Hope is Everything — by Kim Wiese

The physical consequences of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake are numerous and ongoing, but there have also been longstanding fiscal repercussions.  Haiti’s economy took a hit as strong as the force that destroyed homes and water sources, leaving people searching for ways to start anew.  Microfinance loans can be an effective tool to rebuild economic stability, but many of the loans offered by Haitian banks have incredulous interest rates, sometimes as high as 50% or more.  That’s why organizations like ServeHAITI are stepping in to offer more affordable microfinance loan options.

Five members of ServeHAITI’s Economic Group, also known as SHECON, went to Grand Bois with two main objectives in mind.  They included Gary Froeschle, Marty Gingerich, Ben Quaye, Pat Cassagnol and Ed Carroll. The first of these objectives was to meet with IFGA, a women’s group in the process of starting up their own bakery.  SHECON has been working with IFGA for over two years, and the long thought out plan is going into action.  The ServeHAITI members met with IFGA and went over their plans, signed the promissory note and distributed their funds.  SHECON’s second objective was to meet with Mr. Sylphanor Sylphat, a Grand-Bois resident, to discuss his plans to produce poultry.  His promissory note was signed, and the loan will be distributed once the housing for his chickens are completed. Other business ideas were also explored during this visit.

 Although the loan process here sounds simple, the procedure includes numerous steps.  First, the loan applicant writes a business plan in Haitian Creole describing the value of his or her business idea.  The plan includes key information such as how the business will work, how it will make money, operational details, sales and marketing support and more.  Next, the business plan is translated into English and reviewed by a team.  The team meets with the loan applicant to discuss the idea, address other questions or other information that might be needed. Oftentimes, several adjustments are made to the business plan before it is approved.  The ServeHAITI team that approved the loan will then keep tabs on the business to make sure that everything is running smoothly.  While the loans provided have a higher interest rate than normally expected in the United States (to factor for higher risk), they are significantly less than those provided by Haitian banks. 

 In addition to the two main objectives, the SHECON team is working on a new coffee project that may have good potential to create wealth and employment in Grand Bois.  The goal of the project is to help farmers in Grand Bois to increase the   growth of coffee trees and sell the beans to processors.  A major coffee processor in Haiti appreciates the quality of coffee bean samples they were shown and may be interested in buying coffee from Grand-Bois!  SHECON is in the exploratory stage of trying to discern the best way to create more wealth in the  area through the production of coffee.  This is very good news for the Grand Bois community, and those of us who care so much about their well-being.

 ServeHAITI is striving for sustainability in Grand Bois and thus, focused on the continuation of programs that help create long-term impact related to physical, education and economic health.  Each small, incremental step can make a huge long-term difference.  Health is hope and hope is everything.

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Hurry Up and Wait!

As the days fly by and the first week of three unfolds, everyday brings new experiences, challenges, joys and “aha” moments for the volunteers.
The delegations include veteran volunteer and new Chairman of the ServeHAITI Board, Dr. Wayne Book, first time volunteers Jill McDermott, Lea Pfeffer and Heidi Berger and returning volunteers Jayne Schroeder, Chris and Debbi Smith and myself. While we have many objectives and goals for the week, we find that, as usual, we need to be flexible in our plans. It always amazes me how much we take for granted in the US- including the ability to “count on” certain things.
When I call my doctor from the comfort of my home to schedule an appointment, I can pretty much assume I will be seen within 30 minutes of that scheduled appointment. If I’m not seen within a reasonable time, I have an option of voicing my disappointment and even taking my healthcare business elsewhere. It’s almost laughable up here in the mountains to try to arrange any kind of meeting or appointment. Even church service times are “approximate”. Patients who would like to see a doctor are asked to come to the clinic early in the morning to be seen on a first come- first serve basis, unless it is an emergency.
I walked downstairs this morning from the second floor volunteer rooms to see a room full of people, patiently waiting for receptionist, Fedlyne, to call their name so that one of the nursing staff can take their vitals and triage them according to need. I call “bon jou” and they all respond very enthusiastically in reply. It’s humbling to see how resigned they are to waiting. It’s such a huge part of their life, as there aren’t many things that happen quickly in Haiti.
So, we take each minute as it comes, feeling grateful to be able to be here with all of these wonderful people. We are cutting wood and painting plywood with chalkboard paint to prepare for the teacher training in June. We visited the small village of Courette yesterday and are planning to meet with the well driller at several sites today. In the meantime, Chris is passing out tootsie rolls and has become the pied piper whenever he steps outside the clinic gates! Thanks for following our travels!

NOU LA!

Sunday, February 2, 2014. After a rainfall last night, we awoke to a the sun rising over the mountains - reflecting the beauty of the verdant countryside. From there, we dressed up for Sunday church, put on on our hiking sandals and shoes and stepped slowly and carefully down the mountainside. The rain left the road a bit slippery and so we made a slow slog to St. Pierre. Once there, we attended the church service, Candlemas day. The congregation warmly welcomed us and the music was beautiful. After mass, we strolled our way through the marketplace - following our faithful translators, Alfred and Abraham. Thankfully, there were cars and drivers ready to take us back up the mountain. Those of you who have been here know there are no words to describe the state of the roads - the boulders, the grooves, the unforgiving nature of the roads to vehicles. Mules seem to be the way to travel on these paths. The afternoon was spent enjoying local visitors, the local cock fight (okay - only Jill and Lea wandered over there, note - Lea has become my (Jill) newly adopted 23 year old daughter) and unpacking and sorting all the supplies we brought. We have just enjoyed another bountiful meal and are awaiting our evening meeting. And news just arrived that two beautiful babies were just delivered - all is good. All in all, a beautiful day with beautiful people sharing beautiful memories.

Glass (Not Quite) Half Full… the $31 challenge.

by Ed Carroll and Kim Wiese

Most people will recall the earthquake that devastated Haiti just over four years ago, on January 12, 2010 (the one that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale). What people might not know is that since then, Haiti has endured nearly 60 “aftershocks,” some ranging as high as 5.9 on that famed scale. Or after the earthquake, Haiti suffered the worst outbreak of cholera in recent worldwide history, driven by contaminated water and poor sanitation conditions.

 Despite efforts by many capable organizations who have stepped in to help, 40% of the people in Haiti still lack access to clean water today.  ServeHaiti has worked tirelessly to provide clean water to the people in Grand Bois, via thoughtfully executed wells and the “Gift of Water” systems, which have ensured clean water filtering to more than 25,000 people.

 This week three ServeHAITI water technicians will assemble 300 more “Gift of Water” sets.  The project is time consuming (assembling the buckets, filters and spigots and storing the completed sets), but it is inspiring work, as 300 more families will soon have access to systems that enable clean water, which can literally change their life.

Like many things, clean water is taken for granted in the United States, thanks in part to the 1972 Clean Water Act, which established guidelines that protected our health and environment. We also consume about three times more per person that most other countries.

 And so today, while we might not solve access for the 40%, we each have the ability to help one family. For just $31, less than the cost of a restaurant dinner, the system can be shipped, assembled, delivered and monitored by our expert, extended ServeHAITI team.

 So, c’mon. Is your glass half full? Are you in? If so, please donate $31 today!

Solar Love … by Kim Wiese

With ServeHAITI’s most recent trip to Grand-Bois on my mind, I can’t help but remember the last time I experienced a power outage in my home.  Can you remember your last encounter?  Try to imagine that the outage never ended.  Out of the 10 million people living in Haiti, only about 20 percent are estimated to have access to electricity.  Especially after the 2010 earthquake, most Haitians are living without needs that electricity makes substantially easier to fulfill.  Earlier this month, a group of ServeHAITI members set out to Grand-Bois to install solar panels on the roof of the clinic.

 The team arrived in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 31 and received a warm welcome from Dr. Leo, the head doctor at the clinic in Grand-Bois.  Overall, the 55-mile drive from Port-au-Prince to Grand-Bois took about five hours. The team literally hit a bump in the road when one of their vehicle’s tires blew out, but with a quick fix from Dr. Leo’s expert staff, they were soon traveling again.  To those of us living in such a fast-paced environment, I can imagine five hours for a 55-mile drive may seem outrageous.  The rocky and narrow nature of the road calls for a slower drive, but the volunteers were grateful for the time to observe and appreciate Haiti’s stunning scenery.

 Once in Grand-Bois, the group assembled the frames on the roof of the clinic, and installed the solar lights.  Others helped deliver babies and care for patients. After the panels were up and working, the group was happy to see that the clinic’s batteries charged fully.  As the team was in Haiti on Jan. 1, Haiti’s Independence Day, they were able to observe the local celebration.  Chance Foster and Cheryl Traum, both volunteers on the trip, accompanied Dr. Leo to the market, to purchase food, including some live chickens and a turkey. Another day in the life…

 I continue to think of the people in Grand-Bois.  Their friendly, welcoming and hopeful spirits continue to amaze and motivate those who work with them.

Thanks and Giving… by Kim Wiese

While we are basking in our riches this weekend, after opulent Thanksgiving feasts and amidst the “Black Friday” frenzy, I can’t help but ponder how our friends in Haiti are holding up. In the past few weeks, this beautiful nation has experienced heartbreak and trial and I wonder what they could possibly be thankful for right now?

On Tuesday, November 5, we learned of a tragic situation in St. Pierre that resulted in the drowning of four children under the age of 11. For several weeks leading up to this day, Grand Bois had experienced unusually high amounts of rain. It is strange there — it might be sunny and dry in the morning and within a few minutes, the skies can open like a movie, creating flash-flood conditions. So, one never knows quite what to expect from day to day. On this particular morning, the children crossed the river bed (for those familiar with St. Pierre, it is near the church, not far from where the weekly market is held) to go to school. It was raining a little that morning, but kids there are used to walking in the rain. Some walk more than an hour each way to go to school. And, while the kids studied, the skies continued to unload its fury. In the early afternoon, they returned to the river bed to head home. They crossed the first part cautiously, but the middle was deep with rapids, and swept six children down the river. Residents were able to pull two children out of the rapids, one with a lasso and one with a tree branch and under the tender care of Dr. Leo, they were fully revived. Three others drown immediately; one boy and girl from the same family. (Can you imagine having to tell a parent that two of their children were lost in one tragic event?) Another young boy also drowned that day, totaling four deaths, but wasn’t found for several days. As with every major event in Grand Bois, ServeHAITI provided support and solidarity for the families — as well as assistance throughout the burial process.

One week ago today, an elderly couple from the Dominican Republic was slain near the town of Neiba (which is near the border). Dominican police issued a statement saying Jose Mendez Diaz and Luja Encarnacion Diaz, 70 year old coffee growers, were killed during an apparent home burglary in which the killer got away with just two sacks of coffee. Detectives found a machete at the scene and a Haitian was blamed (likely someone who worked for them), because machetes are “Haitian weapons” (Dominicans typically use guns). He was not proven guilty, yet an angry mob of Dominicans violently knifed him to death, stirring riots among the town. That day, 244 Haitians fled the DR willingly or via “deportation” — the stories vary at the moment. Some had proper passports but many did not. And, many were from the Grand Bois area.

The Haitian’s fear of random brutality is real, as real as the horrific images some of us saw earlier this week of a mass Haitian murder along a quiet dusty road. That image will not be posted but will remain forever imprinted in my mind. Many men, women and children have had to run for their lives, leaving literally everything behind in the Dominican. Over the last few days, the number has increased to about 500. The Haitians initially migrated to the Dominican seeking work and a chance to provide for their families. As they crossed back over into Haiti last week, buses brought them to a center run by Haiti’s Office of Migration and they were given a meal and $22 to reunite with their family. Yes, $22.

It’s been tenuous for months, as the DR government is moving to discriminate against Haitians by tightening a 2010 law denying citizenship to people born to parents who are not Dominican. Without citizenship, they are unable to work or attend school. It applies the law retroactively to anyone born after 1929 and affects as many as 300,000 people — most of whom have roots in Haiti.

And, so as I sit here in my warm, dry, well-stocked condo, I wonder what my friends in Haiti might be thankful for just now. Only a few things come to mind: Their hope for a better future; their genuine love for one another; and very likely for organizations like ServeHAITI that are trying to create pockets of economic stability, improvements to the educational system and much needed medical support. Thanks to the good work of the organization and local teams, cholera seems to be somewhat under control again (3,000 “Gift of Water” systems have been distributed, thanks to many donors) and more good work is underway.

So, as we migrate from “Black Friday” into the holiday season, might you consider a small gift to ServeHAITI to fund an area of your choice?

- $31 buys a “Gift of Water” purification system for an entire family;

- $20 ensures enough iron and folate tablets to prevent anemia in 14 women for one year;

- $15 buys a hanging solar light bulb which is given to each  new mother who delivers her baby at the health center; for many, this is their only source of light.

Each of us, every day, has an opportunity to instill a spark of hope in another. Might we collectively consider lighting the mountains of Grand Bois this season?? Let it shine

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“And the Doctor Cried…” 

 August 2013 By: Peter J. Anderson Wisline Derosiers was brought into the St. Vincent de Paul Health Center in Grand Bois on August 21, the day before ServeHAITI volunteers were to return to the U.S. The infant was 16 months old and weighed 5.2 kilograms or approximately 11 pounds. She was severely malnourished, but her immediate problem was pneumonia. Her mother, not fully understanding the consequences of the child’s malnourishment, had taken Wisline to a charlatan who had given her a series of liquid concoctions,  which she aspirated, resulting in pneumonia. Dr. Michael Grady, ServeHAITI’s Executive Director who led the delegation, Dr. Leopold, and Dr. Ulysse, our resident Haitian physicians, worked throughout the afternoon on the child, providing her oxygen and respiratory therapy using the oxygen concentrator and infant nebulizer equipment recently installed at the Health Center. Wednesday afternoon was one of torrential rain and severe lightning. When the child was first brought in, she had a pulse oxygen level in the 40s when it should normally be just shy of 100. Dr. Michael personally “bagged” the child, increasing the oxygen flow into the tiny lungs. In the midst of their work on Wisline, the doctors were called to another exam room where a young woman had been struck by lightning in the storm. The lightning had burned away her undergarments, and she was in significant pain. The doctors were able to medicate the pain and provided cold compresses. Throughout the torrential storm, the doctors returned to their close observation of Wisline, and her vital signs continued to improve. Later, Dr. Michael, shortly before turning in for the night, checked in on “his patient” and reported that she was doing well. Early Thursday morning, I sat on the porch waiting for the sunrise over the mountain. Dr. Michael, looking haggard, carrying a cup of coffee, mumbled that Wisline had passed, and then the Doctor cried.

Cholera and the $31 GIFT (are you in?)

Sunday, October 20, 2013 by Kim Wiese

Though I have been home for nearly a month, Haiti continues to weigh heavily on my heart. This week, I feel anxious about the cholera epidemic – yes, epidemic (again) at this point. What is so incredibly sad is that cholera didn’t exist here before the “big” earthquake of 2010. The 7.0. In the States, we remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,800 people and captured worldwide attention for months. Years, actually. As it should have.

The earthquake in Haiti, largely forgotten by the world at this point, affected 3.5 million people and killed, by some estimates, 100,000—by others—300,000 or more. No one seems to be able to account accurately, as Haiti has no formalized process to collect census data. The initial death and devastation was hard enough. Then cholera hit the nation later that year (cholera is an infectious fatal bacterial disease of the small intestine, typically contracted from infected water, causing severe vomiting and diarrhea. It can be fatal if not treated). What’s really hard to comprehend is that cholera didn’t exist before the earthquake and it wasn’t originated by any Haitian. It was hand-delivered, compliments of the United Nation (U.N.) peacemakers who accidentally, albeit effectively, brought it in from Nepal. Cholera was first discovered in October 2010, derived from contaminated runoff sewage which was unintentionally dumped into the Artibonite River, the only source of drinking water for many Haitians. The mishap was then covered up and later denied by the U.N., all the while spreading faster than wild-fire. By the end of the month, cholera had spread to four of the ten departments, including Ouest. By the end of the year, it had spread to all ten departments, throughout the entire country, to bordering countries and beyond.

That year, estimates of cholera’s impact varied wildly, depending on the source. The World Health Organization was conservative. The U.N. didn’t report much higher. The University of California became quite bullish on predictions both related to infection and death. Part of the problem was the government didn’t track infections/deaths in rural areas where people never reached a hospital or emergency treatment center. So, those hundreds, or thousands, or in this case—tens of thousands, literally were erased from the “records.”

Over the next two years, admittedly due to a Herculean effort by water, sanitation and medical experts from all over the world, including Dr. Paul Farmer (and his entourage), our own Dr. Leo (who went on to receive specialized training in water sanitation) and others, there was a significant reduction in cholera, given the awareness, training and promotion of preventive measures—including thoroughly cooking food, drinking safe water, using latrines, washing hands and inspiring better hygiene. So, the epidemic of cholera subsided. Dramatically.

Last year, during our mission trip to Grand Bois, one of our fist “de-construction” projects was the removal of the second cholera tent, which at that point had been largely unoccupied for the better part of the year. We all agreed there was no need to maintain that valued space, given cholera was no longer a threat.

So, life went on in Haiti. And, somehow, people kind of forgot. It’s easy to do, with the host of other distractions: 80% of households live in poverty; 75% lack running water; 50% of children are unable to attend school; only 25% have access to “safe” water; 20% of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition; and still, nearly four years after the earthquake, more than 300,000 people are still living in those “temporary” tents. One can only imagine how that would go over in the United States.

Last month, we witnessed with our very own eyes the rise, and then terror of the cholera outbreak. Again. When we arrived at the clinic, there were already two cases, which was alarming. Then eight. Then 35. Since its inception, more than 685,000 Haitians have been sickened by cholera and 8,400 have died. And the trajectory is (wretchedly) rising, while Dr. Leo is pleading for more “Gift of Water” systems. For just $31, the “Gift of Water” can provide a lifetime water filtration system for an entire family.

What’s heartbreaking, also, in all of this, is the blame-shifting and outright denial. So much so that Human Rights lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit in a New York federal court last week, accusing the United Nations of gross negligence and misconduct on behalf of cholera victims from the outbreak in 2010, challenging the U.N.’s ongoing claims that they are “immune” from lawsuits arising from damages done in the course of activities.

All this amidst the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations. The Prime Minister of Haiti, Laurent Lamothe addressed the U.N. assembly, recalling the critical condition of Haiti following the devastating earthquake and recounting the (not unanimously embraced) recovery that has happened since. He proposed a joint commission between the Haitian people and members of the U.N. to study ways to eradicate cholera together, and to develop a broader general recovery plan for Haiti. The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon expressed “profound sympathy” for the terrible suffering caused by the epidemic and reinforced $2.2 billion plans to improve Haiti’s sanitation system and provide clean water. But, as of today, just a fraction of that money has actually been raised.

What is one to do? With a heavy heart, we watch. And we pray. And we try to stay focused on the health of Haiti. Still. So, if you think it might be worth $31 to provide a family with clean water, and very likely—that much needed cholera prevention, please consider making a donation today for that amount (or more).

Because, even though the United Nations isn’t really stepping up to help right now, we can. For less than the price of a sit-down dinner, we can help one family, for one lifetime. Each of us—one at a time, can improve the health of this great nation.

So, are you in? Because health is hope. And hope is everything.image

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Monday, September 23 (One day after returning home) by Kim Wiese

Feeling pensive today— having a hard time re-adjusting to our decadent life here in the States after such a moving and eye-opening experience in Haiti. The mountains and those beautiful people are still very much with me (as I’m sure they are with others from our group). And so, I’m sitting here wondering how long I must wait until I go back…

Friday, September 20, 2013 (Day 9) by Kim Wiese

Today was such a strange day – I started the day with Gary in a micro-finance meeting regarding another prospective investment for SHECON; a retail store with inventory, stocked with items (hoped) to resell. Buy in bulk in Port Au Prince and enjoy some upside profit potential for those unable to travel down to the “big city.” Stock the store with inventory related to seasonal needs, priced low enough so that the community can (somewhat) afford those needed items, but high enough so the business owner makes a small profit, too. This idea is so simplistic; it would be laughed at here in the states and quickly overrun by another competitor. Yet, here, the business does not exist, so the plan will likely be blessed by the finance team, eager to witness another tiny step towards economic stability.

Later in the morning, we received news that the First Lady, Sophia Martelly was coming to the area and would very likely make a stop at the clinic, especially given the cholera outbreak and all of the good work here. The First Lady! You should have seen the flutter of activity! The clinic was sparkling within just a couple of hours. Even the outside clinic stairs, continuously covered with mud, were shining.

Some of the team drove to the second scheduled school to start, and hopefully finish fairly significant renovations (yes, in one day). I met the team there to take some photos, and then planned my long walk, alone, to San Pierre to capture final photos, and then back to the clinic, to hopefully meet the First Lady.

As I was walking along the dirt road on the way to San Pierre, I passed, and “talked to” many kids (my Creole consists of about 20 words, so my “talking” basically consisted of communicating “hello,” “hot,” “candy” and “photo”). As if I needed more photos! I heard a loud noise and looked up to see an entourage of fancy cars, wondering first, how they made that trek up our mountain and then, why they felt they needed all those cars in this gentle area. I counted more than 15 as they passed: Ambulance, Police, Fancy White SUV, UN and Military. Nearly every car was filled with lewd men who rolled down their windows and cat-called at me, making comments which I (thankfully) could not interpret. Some took photos of me. A couple came close enough to grab me and pull me into their car, and it was the first time here I have ever felt fear. Fear from head to toe. About halfway through the long train of vehicles, one car slowed and the First Lady gently herself rolled down the window and waved at me like the Queen of England. Then, off they went towards San Pierre. By the time I got there, they had already left, reportedly heading towards the clinic before going back to Port Au Prince. I hurried back towards the clinic but got caught in a torrential downpour halfway home. By the time I made it back, I was covered with mud right up to the middle of my calf.

Well, the First Lady never made it to our clinic. Maybe she didn’t want to go near the cholera tent.  Perhaps she got too busy. I did a little research on the political landscape before her proposed “visit.” The country has been given millions and millions of dollars to help “end hunger.” Yet, with all that support, I learned that not one dollar or ounce of food had been shipped up here to the mountains, or in any other remote area, as far as we know. Until today. Apparently, the First Lady and her entourage planned on having one big food truck deliver items to one nearby community, likely surrounded by press, as a nice editorial story — rice, oil, beans, and a couple other essentials. We learned later that the truck was overtaken by the hungry people near San Pierre, who hadn’t ever seen a truck like that – and who jumped into the truck to get (and share) the food.  Probably the first of the day for many, though it was late. It was a day of irony. That massive entourage of fancy cars, too busy to face the difficult realities up here, still had to drive home through all that dirt and mud.

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