Haitian = $1 US

So the current government (unreliable) payment... $100/7 = $14.25US per teacher per month

This was hard to hear because I have seen many teachers in Pestel who do not have work because they do not get paid. And who can blame them for not teaching. They have to do something to bring in money. So they turn to farming again.
In front of this large group at Abrico I commended this man, and asked him to persevere. I told him I would see if I could find some generous people in the US who might be willing to help him and his teachers.

This is my first appeal for help: Please consider providing some financial support to the teachers of Toma Elli. I was deeply impressed and moved by their story, and they need relief to be encouraged to continue in their work. Any amount would be helpful, whether one-time or ongoing. Helping to pay a teacher's salary will enable dozens of children to receive education. This will also help us to continue to build goodwill among the people. We want to encourage this kind of dedication to their communities.

You can give at this Site: Special Situations (Partnering With Pestel)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dear Diary VIII


I visited Abrico back in October 2007. That was a very brief visit. One of their community leaders, Mileas, is a man around my age who has charisma and excellent leadership skills. He is a humble man, knowledgeable, and deeply dedicated to his village. His mother's land, for example, was donated to the community for a school.

The man on the right is Mileas.

He is one of their key leaders. He can get them up out of their seats to do warm-up singing exercises ("loosening up"), and in the next minute run an organized meeting. People listen to him when he speaks.

In Abrico they have a small school that was to have been built by the government, but the funds never materialized. The community pooled their resources and found a way to build it themselves. The building you see briefly in the video is all the school building they have for 250 students.

You can view the video HERE.
Or you can always see it at the main website under Photos & Video.

There is another very sad (and maddening) story. The community received a grant from USAID to expand their school facility in size by severalfold. I saw some of the rebar rising up from the ground...amidst a vines and bushes. One of the contractors or officials had run off with the money.

So they make do (sort of). They will build temporary structures around the existing building out of bamboo to hold outdoor schools. This community is invested in education though they may not have much in the way of resources. When they state that they want education their witness is credible.

I am certain that the donated money must be given locally to people invested highly in their communities, as opposed to disinterested government officials (often regional or national level) or contractors.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dear Diary VII

At Sister Fidelis' house up in the mountains (village of Ferrier) there is no cell phone access, electricity or running water. That also means no refrigeration, flushing toilets, charging of dead batteries (which is why I don't have many photos from this trip), cold drinks, or safe leftovers.
But we did have popcorn! That seemed so out of place. Someone made a big basket of it last night when the kids put on a show for us. They sang songs, including one written for yours truly, and did a couple of cute plays. They are very inventive, imaginative kids who are not generally bashful or too worried about performing badly (i.e. overly self-conscience). Of course, this is an oversimplification because there are shy people, but I don't sense the same level of insecurity as we often find in the US.
Yesterday at Odelin's school down by the coast I was struck by one little girl. Her hair was thin and bronzed, her features sunken and thin. She is malnourished. She stood out rather starkly against the others seated around her. However, I was quite surprised when Odelin, in reading off the children's grades, called out her name. She had one of the highest scores in the entire class! It then also struck me that she clapped and seemed genuinely excited every time a student received a passing grade for that year (which was true of about 2/3 of the class).

Every time I come to Haiti I find a person who breaks my heart. She is one of them now.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dear Diary VI

It seems ridiculous to write this: apparently the family with its own (private) cistern is often 'wealthier' than those without. In a community of about a 1000 people, for example, there may be 15 cisterns...10 of them private. In a drought they can sell water, at least until it dries up. In the US we worry about what color faucets we have, and we may get upset when the government tells us not to water our grass (through our automated sprinklers) because of a water shortage.
[the photo to the left is of a broken cistern in need of repair]

Economically this is a farming community. They do have at least one carpenter (a Baptist pastor) but he's being transferred out. There are also a couple of masons.

They grow mangoes, many (17?) types of yams, coffee, plantains, bananas, corn, cassava, pineapple, coconuts, peanuts, black beans. Some have chicken or goats or maybe a cow. I've only seen a couple of pigs in Haiti so far, and only one in Pestel.

Here is a short video featuring some of the foods in Pestel.

The land is quite fertile for these things, but they need to be taught good farming practices. They don't know about irrigation, terracing, or even planned planting (most of it is a bit haphazard). Their yield could improve significantly through changed farming practices (which means educational opportunities!) and fertilizer and formation of co-ops. Getting the food to market is a bit tricky now because the one main boat that brought goods to Port-au-Prince on a weekly basis sank recently. This is the same one I wrote about earlier.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Dear Diary V

In Pestel there are beautiful singers, intelligent people, handy and mechanical folk--in short, most of the same as what we find in our own communities. But there is currently no opportunity for them. If they do seek opportunity it is often at the expense of their family or community.

An example: when we arrived at the path to Ferrier (where Sister Fidelis lives) we heard a musical sound like from a hand-made pipe. In actuality it was a someone blowing a conch shell (they have TONS of these shells) and using it to call people to help with a certain community task. They apparently often help one another--whether building something or harvesting food (i.e. coffee or mangoes or coconuts etc) or what have you.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dear Diary IV

At certain points as you travel in Pestel the main road continues but all else becomes hiking paths. You could ride a mule along these pathways and even a a point. Though the distance is relatively short (0.5 miles) the traveling is so slow and at time tricky.

Certain places you duck under overhanging coffee plants or step carefully over rocky paths. A single bag of cement for a cistern or a building would have to be hauled up by hand.

But honestly, if anyone could or would do it these people would. They are strong people--physically strong. And they are humiliatingly generous, kind, hospitable, and gracious with their words. How many times have I heard people thank God for me and thank me for my 'sacrifice' in coming out to them. I feel extremely unworthy of such kindnesses.

Though they are poor they remain a very happy community. I'm not trying to paint too rosy a picture here. Life is hard. Everything is hauled. Land is tilled by hand. Cisterns are dug by hand. Rocks are smashed up by hand. When they need sand for mixing with cement...they go dig it up from some sandy place and carry it to the building site. No cement trucks or even wheelbarrows.
But here you do see half-naked kids with bloated bellies (worms, most likely...or malnutrition). Here very few of the kids go to school because they cannot afford it. And of those that do attend the 3-4 hours of school per day (all that is currently offered) it is a surprise if more than 1 or 2 from an entire class would go on to high school (in Port-au-Prince or Jeremie).

There are a good number of teachers in each village. That's encouraging! But they are without employment. Either there is no school building or no funding...or both. They seem to be bright, capable people (a number of these folks are part of KPA--the development group). They care deeply for their communities (they could try to find work as a teacher in a bigger city in Haiti, for example) and hold out with hope.

I want to start seeing that hope fulfilled.

Back to School Sales (for Haiti?)

Hi Everyone,

In talking to my mom this morning she suggested that people could purchase extra school supplies this month for Pestel because of the per-school sales going on.  I think it's a great idea!!

The one thing they do not need is paper.  So please don't worry about buying that.  For some reason they can get paper cheaply (And they use a specific kind of lined paper...). 

But pens, pencils, erasers, rulers...all that good stuff...can be easily packed, doesn't weight much, and would be a big help to those who are attending school and their teachers.

We will plan to collect it all and store it until the next trip to Pestel (which...tentatively...may be in late February.  So if you're interested in going down with me...just let me know  :)

If you live in our area (Hershey) you can give it to us.  If up in NH, you can give it to my parents.  Fort those farther away...if you want to give in this way you could send money (either to us, or to the church if you want a tax deduction) and we can purchase things in your name. big bang for the buck.  And doing some real good for a bunch of kids in Pestel!

Great stuff!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dear Diary III

In the afternoon we held a second meeting that included some other local leaders, including the mayor (who is probably my age), a number of teachers, businesspeople, and priests/pastors. We discussed their concerns for Pestel.

From the Mayor's report the government has promised a number of things, including two new school buildings, internet access for the school by the coast, and a paved road up to the main road.
Yet, the Major agreed with the sentiment that it is best not to wait for the government.

There is a story I heard on my last trip that a local deputy for Pestel was given $30,000 for the school in Pestel. The money promptly made its way to Port-au-Prince where it went to help his kids (and his friends' kids) who lived there.
The shame is that this not uncommon. There is a reason that Haiti is ranked as the Most Corrupt nation for 2007. Grrrrr. More on this later.
From the meeting with KPA and with the local leaders two clear priorities emerged:
  1. Clean safe water
  2. Education--both primary and secondary schooling as well as health education

Nakyshia is home!

Nakyshia (2 year old Haitian girl) came home yesterday (Thursday) after having gone through open heart surgery on Tuesday morning.  She is doing great!  Truly, she's bouncing around, happy, and not much slows her down.  Her post-op echocardiogram was remarkably excellent.  The patch that closed the hole in her heart (atrial septal defect) looks perfect; there is no fluid around the heart (which is common), and all is going well.  Her mom Dani is obviously relieved and thrilled.

Thank you to those especially who graciously spent your time to watch our kids and help with meals.  We quite honestly could not have done this without you.

Dani will likely be flying back to Haiti on July 19th.  Nakyshia will stay with us for another month or so beyond that. 

Thank you all for your words of encouragement and prayers!

Jen and Ben

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Deary Diary II

We passed a young man, probably in his 20s, who used to run a restaurant in Pestel until he became ill last year and had to be hospitalized in Port-au-Prince. Ever since he came back, however, he has been in a depression. He cannot be who he once was. He prefers to be busy, active, making meal after meal. But apparently he no longer has the stamina (and confidence?).

At 11am we met with Sister Fidelis' community development group (KPA). There were a little over 30 who attended (some walking about 2 hours from their village). Each gave a report of his/her village about the population size, number of cisterns (including the # of non-functioning cisterns), and latrines.

Here are a few samples from the report:

Village of Abrico = 1,220 population.
# cisterns = 15
# functioning = 11
# latrines = 5
1 public school (government pays teachers)

Village of Toma Elli = 1,500 population.
# cisterns = 8
# functioning cisterns = 6
# latrines = 3
1 private school (no money to pay teachers)

At Abrico for example the public school serves 250 children. The building is one-room, about 20 x 20 feet. The villagers construct temporary structures (out of bamboo) around the structure.

Sadly about 1/3 of their cisterns do not work. They're cracked. From our discussion the reasons for this are either that they dried out (due to a prolonged drought earlier this year...the worst they'd seen in 30 years) or poor construction. They do not have funds to repair them, and this worsens the water situation for Pestel. During the drought many had walked up to 10 miles to find water. That's hard to imagine...but I met these people personally. And when they say they walked to "Corail" (about 10 miles away) I believe them.

Overall I was very encouraged by this meeting. These appear to be well-invested inviduals (volunteers), both men and women.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dear Diary

For the next couple of days I plan to post a few of the notes that I wrote down on my recent trip. Hopefully they're worth reading :)

Yesterday was an interesting day. We started out with breakfast (bananas, rolls, hard-boiled eggs, fresh squeezed orange juice) and then attended a church service by the ocean.

Apparently the church was built by one of the captains. Actually, it was built by the same captain (I posted about earlier on my website) whose overloaded boat capsized off the coast of Haiti. The online article requires an update. The boat actually sank nearer to Port-au-Prince. They are still finding bodies, and the current count is up above 30 that died. Financially the captain is ruined. Until now he has not been seen much in public since the incident. I sense he will rebuild, though. He seems to have drive. When the boat capsized he was in the midst of building another boat (which now sits like a skeleton on a beach).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Overview video of my trip to Pestel, Haiti

Hi everyone,

Here is a link to a short video of my recent trip to Pestel, Haiti.  I will be providing further updates, videos, photos, stories, etc. very soon. 

The trip was a big success from my standpoint.  Everything was accomplished (and then some!) that I had hoped for, and we're about ready to roll ahead with some exciting initiatives.  More to come on that later!

Feel free to share this!

And as always, truly a big thanks to you all for your encouragement and your prayers.  God is doing a really exciting work in Pestel. 

We truly need wisdom as we continue forward.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Howdy from Haiti

So I'm surviving.  It has been HOT and HUMID.   We're talking--mid 90s + humidity.   But it hasn't slowed us down a whole lot.  Every day I have been exhausted, though. 
I arrived back in PAP from Pestel today.  I'll have a lot of really great stuff to report on from Pestel.  And some good video/photos as well.  It'll take me a bit to upload everything, and I will keep you posted as I go.

I am spending tonight and tomorrow (Friday) here at Wings of Hope--the orphanage for handicapped children.  I'll be looking at their medication records, dispensary, talking with the nurse, seeing a few of the folks, and seeing how well the electronic health record works for them.

Nelson and Anderson are both doing very well!  It was really good to be able to see them both again.  

More to come!