Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Haiti Week 5

Wednesday September 14th
What’s Up Everybody?
Well I have been getting a few questions as to what I have been up to, here is a quick update.
I was in Port-au-Prince for the follow up at Wharf Jeremy. Then I spent a day with the Nouvelle Vie trainers in Port-au-Prince having meetings and planning out what we are going to do next.
Then Jeff and I, one of the trainers from Port-au-Prince, went to Hinche to see Delicieux. We had to take a bus and I was worried because most buses in Haiti are school buses with about what looks like 30 000 people in each bus plus luggage and a goat. So we got to the bus station aka. The side of the road and we got on the bus and it was a really nice mini-van type bus. Thank God. And we drove to Hinche and it was a 2 hour drive and it was really nice. We went through the mountains and I got to see the country side.
Hinche is a small town and we didn’t do much. I had a meeting with Delicieux, one of the trainers,  and that was about it. And we stayed in a hotel that was way too expensive, I love paying too much because my skin is white.  And we did a brief tour of town but it was about two streets so I felt like I did the strip in Windsor. Good memory just the same.
The next day Jeff and I went back to Port-au-Prince and I spoke to Dad and Rhonda on Skype. Rhonda mentioned that maybe I should take a mental break. And I didn’t think much of it. And then later in the day I thought to myself that she had a good idea. So in the morning I flew to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. And Carlo and Claudia, who will be Angels in my mind forever, picked me up from the airport and took me to stay at the Art of Living Center. It was heaven. Running water, electricity, food, roads, restaurants and Pizza. It was great. And Skype worked really well there and I was able to talk to everybody at home, so nice. I got a much needed break in the Dominican. I didn’t know how much I needed a break. So I made it 30 days in Haiti before I needed a break. Honestly, if felt like a year in that 30 days. So much happens here in one day, it is amazing. 
And Carlo and Claudia took such great care of me. And there are a few vegetarian restaurants in Santo Domingo, which we went to everyday. We also went to a beach house for a day. It was great. And there is a big Art of Living Community there and they really took care of me. Thank you to everyone.
So interesting that these two countries can exist on the same Island. Everything is different. Language, Economy, Environment, Mind Set, everything.
And then Monday I flew back to Port-au-Prince and got back into life in Haiti. I flew up to Cap-Haitian yesterday and that meant I was away for 18 days from Cap-Haitian (my home in Haiti.) It felt like a few years.
And now I’m back in Cap-Haitian and we will see what happens next.
Last night we had no electricity here in Cap so I was in bed at 8 pm and awake at 4 am. Hilarious.
Lots of Love to everyone.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The UBUNTU-BLOX photos.

Photos Week 4.

Haiti Week 4

Saturday September 3, 2011

Good Morning Everyone,

Well we had our first follow up yesterday at Wharf Jeremy. Estavela and I came up on the bus from Les Cayes for the follow up and we met up with the Port-au-Prince trainers Jeff, Faby, Daielle, Martine and Daniel.

The Port-au-Prince Nouvelle Vie trainers, Jeff, Faby, Daielle, Martine and Daniel started the preparation for the follow up last week on Friday August 26th. They came down with Andre to Wharf Jeremy. Andre was our driver during the course and he volunteered his time to bring the trainers down to Wharf Jeremy last Friday. They went through the neighbourhoods to talk to the women and tell them about the follow up.

We arrived yesterday in Wharf Jeremy and members from community were there to greet us and help us implement the follow up. DeGazon who is the security guard at We Advance and NoNo who is another form of security for We Advance were both there to help us. They had the mega phone and were going around the neighbourhoods reminding the women about the follow up. And Michelin, who runs the local school, was there to escort us up to the place where we were going to do the follow up. It was a very nice welcome.

We went to the hanger where the team had scheduled to do follow up. And the women didn’t know that Estavela was going to be there and they were so happy to see her. They were jumping around when they saw Estavela, they were so excited. I’m not sure that everyone knows but in Haiti people have to put minutes on their phone to make calls and most of the time, most of the people in Haiti don’t have minutes on their phone to make calls. And the women in Wharf Jeremy who are the poorest of the poor put minutes on their phones to call Estavela every day to tell her how much they miss her and how good they are feeling after the course. Amazing. One of the best stories that I have ever heard.

We had a bit of an issue at the hanger because some of the other women from the local neighbourhood were upset because someone borrowed their broom to clean the hanger and others of them thought that we were giving away money and they were not getting any. How this happened I have no idea but Michelin took control and said, “Ok we are going to do follow up at my school.” So we switched the follow up to Michelin’s school which is directly across from We Advance.

And then the follow up started a few mins later and the women kept coming and coming. We had 57 women at the start of the session and by the end of the session the number had grown to 68. It was amazing. We taught the course to 120 women and we had 68 at the morning follow up session. The trainers did such a good job calling of the women and letting all the women know that the follow up was happening. And the women saw real benefit in their lives and they came back for the follow up. It was amazing. The trainers answered questions from the women for the first hour and a half. Then they did a little yoga and a guided meditation.

Also I met someone very interesting at Grass Roots United. His name is Harvey Lacey. He has come up with a system to make houses out of garbage, plastic and Styrofoam. He calls it UBUNTU –BLOXS. This is his website. He has been approached by some pretty big organizations to roll this out in Haiti. But he wants to have the women of Haiti and more specifically the poorest women of Haiti to own this and implement this project. He has made the technology very simple so that the tools to build the homes can be built with the materials available to the poor. It is quite fascinating and could really change the way homes are built here in Haiti and potentially around the world. It is good for the environment, it gives people homes, it empowers people and it cleans up the area. It really is win, win, win and win.

Harvey and his two assistants, Samuel and Frantz, came in and did a presentation to the women. The women were excited once they understood that Harvey’s message is that of them leading the project. He wants it to be like the micro lending in Bangladesh. They will be doing a workshop with the women next Wednesday. So not only have we given these women a great course and untold benefits that they are experiencing in their lives, we have also provided Harvey and his team access to the women of Wharf Jeremy and a potential world changer for these women. Unbelievable.

The afternoon session had 30 women at the session and that session went for 2 and a half hours like the morning session. The women were so happy and content. They had a bit more room in the afternoon so they could do Sudarshan Kriya.

The day was an incredible success. Out of 120 women that came for the course, 98 came for follow up. The trainers did an amazing job. The women loved the program. And Harvey got to introduce the UBUNTU-BOX to Wharf Jeremy. Great success for everyone.

These are two quotes from the women.

Andre – 35 – “Before the course I had a bad heart and now after taking the course and practicing the pranayama’s and the Sudarshan Kriya, I don’t. Every month I had a pain in my waist (which is a common complaint in Haiti) and now it is gone, I don’t have it anymore. “

Stefa – 25 – “The first day of the course I thought that it was joke. The second day of the course when we did the Kriya for the first time, I thought the same. The third day I began to take it more serious. And now it is a remedy for all of my illnesses. “

What a day.

Lots of Love to everyone


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Haiti Week 3

Haiti Week 3. Tuesday August 30, 2011.

What’s Up Everybody?

Well it’s been a little while since I blogged and I have to say I am at a loss to explain everything that I am experiencing. I’ll do my best.

So when I first got down here to Haiti I was working on the women’s courses in Wharf Jeremy and everything was quite busy but at least I had some context as to what we were doing. Then I went to Cap-Haitian (everybody calls it Cap.) and started living at the Nouvelle Vie house.

On the first weekend when I was in Cap I just caught up on my sleep. Then on Monday 22nd I was rested and ready to go and wanted to start working on my job here transitioning Nouvelle Vie to Haitian lead leadership. Well I have to come to learn that what I have been asked to do is not as cut and dry as I thought.

I was all ready to go and wanted to have a meeting with all the teachers in Cap. But not everyone has minutes on their phone to call the others or the others are in areas where they don’t get phone service. And the pace of life is very very slow here. And And And……..basically the last ten days I have been getting to know how to work with Haitians in Haiti in their style. Needless to say it has been very very frustrating, difficult and a learning experience. What everything doesn’t work like Canada? You don’t come on time for a meeting? What?

In my mind I was supposed to come to Haiti and take over as the Director of Nouvellle Vie and implement the transition of leadership from Ex-Pat lead leadership to Haitian led leadership and have Nouvelle Vie be sustainable. This would take 11 months. We would get NGO status from the government and then implement the UNICEF grant. And along the way I would perfect my French and get to see and experience a new culture.

Well now I know that the job that I have been given is next to impossible and it is like saying, Can you go to Afghanistan and transition to a democratic government in 11 months? I have found some humour amongst the craziness.

I found out that the process to become a NGO in Haiti doesn’t take the ‘Two More Weeks’ as we were promised. No, Sir. We are in month seven of the process and it could take up to twelve months until we get official NGO status. And then we have to work with UNICEF to get the proposal together which will take another month or two. So that puts us waiting seven more months for that to start, if it ever does.

And the language in Haiti isn’t French , it is Creole. So I can only talk to a few people who speak French and my French still needs lots of work. And if they don’t know French we play charades to communicate. Hilarious at times and at other times it is ‘poke your eye out’ funny.

Whenever I go for a walk in the street the people call me ‘Blanc’ which is like calling me Whitey. Sometimes funny, sometimes annoying. And if I hang outside somewhere people just stop and stare at me. I feel like a zoo animal sometimes. Again, sometimes funny, sometimes not so much.

The other day I was at my wit’s end as to what to do. I had just spent a week in Cap with the group trying to work on the ‘transition plan.’ And it wasn’t going as ‘I had planned.’ I don’t even know where it was going to be honest. It was just diving me crazy.

So then I had to fly down to Port-au-Prince to go to Les Cayes (which is in the South) but I couldn’t catch the flight to Les Cayes so I had to stay in Port-au-Prince for the day. I called a friend of my Uncle Tony’s named Shane and he said that he would pick me up for supper. So I went to Grass Roots to hang out until Shane came for supper.

Shane picked me up for dinner and he literally was sent from Heaven. He came in a nice car to pick me up and we went out for supper for a couple hours and he really put my mind at east. Shane is an engineer from Toronto and has been working in Haiti for 11 months and speaks English, French and Creole fluently. He has worked in Indonesia after the Tsunami and has worked in Africa. He was a God sent. He is building ten schools here in Haiti.

I was telling him about my frustration and everything that I am experiencing working here in Haiti and he was finishing my sentences for me. Not only that but he gave me insights into what I was experiencing and into Haiti in general. He told me about Maslow hierarchy of needs. And he said that if your basic needs are being met how can you worry about any other needs? You can’t. Like for example at Grass Roots earlier in the day when Shane picked me up there was an emergency because someone had stolen a cell phone. Shane said well if you’re finishing a class and leaving and you see a BlackBerry and you have no money to eat then what do you do???????????????? You take the phone, sell it and eat.

He also told me that it is very difficult to make anything sustainable here in Haiti. Because the mindset is not to maintain things. And if something brakes than some NGO will come and build another one. And he said, “Why would you worry about maintaining anything if you haven’t eaten and have nowhere to sleep?” So he told me that for him what is sustainable is the people that he works with and making them better engineers and better people.

And he told me that a big thing for NGO’s is to think that they are bad if something isn’t maintained or sustained or falls apart during the transition. But he said that if the people you are transferring it to aren’t ready to take over leadership because of their needs not being met than who is to blame?

And he said how difficult it is to work in Haiti. President Martelly first promise to the people was to have 400 houses built immediately after he became President in May. And the houses still aren’t built. And Martelly can’t even appoint the Prime Minister that he wants. Shane said that if the President can’t do these things that he wants than we don’t need to get that worked up if we have problems accomplishing things in Haiti.

And then Shane invited to stay over at his house in the nicest part of Port-au-Prince. We went to the house and it was literally a mansion. I was just laughing how the day before I was so frustrated and didn’t know what to do and was more confused than I have ever been in my whole life. And the next night I was at a mansion in the nicest neighbourhood in Haiti having a cup of tea with a guy from Toronto who had answers to all my troubles.

And it helped me to realize that what I have been asked to do here in Haiti is extremely difficult and most NGO’s are working on this transition period in Haiti and they are having the same problems.

Also I also realized that I might have to change my entire approach to Haiti and what the goal is for me being here. I have been talking with Uma who has run Nouvelle Vie for the last three years on the phone every day as to what to do. This is an extremely interesting process. I hate to write this because it is so cheesy and overdone but I am learning so much here. It almost makes me throw up to write that but it is very true. I was looking at the calendar yesterday and was laughing because I have only been here for three weeks. Insane. It honestly feels like 3 years.

And I am glad that I have been able to keep my sense of humour about all of this. I know that I am not unique and am not the first person to go through this. And talking with Shane was great because he had a great sense of humour. And he gave me a great website: Which is really funny because it makes fun of all the things that I am experiencing now.

I am now down in Les Cayes and the group here is like all the other Nouvelle Vie groups in Haiti, so sweet and so young. That is another thing that I learned from Shane is look at this situation with different eyes. These guys are young and yes the are leaders but they are still going to school and it is a lot to ask anyone to take over an NGO let alone to ask a young person not yet finished their studies.

They took me to the ‘beach’ yesterday which in the end was nice. But it is strange to go to a beach which has garbage everywhere and the good ol’ pigs walking around eating all the garbage. I told them that if my feet fall from going in the water that they would have to call my Dad and tell him. The water was nice and in the end my feet were ok. Not the whole group went in the water because the water was ‘cold’. You know 80 is cold? WTF come to Nova Scotia and you’ll see some cold water. Just another example of the cultural differences.

So my plan is to spend a few more days in Les Cayes and then go to Port-au-Prince to see the group there. I might be there for the follow up with the women’s course in Wharf Jeremy. And then back to Cap. And then?????????????????????? I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Haiti. I might be here for a few more weeks, a few more months or until July 1st. I really don’t know what will happen. But I know that it will be interesting.

Lots of Love to everyone,

Mark Christopher

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Next Update from Haiti

What’s Up Everybody?

Well first off thanks to everyone for their nice emails and kind words of support after my last blog update and photos.

So the last thing that I posted was that I as I was writing my Blog and uploading my photos the room that I was in flooded. What? Yup, flooded. It was raining quite hard but I was shocked when my room in the hotel which was on the 2nd floor flooded. So I go to the reception and I am completely soaked and I tell the guy that my room flooded and he looks at me like I told him that I needed a bar of soap or something. Then after a few mins he says that he’ll send someone up. Ok thanks. So 30 mins later a guy walks in the room and says something to himself in Creole and then leaves. 20 mins he comes back with another guy and they talk to each other in Creole for a few mins and then they come back 15 mins later with three towels and a bucket. I tell them that I think that we should switch rooms. Suddenly they speak French and agree with me and after about 3 hours I get a new room. Oh Haiti, I love you.

Monday and Tuesday was the last two days of our women’s course in Wharf Jeremy. It was so nice to see how happy these women were. The last day of the course the women on the course got there early to set up the venue. These women felt so much ownership over the program that they got there early and set up the venue. And this is women who have to wake up at 4 am or so to get water for the day for the family and cook food for the family and wash all the clothes. They did all that and many of them might have been beaten the night before or worse. And on Sunday night there was a shooting in the neighbourhood that we were in. Crazy. Amongst all that they came and helped set up the course venue. It really was incredible. It was one of the nicest moments of my life.

We interviewed many of the women after the course and again they told us the nicest things. Our Nouvelle Vie trainers did such a great job teaching their fellow Haitians the course. We Advance provided us with a venue and the trust of the community to deliver this course. And, Andrea and Hunter, the founders of Aid Still Required were the engine that drove this project. And our driver Andre turned out to be the best guy ever who helped us in countless ways. And most importantly some of the most hard done by women in the world were able to sleep a little bit better and be a bit calmer, happier and OK with themselves. . I really can’t describe how satisfying it was to work on this course.

So we finished that project and at 8 am the next morning I had a meeting at the UN Log Base in Port au Prince. It was so funny all the different experiences that you have here in a one day. I had a meeting with UNICEF to discuss Nouvelle Vie and UNICEF working together. Often at these moments in my life I think to myself, how in the hell did I end up in this situation? I’m just a kid from Windsor, Nova Scotia and I’m having a meeting with the UN. Most of the times in those meetings I am trying not say anything dumb or inappropriate.

The meeting with UNICEF went well and we should be working with them soon. We are waiting for official NGO status here in Haiti which we should have in the next week or two. It is the official NGO status so that we will be the same as Care for Children and OXFAM. Our approval is on the Minister of Plannings desk and we are waiting for his approval and after that happens then we can get our grant from UNICEF and start offering our programs in Cap-Haitian and Les Cayaes. Can everyone please take a second and say a prayer so that the we get our NGO status asap?

This is what I learned from meeting with UNICEF. Nouvelle Vie is psycho social capacity building program which is both sustainable and scalable. I had no idea a week ago about what any of those words meant. Thanks to Uma for helping me learn what everyone was saying. Ha ha.

Then I went back to Grass Roots United to wait for the plane to take me up to Cap-Haitian where I will be spending most of my time in Haiti. Sam is the founder of Grass Roots United and is a super cool guy from California and we met for the first time the other day and we hit it off immediately. I was telling him about my UNICEF meeting in the morning and he laughed and told me that they put him on the steering committee for Haiti and he had to have a cheat sheet for all the acronyms. I told him that I am glad to know that I have a brother in Haiti.

Then I flew up to Cap and it was so nice to get here. Cap-Haitian is up in the North of Haiti. It is the 2nd largest city in Haiti but it is so much more chilled out then Port au Prince. Port au Prince is like New York/Toronto and Cap-Haitian is like Halifax. I like the pace here.

Wilner and Lesley are both here in Cap. They are both 30 and Wilner is the Assistant Director of Nouvelle Vie. We have a house here which is more like an Ashram. They whole group from Nouvelle Vie gets together every day at 6 am to do Yoga and Sudarshan Kriya. And in the day they do some type of service work. And at 6 pm they do a Meditation and then Satsang (where they sing.) And they do this every day.

There is always about ten people in the house. Which is nice. They all speak French but they really speak Creole. So I’m not sure if I’m going to learn French or Creole this year?

I have a room here and a washroom with a shower which is nice. But it is still Haiti and the other day I was in the shower and it stopped working. I asked why and Wilner told me it was because there was no electricity and therefore the water pump didn’t work. And this morning someone went to the toilet and it wouldn’t flush and after two hours I had to put the #2 in a plastic bag and take it to the outhouse/commode. Great way to push the buttons of someone with OCD.

Everyone sleeps on the roof because it is too hot in the house at night. That is kind of nice. Bedtime is around 8:30 or 9 pm and everyone wakes up at 5 am or so with the sun.

I found peanut butter yesterday which is nice. And I got a phone so I can get emails now and BBM. Life is getting more and more normal every day. I still have a lot to learn. But I feel like I’m home now in Cap. And now it is to begin to work on the project.

Many people have asked what specifically will I be doing when I am here. My job here in Haiti is to transition Nouvelle Vie into a Haitian run organization. This should take 12 – 16 months. To make the project sustainable (meaning that it will continue) and scalable (that it can grow and others can join, learn and teach others). And to have measured support through methods and evaluations (which means that we do research to show what we are doing works and will keep working).

A few more things to add.

My little brother Nick keeps asking me if I have lost weight. And I don’t know if I have but I literally sweat 24 hours a day. Even in Air Conditioning which is hilarious. And when I do Yoga it looks like I just jumped into a pool. People have been asking how hot is it? I don’t know the answer to that, it is just hot all the time.

A great girl named Dorota from Atlanta, Ga and Poland was just here teaching an English class here in Cap and she just left to go home. She came two years ago and loved it so much here that she had to come back. And now I am alone in Haiti with the Nouvelle Vie team. Things should get interesting.

The Haitian people are so nice, beautiful, warm and welcoming. I just went out to put on my shoes and they told me that one of the little boys who hangs around the house was washing them. So nice but I can’t leave the house. Oh Haiti.

I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out Haiti but I’m definitely going to learn a lot here.

And last rambling thought. Haiti’s history is fascinating. They were the first slaves to every throw out the rulers. And ever since 1804 things have bloody and tumultuous here in Haiti.

That’s all for now.

Lots of Love to everyone,

Mark Christopher