July 10, 2014 - Roads, Trees and Shopping by Erica Emelander

Our last full day in Haiti feels bittersweet. There is a part of me, and others, that cannot wait for the bacon cheeseburger that awaits us in the States. However, we also feel some sorrow. The Haitians are a wonderful people, and were tough to leave. It will also be hard to say goodbye to our fellow delegates. It is amazing how complete strangers come together, share joys and sorrows, and can come together as friends.


This morning, we did some last-minute activities, wrapping up some projects, including putting finishing touches on a painting of birds in a tree in the post-partum room at the clinic. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to the people of Grand-Bois.

The ride down the mountain jostled us, but we were able to make some meaningful stops. Our first stop was to visit workers building a road. We stopped and hopped out of the truck, then walked a short way to the workers. The sound of metal hitting rock greeted us. As we continued, Scott explained that ServeHAITI is financing the road. As we approached, we could hear workers singing in time with their pickaxes striking the rock. It was amazing to see the teamwork and the hard work of the men. Even with the sun beating down on their backs, they worked hard on a road that would lead to a potential well. This well, if successful, will allow people to have closer access to water. Before, the women and children would have to walk hours to get fresh water. It was a wonderful experience to witness.

Next, we stopped at a Haitian school. Before we even walked in, I noticed that where American schools would have a playground, or maybe a ball field, this school had a cow pasture. We walked into the first room, and the classroom dividers were so short that we could see the whole length of the school. Each room had a blackboard and there was a blow-up globe hanging between two rooms. We learned that there were plans to make the school nicer, so hopefully that will come to be.


Our final stop before going to our lodging for the night was an Artisan Market in Port au Prince. (www.apparentproject.org) The proprietor is woman who came with her husband to adopt but found many children actually had loving parents, they just couldn’t afford to keep them. She decided to create job opportunities so parents could afford to keep their babies. She runs a huge business employing 200 Artisans and pays them a decent wage and even provides health insurance! She sells their items in many venues including the shop in PAP that is run by Haitians. They create metal artwork, jewelry, dolls, soap, bags, ceramics, paper maché and much more. We spent a lot of time there and were able to support the people by getting some gifts to bring home. We were also able to take advantage of their café, getting slushies and smoothies!

We finally made it to “Bob’s” and spent a lot of time reflecting, both casually and officially. There were lots of laughs and maybe a few tears, but one thing was certain: we have all been changed for the better because of the opportunity we had and our trip to the wonderful nation of Haiti.

July 9, 2014 - by Kari Dirksen

Our last full day in Grand-Bois and our group was determined to make the most of it! Although some of us started off a little tired both physically and emotionally, we pulled ourselves together to c…onnect with people, finish projects, and enjoy the trip.

Erica, Michelle, and Kaylee finished teacher training with our educators. They all graduated from the training and we had a ceremony for them outside the clinic on the front steps. They were all really excited to receive their certificates. After that the administrators of each school came to receive a bag full of school supplies, it was pretty incredible to see one of them walking down the road with a huge chalkboard.

Scott and Paige talked to the local Health Workers and presented them with rubber boats and ponchos. They were so grateful. Each of them has to walk really far during the day and this is going to help them get through the mountains to homes when it rains. It was a great meeting to connect and really hear what they need and how grateful they are for the items.

Paige, Ann, Melissa, and I hung out at the water well by the clinic throughout the day taking portraits of the people and asking them questions about their lives. Melissa and I followed two different Haitian families back to their home to get some footage of where they have to hike with a water jug on their head or a donkey carrying multiple water jugs uphill. As we got to one of the houses and asked the family some questions, the father showed us how their house was still damaged from the 2010 earthquake. It seems crazy to think that 4 years later and they still don’t have the money to fix one wall in their house but they have it patched up the best they can. It’s been a fun project to capture portraits and footage of how people in Grand-Bois live. Even though I can never fully know or understand what it’s like, I was able to get a glimpse into their life and see the hardships they face every day but I also saw the happiness that they find in the little victories and small things in life.

In the afternoon we drove to a church to deliver some items and then drove to the Dominican Republic. We hiked down a hill to a stone that shows the dividing line between the two countries to take some pictures and take in the amazing views in front of us. Needless to say it was one bumpy ride but the views alone made the trip worth it! We made it back to the clinic just in time before the rain really came down.

That evening we created our own dance party with some of the kids of the parents that work here at the clinic. We busted out some sparklers, glow sticks, and good dance moves! To top off the evening the group surprised Anne and I with a birthday cake made by one of the ladies at the local bakery. It was pretty delicious! We are off to Port-Au-Prince today so that we can catch our flights on Friday morning. We feel like we accomplished a lot, but know there is so much more that will always need to be done. Just because we are leaving doesn’t mean the work stops, there is plenty we all can do back home. Down the mountain we go!

Tuesday July 8,2014 - by Melissa Pitelli

Tuesday started off with the hopes that Melissa, Anne, and Kari would begin walking back to the home of a mother who just gave birth to her newborn baby girl Karianne Michel, named after Kari and Anne -who experienced watching the birth in the clinic. But being on island time in Haiti things didn’t happen as quickly as we originally expected. The next four hours we waited for the mother to be dismissed by one of the nurses or doctors, but they were busy stitching up a young Haitian man’s head. He had fallen out of the bed of the truck as they were making their way down the mountain. Paige was in the truck and described the experience as very emotional to her, because of the lack of emotion they displayed. The group riding along made it seem like it was no big deal. After the young man was all stitched up, the new mother was dismissed from the clinic.

We began our hike to the home of the mother, father, and mother-in-law (grandma). Grandma took the lead while also carrying Karianne, making all of us struggle to keep up with her. We hiked up the mountain which was a very steep and difficult hike. Taking forty-five minutes we finally reached our destination. As soon as we arrived Grandma began to sing and pray for the baby. She then explained later on in the interview that she was blessing the baby and that she was an angel and no demons could enter the house now. The baby’s mother told us that the grandmother had already traveled three days from close to the Dominican Republic. The maternal grandmother would travel for three hours to see the baby for only a few hours before she returned home , walking another three hours.


While in the house, the family’s neighbors gathered outside the house (over 20 people). We were thinking that it was because they were there to welcome the baby home, but it might have been because there were so many blan (what Americans are called by the Haitians)! After trekking up the mountain 45 minutes and back down 45 minutes, we talked about how that distance was considered a “close” distant for many families. Many have to travel over 5 hours to get to the clinic. We were exhausted after the trip and we were only carrying ourselves and not a newborn baby or gallon jugs of water. Another new appreciation of the challenges they face each day. The father of the baby walked us halfway back down the mountain as we were all concerned we would get lost on the way back!

Teacher training was another successful day. A visiting Geometry teacher spent a long time teaching the class. Erica, Kaylee, and Michelle explained during evaluation at the end of the night that they did not know whether the teachers were engaged in the activities because they were very expressionless. But Alfred, the translator for the classroom explained that they were like sponges and just absorbing as much of the information as they could. One teacher stood out in particular to Erica, Kaylee, and Michelle as she reviewed all of her notes from the day before and was very active in the classroom activities.

Paige commented during reflection about her time in Bouchan. She rode down with Dr. Leo to deliver food to the men working on a new road to a possible new well site. The project is being funded by ServeHAITI and the 23 workers have already gotten a lot done. They expressed their gratitude to ServeHAITI for the support and noted that the road will mean a lot to them. Paige got video of the workers as they sang and worked in a cadence.

There were also another three babies born today. Of the three laboring women, we had no idea that two of them were in labor because of their silence and calm demeanor!
 

Sunday July 6th, 2014- Feast of St. Pierre

Our first full day in Grand-Bois and it was an exciting one! A lot happened in our first day here at the clinic but it really got us excited for the rest of the week and what’s to come. We started the day off walking down the mountain to go to mass. Since it is the festival of St. Peter, it was pretty busy with church goers and people attending the festival. Service was longer than expected (3 hours) but there were some really cool traditions with the offering (live goats and food), beautiful music to sing along to and not even knowing the language we were able to find where we were in the program. We joined some community members at the rectory for brunch and then headed back up the mountain via the truck.

Last week we found out that the Youth Association here wanted a new guitar, so with generous donations from ServeHAITI volunteers we were able to buy a guitar and present it to them yesterday. They were so appreciative and even performed a short performance for us using the new guitar. One of the members told us that if it wasn’t for ServeHAITI and what we are doing here in the community, they wouldn’t be able to accomplish their dreams.

Afterwards the group decided to go on a little walk to get some fresh air and see the markets. Of course little ones were in tow latching on to all of us girls. Kari had her camera along and the kids loved modeling and posing for her. They couldn’t get enough of posing and then looking at their photo on the screen. She’s excited to work on her project this week talking to families, interviewing them, and capturing their portraits so she can share their story.

After heading back to the clinic, more excitement was in store for us. A man had come into the clinic because he broke his femur after a wall fell on him. We were all able to take a look at it but found out that he would need to be transported down the mountain to a hospital in Port-Au-Prince. Our group initiated the idea to contribute money to the family so that he could get down the mountain and Paige was able to present them with $100. Our group this week is taking initiative in any way we can to help out the people here in Grand-Bois.

Shortly after that, a mother came in to give birth and Ann and Kari were so excited to throw on their scrubs and get into the patient’s room where they helped deliver the baby. We forgot to mention yesterday was Ann’s birthday! What a great birthday present! The new little girl in the clinic is named Daphne and mom and baby are doing well.

As we wound down the night, Erica, Michelle, and Kaylee prepped for Teacher Training on Monday. Melissa, Ann, and Kari finished up some projects in the clinic with Scott and Paige and then we capped off the night with a great reflection. We discussed the excitement of the day, our experiences, answering questions about Haitian culture and prepping for the days ahead here in beautiful Grand-Bois!

July 5, 2014 - The Start of Week 3

Week 3 is off to an excellent start! Scott is already enjoying being the only man among several women (Paige, Kaylee, Kari, Erica, Michelle, Melissa, and Ann), and although we make a smaller group than usual, we are ready to be productive and helpful this week! After what could be the quickest ride up the mountain in ServeHAITI history (3 hours, including one tire change!), we arrived at the clinic at 12:45 and were greeted by all the wonderful faces that we have come to love so much. Things are busier here than normal because the festival for St. Peter’s Day is this weekend. Family, friends, Bishops, and priests have been making the journey up the mountain to join us in the festivities, and several are staying at the clinic with us. After a quick rest on our beds, the group got right to work painting waiting room benches, a clinic wall, and packing baby kits.

We went for a quick walk (with little hands in ours), and everyone commented on the beauty of this place. There is so much we all want to learn about everyday life in Grand-Bois. It’s frustrating not being able to ask our questions at any given time, but we are looking forward to discovering more about this place.

I guess when you work hard, you play hard- so we all enjoyed a fun night at the Majestic( Dr. Leo’s auberge) dancing with everyone! Dr. Leo had people hard at work last week making progress on the large theater room so that we could set up a discotec for the evening. The place was packed because of the festival. At first, the division between us and all the Haitian party-goers felt like a middle school dance, but as time passed we all began to dance with each other. It was really fun to see the division dissipate and we hope that can begin to happen in other areas as well. All the girls got to learn some new dance moves from the Haitian men, while Abraham, our translater, had a close watch on everyone

We are looking forward to mass tomorrow morning, since the service will be a special one because of the festival. As we practice our Creole and get more comfortable in this beautiful place, we hope to make some lasting relationships here in Grand-Bois!

Final Thoughts From the Second Week

Our last day in Haiti has come too soon for most of us. We are comfortably gathering around a table at Bob’s House in Port Au Prince, talking and laughing about our experiences this week. The week has flown by so fast, but we’ve accomplished so much in our short time here. Working with ServeHAITI and each other has been such a blessing for all of us.

We headed down the mountain this morning, sadly leaving Kaylee behind as she is staying in Grand-Bois with the Week 3 group. She added some spunk to our group this week, and we missed her on our last day! We made our way to the orphanage in Thomazeau on our trek. Coach Mark enjoyed playing catch with the kids, while Scott refreshed our memories on the rules of “four-square”. The orphanage was so nice and well kept; the babies were also adorable and loving. We basically had to pry Georgie away from all of the children because she was having such a great time.
 

We stopped at the Papillion Market before settling in at Bob’s. Paige explained to us that it was not the typical Haitian market. Employing over 200 artisans working with recycled materials, Papillion Enterprise’s mission is to provide high quality job with benefits for artisans.

Tonight was our last time to reflect with one another about our adventurous day. Derek read an excerpt from a book that Katelyn shared with us earlier this week, called “Kisses from Katie”. This passage sums up perfectly what many of us are thinking during our last night in Haiti:
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“I have often wondered since returning to the United States why I feel such great culture shock. How can I feel such a disconnect with the place I was born, raised, and for eighteen years called home? How can I feel that my real home is a place in which I have spent just over a year? I have blamed it on many things.
American extravagance.
The grocery store that almost sends me into panic mode due to the sheer quality and variety of foods.
People who build million-dollar homes.
The lack of understanding and a lack of thanksgiving on the part of all of us.
The ease with which we receive medical care.
The amount of stuff that just clutters our lives.
All these things make it difficult to readjust, yes. But what has been the biggest shock to my system, the huge disconnect, is that I have stepped out of my reliance on God to meet my needs. I “miss” Jesus. He hasn’t disappeared, of course, but I feel so far from Him because my life is actually functioning without Him. By “functioning,” I mean that if I am sick, I go to the drugstore or to the doctor. If I am hungry, I go to the grocery store. If I need to go somewhere, I get in my car. When I need some guidance or advice, I call my mom or go plop down on my roommate’s bed.

I keep forgetting to ask God first to heal me, to fill, me, to guide me, to rejoice with me. I have to set aside “time to pray” in the morning and at night instead of being in constant communication with Him. In Uganda, because I was so physically “poor,” I was completely dependent on God and spiritually as wealthy as ever. As I sit here writing, I am frustrated with my own stupidity, my human willingness to step back into dependence on stuff and these places I swore I detested. “
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Abby did a group activity that she wrote herself, called “The Hands Prayer”. It made us all think about our time spent here in Grand-Bois. We realized that even though we think our hands belong to us, in actuality they don’t – they affect an innumerable amount of people in this world. Ellie shared that she is eager to get home and start recruiting new people to support ServeHAITI. Carly shared that she is still blown away by the immense poverty here and is in awe of how beautiful it is.

Overall this week has impacted everyone on this trip in some way. We formed strong relationships with each other and have grown in our faith. We look forward to staying connected to the new friends we have made, and hope to see each other next year in Grand-Bois!

July 1, 2014 - Geometry, Babies and Water by Kaylee Belcher

This morning the clinic was filled with its everyday hustle and bustle. As the teachers prepared for a day full of geometry, the hallways filled with the sound of Leo’s voice shouting, “Paige!!!”. We all knew what that meant, Paige Dirksen was being summoned to deliver her first baby. She has been waiting for this moment all week. Paige and I rushed down stairs as fast as our feet could carry us into the delivery room where the mother-to -be, Nicole( no relation to our Auxiliary nurse!) laid in agony. Her contractions were about 3 minutes apart; Dr. Leo assured us that the baby would be here soon. He dressed Paige and I in sterile uniforms, and instructed Nicole to push. Meanwhile Scott and Georgie stood door side in amusement of the “many faces of Kaylee”. This was Paige’s first delivery, and my first live birth. My faces reflected disgust, amazement, and sheer joy as the baby began crowning. Paige braced herself and rocked back and forth to prevent herself from passing out. The final push came, Nicole wailed, and a healthy baby entered this world. Once Nicole saw the face of her beautiful baby girl, the tears began rolling down my face. That moment was so beautiful. After all of her hard work she had produced a child of God. In the end, the pain and suffering were worth it. This story serves as an excellent reminder that although progress in Haiti may be slow and sometimes truly hard it is all worth it. Last month 52 births occurred in the clinic. This speaks volumes for the progress being made here when comparing the past month to a month in any other year.

Today Abby, Ellie, and Derek journeyed to Latoison with Michel, a Community Health Worker assigned in that area. They were able to make 14 home visits where they interviewed the local families. During this visit many families indicated that they were indeed using the clinic and had extremely positive experiences. When asked what they saw as a need in their community, many responded that some sort of trade school would be helpful. They also generally said that they would appreciate an Internet café. Progress is being made to provide an Internet source for everyone’s use at Dr. Leo’s Majestic ( a hotel/community center he is building). The families all agreed that this is a much-needed resource for their children to use during their schooling. The three volunteers were happy to hear that half of the families had gift of water buckets, but hopeful that soon all families will have them. For now, If they didn’t have buckets, they had the option of buying three buckets of water at the market for 1 Haitian dollar. However, money is not always available. In that case the families needed to travel over an hour to get fresh water. The final thoughts gathered from today’s interviews was the hope that one day the clinic could treat even the most serious cases of injury and sickness. The people of Latoison would love to avoid making the long journey to Port au Prince.

Mark, Julie, Carly, and Katelyn made huge progress in the classroom today with assistance from a local Geometry teacher. They introduced a 100’s chart to the 20 teachers and watched as their eyes brightened. The teachers were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use the chart, and very happy that they could use the chart instead of collecting 100 leaves to use in counting lessons! Much later after the days’ lessons I sat with 4 of the teachers who are staying over night. They gave me a lesson in Creole, while I attempted to teach them English. We used Paige’s book “Creole Made Easy”, to assist us. The book amazed the teachers; all of them were very persistent in telling us that they thought it would be a wonderful idea to give participants at teacher training a copy.

It is truly incredible to hear the voices of the people of Grand Bois and to realize that what they are asking for can be done in years or maybe even months to come.

June 29, 2014 - Seriously one of the best days of my life

For some of this week’s group, yesterday went down as “one of the best days of their lives”. Of course, we hope that our time here will continue to get even better as we build relationships and make more lasting connections.
 

As we made the trek down the hill to St. Pierre in our Sunday best, many commented on how impressive it is that the locals are able to make the same journey everyday. Many do this in very worn shoes and baskets or large bundles on their heads.

Later that day Guillaume led us on a hike to the Dominican Republic border in the afternoon. The view was amazing when we reached the marker of the border. We enjoyed some relaxing time with the breeze before heading back, and made some friends that sat with us. We took another path back to the clinic, and were able to see many nice homes along the way. Some of the group was surprised to hear that the families that owned the houses we saw were well off compared to others in the area (many had cement floors, live stock, and a fire was going, which meant that they were able to eat that day). These families generously welcomed us into their homes, and we were all inspired by their hospitality. In one of these homes we met a woman who had recently delivered her baby at the clinic. She was more than happy to share with us her experience at the clinic, and we were able to capture it on camera. She said that the clinic staff treated her very well and she was happy to be there for them to help when her newborn came down with a cold.

Kaylee’s reflection at the end of the day summed it up for many of us. She noted that the people here probably have no idea how much of an impact they have on us and that yesterday was a perfect example of how we often get so much more from the people here, than we are able to give. “They were on their way to get some water, and instead of being hurried to do so, they walked with us. All we did was have to walk and they were happy to see us. We didn’t even do anything! This is seriously one of the best days of my life.”

Katelyn, Kaylee, Scott, Paige were able to catch a donkey ride with some of the local boys on our way back from the DR. We were all a little worried that Scott might be the straw that broke the donkey’s back!

While coming to the end of our hike, we all stopped again at a gathering close to the clinic where some of the men from the area were gambling on cockfights and bingo games. Luckily we missed most of the action, but we were still able to meet a few of the bloodied fighters and their owners (gruesome, but interesting). Before leaving, Scott and Julie purchased a large stalk of sugar cane to chew on back at the clinic.

Abby shared a heartwarming story with the rest of the group about her close family friend Tim Kane, a former ServeHAITI volunteer and the director of their Defining Dignity. Her continued dedication to Grand Bois is such a great way to honor someone she loved so much!

A long homily at mass on the call to discipleship and the meaning of being a Christian led many of us to reflect upon faith and conviction; we all left church feeling truly inspired by the overwhelming faith and celebratory atmosphere we found there in St. Pierre. Mark shared that even though he did not understand a single word, he loved knowing that we were all worshiping God together.

Carly, Katelyn, and Georgie were all itching to see a birth here in Grand Bois, and last night they received their first opportunity. The real experience proved to be much different than what many of them were expecting, and Georgie was the only one able to make it through watching the entire delivery. By night’s end, Dr. Ulysse delivered three healthy babies! Carly and Katelyn can’t wait to see more.

by Abby Peeters, Kaylee Belcher and Paige Dirksen

June 28, 2014

Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a blender? Neither have we until today! Comparing the ride up the mountain to a blender seems to be the best analogy. The “road” was narrow and bumpy to say the least. On a good day, the 50 mile trek takes roughly 3.5 hours, and today was a good day (no flat tires or traffic jams).

We began the day loading up the trucks with suitcases of supplies. We made stops in Boben, Lamothe, and a School at La Toison. Katelyn McNamara shared her thoughts on the Haitians’ reactions to our arrival during reflection, “It was great to see how joyful the Haitians were to see us. We so often go out of our way for others that show no gratitude. All we did today was show up, and the joy and appreciation the Haitians displayed was overwhelming.”

It was exciting to see Ellie when we arrived at the clinic, as she had been with the first week’s group and stayed at the clinic, while Scott returned to Port-au-Prince to meet this week’s group out of the airport. Greeted with smiles and hugs from the familiar faces at the clinic, the joy was mutual. The group then split up as Carly, Abby, Ellie, Georgie and Derek played soccer with the kids, while Paige, Kaylee, Julie, Katelyn, and Scott unloaded several suitcases of supplies. Coach Mark was eager to prepare the sports equipment for the kids!

We ended the night with dinner prepared by the wonderful staff and shared our thoughts about the first day. We are looking forward to mass tomorrow morning and going to the market in San Pierre!

Thursday in Haiti: Bonswa, Gran-Bois! - by Jane Schmidt

Tonight at reflection time, Brian shared a saying by a young man who had worked in Haiti.  This insightful young man stated, “I have seen what I cannot unsee.”  When we think of all we have seen this past week in Haiti, those images are now a part of who we are and we cannot “unsee” them.  Some people ask, “Why Haiti?”  They say there are poor in our country, so why travel all the way to Haiti?   Scott talked about the fact that Haiti it is a different kind of poor where clean water and sanitation are severe problems.  The most basic of human needs are not met and there is no safety net to provide what is needed.  That is what ServeHAITI is trying to assist with – encouraging Haitians to understand how they can meet their basic needs with assistance and how they can help to grow a safety net for their people.

Gary said the Haitians have a saying, “What the eye does not see, the heart cannot feel.”  Our eyes have seen much this week – people pushing forward every day to meet their need for water, hauling huge jugs on their heads, traveling miles to wells or rivers.  We have seen those living in homes made from sticks or tin with dirt floors and one bed for a family of seven.  We saw people willing to work making rosary beads for money to purchase food.  People loading sticks and fruit on burros and riding for miles to sit along a road to sell whatever anyone is willing to buy.  We visited the home of a young boy who proudly led us up a mountainside to say hello to his mother.  Children who gathered round to learn words of English.  Teachers willing to walk six hours for teacher training so they could improve their schools.  People willing to come forward to discuss finance plans with ideas of a chicken coop or a bakery or a small store.  All who understand the saying, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to reach my destination.”

Tonight we are sleeping at Bob’s house in Port au Prince before flying home.  ServeHAITI met Bob when he offered to share his home during relief work after the earthquake five years ago.  We were all happy to be able to walk on clean floors, enjoy a warmer shower, and once again feel the comforts we have grown to know as our routine.  We all made connections via the internet and once again returned to the emails and deadlines in our life we faced before this Haitian visit.  It is surprising how quickly we have fallen back into our comfortable lives.

So we must remind ourselves that “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.”  We must tell the story of Haiti, share the spirit of those we encountered, and help others realize we can make a difference for one another.  We came as strangers but leave as friends excited to share the story of those “not so forgotten” people of Haiti.

HAITI

You do not cry for the strength of your people forbids it

Crying would show weakness and there is no time to be weak

There are roads to travel

Water to draw and sticks to gather

There is oil to heat and plantains to fry

There is no time for pity, only time to survive

But…

Sometimes on the mountaintop

with its fresh air and majestic view

A dream may appear like the slow clouds over the mountains

A dream of a life where the water is clean

And the family is full

You will leave that dream to your children

For there are roads to travel

Water to draw and sticks to gather

Dreams will have to wait but only for now.

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