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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Oh Haiti

As I was typing the blog and putting up the pictures. The room that I was in flooded. Oh Haiti. I love and hate you.

Can you access the photos?

Please let me know if you can access the photos?

Photos from Haiti week 1.

Haiti Round 2

What's Up Everybody

Well here it is one week into my journey into Haiti. And it has been very eventful to say the least. Where to start?

Ok well I left the Ashram last Sunday morning at 3 am to catch my plane in Montreal for 6:30 am and I got there at 4:30 am thanks to the wonderful driving of the great Fred Buchet. I got checked in and was through customs in a few mins and thought to myself so far so good. Then I flew to Newark and then to Miami. I basically slept the whole way and then we got onto the plane for Port au Prince. And I was super nervous, super nervous in the Fry way so I basically talked to everyone around me about many many irrelevant things. Sadly many of you have had to experience this over the years, it's even worse for strangers.

Then we taxied onto the runway to take off for Port au Prince and I was so tired that I fell asleep for about an hour and a half. The flight to Port au Prince is an hour and a half. So I woke up thinking that I was in Port au Prince but we still hadn't left Miami. So I went back to sleep and woke up 2 hours later and we were still in Miami. So after a 4 hour delay on the run way we went back into the gate and they put us up in Hotels for the night. And I am not going to lie to anyone, I was excited to be at the hotel and not in Port au Prince. I was scared to go back to Haiti after it kicked my butt so bad last time. Anyway we were off to the hotel and I was off to bed and got up in the morning and took off for the airport. This time the flight took off and 2 hours later I was back in Haiti.

I got into Port au Prince and customs and the luggage area are basically the same place so it is this crazy mess of people from all flights going through customs and hoping that their bags are there. So after this circus you get to go outside and hope that somebody is waiting to pick you up. And it is about a 700 meter walk to get to where people wait to pick you up so it is crazy because people are trying to get you take their cab, sleep at their hotel, etc...

So I finally get out with my bag and can't find my driver and am a little worried. Then after ten minutes I find my driver and one of the Teachers from Nouvelle Vie. Nouvelle Vie,, is the project that has been set up by the International Association for Human Values the sister organization of the Art of Living in Haiti. The Nouvelle Vie is a group of 19 Haitian Youth who have undergone 5 months of training to become Art of Living Teachers. The Nouvelle Vie youth corps has also taken the initiative to start projects which address community dis-empowerment , mentorship program to vulnerable children, sexual education for risky sexual behavior, food security workshops and sanitation (composting projects). You can see all of their photos and profiles on the website. This is the group of people that I will be working with this year in Haiti.

So our driver, Andre, and Estavella, one of the trainers, and I go off to the hotel. So we get to the hotel and it is decent for Haiti. It has a bed and a toilet, sink and a shower. And no door to block off the bathroom but at least there is a running toilet. And we all know that I have had my bathrooms issues over the years so it nice to have a working toilet. I bought a camera and will post pictures after I am done writing this blog today.

Then we go off to Wharf Jeremy which is Cite Soliel. Cite Soliel is one of the poorest slums in the western hemisphere. And Wharf Jeremy is one of the poorest places in Cite Soliel.

We were teaching a course in Wharf Jeremy collaborating with two other groups. Aid Still Required,, which is run by Hunter Payne and Andrea Herz Payne. And We Advance. And at Wharf Jeremy We Advance is run by Alison Thompson.

And from Nouvelle Vie we had four teachers and one organizing at Wharf Jeremy. Estavella, Lovely, Faby, Jeff and Delicieux.

So I haven't been around Port au Prince and on the way to Wharf Jeremy it is amazing what you see. There is so much destruction everywhere. And there really are tent cities everywhere. And people everywhere. And lots of traffic. And Wharf Jeremy is hard to explain. There is sewage and garbage everywhere and there are so many children everywhere. A lot of them are orphans. And they call white people Blancs and they all ask you for a dollar when you see them. There are pigs all over the place eating garbage. There is people bathing in the streets. And we went for a walk yesterday around Wharf Jeremy and we walked by an open sewer with garbage and shit everywhere and it smelled so bad that I almost puked.And still the people here are so happy and beautiful and children are playing everywhere. And these play games with literally nothing. It seems that they can play soccer with anything.

So Alison from We Advance is one of the most interesting people that I have ever met. She just wrote a book,, about her experience of doing volunteering after the Tsunami and how it started after 9/11 in New York and how she is working now in the Haiti. She told me that she was so happy to have Nouvelle Vie offering meditation and breathing techniques to the people of Wharf Jeremy.

A bit of a backdrop, Hunter and Andrea from Aid Still Required wanted to help in Haiti and they are good friends with Alison and Alison said that after food and water what people said that they need most is mental health in Port au Prince. We Advance runs a free medical clinic in Wharf Jeremy and they have volunteers from all over the world at the clinic as well as local Haitian doctors and nurses. Every morning there are about 80 to 150 people waiting at the clinic. The local community has embraced We Advance. Local gang members provide protection for the We Advance site.

So Hunter and Andrea wanted to do a project in Haiti and wanted to work with Alison. Alison mentioned mental health and Hunter and Andrea came across Novelle Vie and heard the good reviews and asked if we could offer the course to the women. The women of Wharf Jeremy suffer from sever gender based violence. Many many many of the women have been raped and Alison saw a case last week where a 4 year girl had gonorrhoea after being raped by 16 men. Mind Blowing.

Last Monday we offered a course to these women and we had 24 women come for the 8 am session and 33 for the afternoon session. On Thursday we had 12 women finish the morning program and 24 finish the afternoon session. The women were so happy. One woman said that she no longer sees colour in people and only sees love in peoples heart. She said that she know will live in her heart full of Love. Another lady said that she is 63 and has lived with pain in her whole body for many many many years. She said that the pain in her body is gone now except for a bit in her legs. She was crying she was so happy. It was unbelievable to see how happy these women were.

We started another course yesterday and we got such good reviews in the community that we had 29 women for the morning session and 50 for the afternoon session. All of these women came for the second course because they heard the benefit that their neighbours had gotten. It is such a nice way to start my adventure in Haiti.

I have got to see so much of Port au Prince. I have been to the poorest slums and I have been to the richest area and restaurants. It is very strange
to eat a pizza and have a coke when an hour earlier you were in a place where people don't eat at all.

Here are some more thoughts/experiences because I want to put the photos up:

Haiti is like a bad lover. It breaks your heart our and then put it back together the next moment. Ex. Just staring at the poverty in Wharf Jeremy and feeling so bad and then a little kid comes up and grabs your hand and just smiles.

Hunter and Andrea have been great. And they do lots of work with NBA players so Hunter and I have talked lots of ball, which is always nice.

It is funny to work and do everything in French. And Creole is the main language here and is something that will take me a little while to get used to and a little while longer to learn.

Working with the Nouvelle Vie team is funny because they don't say much in the meetings and after the meetings they ask me many questions in reference to what the meeting was about. Very frustrating.

Everything in Haiti starts at least 30 mins after the time that is set to start from when the course, to when we leave the hotel, to ordering food, to every aspect of life.

Very interesting to have the gang members in Wharf Jeremy protect our course. One of the gang members has stayed by the tent the whole week and won't let anyone in but the course participants.

The earthquake happened 18 months ago and so much of Port au Prince is still destroyed.

The tent cities and the way that people live is very hard to see and/or believe.

The people in Haiti still look like their going to the club all the time and both men and women are beautiful.

My year in Haiti is going to be a roller coaster at certain points I will want to leave (this has already happened a few times this week) and at other points I will be so fulfilled that their is no where that I would rather be that Haiti.

I'll do my best to blog and post photos.

Lots of Love to everyone

Mark Christopher Fry

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Republic of Haiti

Well it’s Tuesday May 31, 2011 and I’m sitting at the Double Tree Hotel in Miami, Florida after spending a week in Haiti. And I would like to start out by saying that Haiti without question kicked my butt. I thought that I was somewhat of a world travel and that I would be able to handle Haiti without much problem, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyday Haiti won. It was like I was in a fight with George St.Pierre and I just kept getting knocked out over and over again. And the funniest part is that I loved it and look forward to going back.

Anyway, I got into Miami last Tuesday May 24th and it was a pretty simple day of travel and then on Wednesday May 25th I went to the airport in Miami to fly to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As soon as I went to check in I knew that things were going to be interesting because there was no line for check in. There was just tons of people walking back and forth to the counter from the place where the line was supposed to be. They were yelling in English, French, Haitian Creole and Spanish. The main problem seemed to be that most passengers wanted to get onto the plane with many difference carry-ons such as: a television set, a chair, giant home stereo and many other large boxes that wouldn't fit into the average car trunk and couldn't understand why the airline wouldn't let them take these things as carry-ons. So I knew from this moment that I was in for a week to remember in Haiti.

I landed in Haiti and much like India was greeted by hundreds of people who are like piranhas offering to carry my bag, get me a cab and a hotel but as if they are all on crack and have known me since I was 5 years old. I managed to walk through them all and found a police officer and asked him where I could find such and such a person who was waiting for me, the officer pointed out a man to me and said that this was the man that I was looking for, so I thought to myself “great.”

We walked a few more feet and then I saw a sign with my name on it and I saw the actually person who was supposed to pick me up. Meanwhile the random guy who the cop told me was there to get me was walking through the parking lot with my bag, so I ran him down and got my bag. I thought to myself, “what just happened, aren't the police supposed to help?” Then as I was pondering this experience a UN tank rolled by. What? Where am I? Welcome to Haiti Mark Christopher Fry.

My actually driver took to Grass Roots United. Grass Roots United is an NGO which does many things and one of their main features is to connect non-profits. You can check them out at: Basically they provide a place for non-profits to gather, meet, and connect while providing a sense of family and stability. They are wonderful, thank you a million Grass Roots.

Uma Viswanathan, who has been the director of Nouvelle Vie for the past few years, came into Port-au-Prince later in the day and we met up at Grass Roots. Nouvelle Vie will be the project that I will be heading up when I come back to Haiti in August for the year. Uma gave me an intro to Haiti and got me up to speed on what we would be doing the upcoming week. Here’s the link to Nouvelle Vie:

The next few days was me experiencing the ‘intro’ that Uma gave me to Haiti. So Haiti works like this, the electricity cuts out all the time, people go to bed around 8 or 9 pm. And everybody and I mean everybody is up by 4:30 am and if you wake up at 5 am, you've slept in. They eat a big breakfast, like what we eat for supper. They have an average sized lunch and a very very small supper, like a roll or something. There isn't really any running water. There isn't much infrastructure. There is extreme poverty and everybody is quite happy.

So we went to bed the first night at 8:30 which seemed like midnight and we had showers before we went to bed. By shower I mean I stood in a stall with no roof and used a bucket for a shower. Went to bed in a tent that was built for someone 5 feet tall not 6 feet tall, which made for a night’s sleep similar to a Chevy Chase movie. The next day everybody was up at 5 am and Uma and I went to the airport for 7 am to fly to Cap Haitian which everyone calls Cap. Cap is the second biggest city in Haiti and where Nouvelle Vie (New Life) does most of its work. Cap wasn’t directly affected by the earthquake so I didn’t get to see the directly affected areas. I will see all of this when I get back to Haiti in August and spend more time in Port-au-Prince.

I forgot to mention that in Haiti they speak Haitian Creole as the National Language and educated people speak French. So everything that is happening in the story is happening in French or Creole, which adds to how Haiti Kicked My Butt. I kept saying to myself that Haiti was ‘Having a Laugh at My Expense,” or as my brother’s and I always say, “Having One.”

So we flew up to Cap and I got to see the deforestation of Haiti. There are no trees. It is crazy. As we flew up from Port-au-Prince to Cap, there were no trees and it was a 30 min flight. Absolutely mind blowing.

Then we landed in Cap and one of the youth from Nouvelle Vie was there to meet us. We went to the house in Cap where Nouvelle Vie does all of its work. The group of the Nouvelle Vie Youth Corps is a group of 19 Haitian Youth who have been selected from hundreds and hundreds of Haitian Youth who have taken the Art of Living Courses offered in Haiti. All Art of Living Courses in Haiti are offered through the sister organization of the Art of Living called the International Association for Human Values, And in Haiti the project is called Nouvelle Vie.

This group ranges in ages from 21 – 34. Today, Tuesday May 31, 2011, they just finished a five month intensive program. In this program they did the Art of Living Teachers Training Program and became Art of Living Teachers. They also took a perma culture course where they implemented a compost perma culture site in the local market.

They got the local government to remove garbage from the local market and put in the compost perma culture site, which has various compost sites and various gardens. The site is about 200 feet by 200 feet and the garbage was piled about 15 feet high. I went to this site and it was truly amazing. From a giant garbage pile to a beautiful garden in just a few months.

They also developed a workshop for the youth of Haiti about Sexual awareness because many Haitians are sexually promiscuous and HIV is quite rampant in Haiti. And they developed and implemented a program for youth mentorship. They also took entrepreneurship courses and are working on business ideas for the different areas of Haiti.

These 19 youth come from 5 different parts of Haiti. The goal of Nouvelle Vie is to empower the people to Haiti to take ownership of their country and to heal their country. As the Nouvelle Vie youth corps say, they want to bring Paix (Peace) to Haiti. They want to bring this Paix to everybody by giving them the experience of a quite, still and peaceful mind. And they want to establish in the people of Haiti the belief that they do not need foreign aid to ‘save’ Haiti, that Haitians themselves can do this. It was quite humbling to spend time with these 19 youth who are truly empowered and want to bring this real change to their Country.

And the work of Nouvelle Vie is being noticed by many higher ups and many big and powerful NGO’s. Many of these business leaders and NGO’s want to work with Nouvelle Vie and empower all of Haiti like these 19 are empowered.

So, this is the program that I will be working on in the upcoming year. It was going to be quite exciting.

And, on the lighter side there are my personal experiences in Haiti. I mean Haiti was wild. It was crazy. I have never seen anything like it. I don’t think that I have gone to bed before 8 pm since I was 5 years old and most days I was dying to go to bed by 8 pm. The days there are so long and full. Imagine everyone awake and moving around your city/town at 5 am and the day just goes from there.

And everyone is Haiti is beautiful. Every man looks like Usher. They are all ripped and it seems that everyone is born with a 6 pack. And the women are all very voluptuous. And no one in Haiti dresses conservatively. They change their clothes 3 to 4 times a day, it is like they are always going to the club. And on Sunday I went to Church and the outfits? Indescribable. Let’s just say that I was severely under dressed in my t-shirt and shorts.

And the bathrooms????? For those who know me well, know that I have some bathroom Karma especially from India. Well Haiti was like a war zone in the bathroom. In the house where we were staying, I called the bathroom the War Zone and Uma called it Hell. I was actually afraid to go the bathroom. Many many things I will miss about Haiti but the bathroom will not be one of them.

And because of the lack of infrastructure in Haiti especially Sewage and Waste you are greeted by, shall we say, smells of the toilet when you least expect it. It was like a little jab from Haiti. You could be doing anything anywhere and then all of a sudden BAM, THE SMELL. Thanks Haiti, you win again.

There weren't really any roads. The ‘main road’ in Cap was like a back road in Canada with huge potholes everywhere. And of course there was motorbikes with 3-4 people on them, trucks with 20 – 30 people (F150 Style) on them, buses (school bus) with I don’t know how many people on them? 300? and taxis’ all over the roads plus pedestrians. Crazy Crazy Crazy.

Also along the road there are burnt out trucks/vans/cars/buses/etc… that are completely gutted. I asked someone why are they there? They said, “ Well they stopped working so people took what they needed and then left the rest.”

Anyway, that is all for now. I’ll write more when I’m back down in August and I’ll post pics and other stuff.

Until August Haiti


Mark Christopher