Oh Haiti, you got me real good. Before I even start I’ll tell you this is definitely going to be wordy so my apologies if you’re not interested. You can wait til next week for my regularly scheduled recipe and sarcasm.
Last Sunday I got up bright and early and flew to Port-au-Prince, Haiti by way of Miami. There were 13 of us from Sonova- a mixture of audiologists, speech-language pathologists, sign language interpreters, and administrative assistants.
We were picked up in a tap-tap (kind of like an open air taxi that seats a whole bunch of people) and taken to the guest quarters at New Life Children’s Home.
New Life is essentially an orphanage for children who have been abandoned or who have parents who cannot afford to care for them. There are probably 50-60 kids living there, and they have a separate guest house where we stayed. It was so nice to be there because we could walk over to the nursery every night to snuggle babies!
Monday morning we headed to a school in Cite Soleil, which is kind of a rough neighborhood. This tiny school holds about 300 kids on any given day.
I got emotional walking through it- in the US we talk about classroom sizes and student to teacher ratios and classroom acoustics. In this building there were 5 “classrooms” barely separated by half walls and kids sitting on top of each other on benches. But they were so happy to be there and so eager to learn.
We did hearing screenings on over 60 kids that first day- luckily we didn’t find any kiddos with hearing concerns- just took a LOT of wax out of ears. Many of these kids have never seen a pediatrician before. They were more stoic about the wax removal than pretty much any adult I’ve ever encountered.
After the kids were let out of school we headed to an area of Haiti called Metal Works, where several artists make sculptures and wall art out of old steel drums and recycled metal. It was so cool and we all went home with lots of souvenirs.
Tuesday we went to Peace Cycle, which was started by a young American woman who said she moved to Haiti with her life savings and a Creole dictionary with a mission.
They don’t have clean drinking water in Haiti, so most Haitians rely on these water bags. The country goes through about 5-8 MILLION of these bags EVERY DAY.
One thing you’ll notice right away when driving through Haiti- there is trash everywhere. All over the streets. There isn’t really a means for waste removal, let alone recycling. The girl who started Peace Cycle (Rose) explained that people used to be able to discard their trash without an issue- throwing an apple core or a mango skin or an avocado seed on the ground was okay because it was all biodegradable. But plastic was introduced to Haiti all at once, not gradually like here in the US. So all of a sudden throwing your garbage on the ground wasn’t okay anymore, and it has become a huge issue. Peace Cycle employs Haitian people to collect the water bags, clean them, and turn them into products. She had a whole assembly line of workers cleaning and cutting and ironing and sewing the bags (see Mr. Pierre below on the sewing machine). She’s also teaching them English which is amazing. Again, more souvenirs.
Then we went to Apparent Project and Papillon. This organization was created to allow Haitian men and women to have jobs (Papillon has a store and a cafe) while their children had access to childcare (Apparent Project right across the street). We screened the kids at Apparent Project and then went over to Papillon to do some shopping and get a snack and a beer.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent at Haiti Deaf Academy in Cabaret, which is really more of a children’s home than an actual school, though the kids do go to a school in Leveque. These kids all have severe hearing loss, so we were checking and fixing hearing aids for those who had them, doing hearing tests, and fitting hearing aids on kids who are new to the Academy.
This was a lot of Creole/English/American Sign Language/Haitian Sign Language being thrown around but we got a lot accomplished and the kids were SO cute. This kiddo drew a picture of our van coming to their school!
Friday we went back to the same school as Day 1 to screen more kids. Again, more wax removal. Both Monday and Friday we also brought the kids lunch. The leader of the school explained that many of these kids don’t get breakfast, and that they used to have a lunch program at the school but they lost their funding. We passed out sandwiches and it was heartbreaking to see a 4-year-old take a few bites and then wrap it up to take home and share with their families. The level of grace and maturity in these children is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the US.
While Haiti is without a doubt the poorest country I have ever seen, its people are probably some of the happiest. They are gracious, respectful, and appreciative. They take great pride in their appearance- their clothes were freshly pressed (with an iron that uses hot coals- most don’t have running water let alone electricity) and well fitted. They were so happy to have us there.
And I can’t wait to go back!