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: http://stuffexpataidworkerslike.com/. 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, http://nouvelleviehaiti.org/, is the project that has been set up by the International Association for Human Values http://www.iahv.org/ 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 nouvellevithaiti.org 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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cit%C3%A9_Soleil.

We were teaching a course in Wharf Jeremy collaborating with two other groups. Aid Still Required, http://aidstillrequired.org/home, which is run by Hunter Payne and Andrea Herz Payne. And We Advance. http://weadvance.org/. 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, http://www.lasplash.com/publish/Entertainment/cat_index_nyc_events/The_Third_Wave_-_An_Alison_Thompson_Documentary.php, 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