Reflections on Haiti Trip 2015

I am still processing my experiences in Haiti. Instead of rehashing each day and activity, I would like to focus on four specific experiences or encounters – two that brought me joy and two that made me cry.

First, teaching people to knit makes me happy. I love to knit so why not share my passion with others? However, what I enjoyed most was not teaching skills but connecting with the students via teaching. In fact, we did not get very far with knitting, partly due to the fact that I had about one hour. The hardest part of knitting for beginners can be casting on and then knitting the first row. I helped students cast on, but since the cast on stitches are so close to the needle, they had trouble practicing. Although one hour is not really enough time to learn to knit, I did have the opportunity to share with them in another way. More than knitting skills, I feel that I showed them kindness and patience, and knitting was only a vehicle to do so. After I demonstrated in French, I started helping individual students with their knitting. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by the students eager for me to help them with their knitting. I focused on each student and noticed as I did so that they got really close to me. I felt someone put her chin on my shoulder so she could see and another touched my hair. I didn’t mind that they were so close, even though I usually I feel uncomfortable when people are in my personal space. Although we didn’t get far in one hour with knitting, I later saw a few of the older girls practicing in the cafeteria and went over to help them. I encouraged everyone to look at knitting help videos on Youtube, if they could access the internet. I wish I had more time with these students. I let them take home their new needles and yarn, and as I anticipated, the same group wasn’t there the next day with their materials at lunchtime. I hope to knit with these students again.

Another high point of the week was meeting Shirlene at the small business seminar. The first day I met her she asked if she could cook something for me, asking me what I like to eat. The next day she brought “la poisson créole” and “le maïs blanc” (Creole fish and white corn) in a two-part stackable container. The fish and corn were delicious – the corn reminded me of grits. Shirlene was attending the business seminar when we discussed the idea of mentoring one day. Near the end of the week, Shirlene asked me if I could be her mentor then asked when I was coming back to Haiti so she could cook something else, and what would I like? I wish I could have spent more time with Shirlene, and I honestly don’t know when I will be back. After arriving back in the U.S., I found out that we were both born on January 23rd, although she is a few years younger than me. I suppose sharing a birthday is not unusual, but I have never met anyone who shares my birthday. I feel that we were meant to be friends. My hope is that we will continue to keep in touch and that I can be a good mentor for her.

Two specific situations deeply troubled me and made me cry. First, as we were driving somewhere, I saw a man suck fuel oil under the hood of his car and spit it into a container. I don’t know that I can articulate why this upset me so much, except that I see human life as precious and found it devastating to see a man have to resort to using his mouth to hold toxic material when he had no other way to service his vehicle. I felt like this action was polluting his body and demeaning his inherent, intrinsic worth. What made me sadder is that he’d probably done this many times and may be unaware of how this could be different. My dad and brother value taking care of their cars, and in some way I saw my dad in this man. I felt humbled.

The second experience that later made me cry was when David, Pauline, and I brought school supplies to children at an elementary school. The elementary school was an open building with plywood boards to separate grade levels. The children here were happy and excited to see us, and each grade sang the same song as we moved from class to class. The difference between their elementary school and the one I had attended struck me. I wanted to talk to all of them, and I did ask one time if I could speak to them in French. I spoke to one group of students, but it was not enough. We then handed out school supplies, but since there were 166 children and 31 kits, we broke up the kits so in the end each child got a couple pencils/pens or one notebook for each 4th grader. Their excitement and appreciation for a couple pencils/pens struck me. A typical American student might have gotten free pens and pencils in a goody bag at a book fair and promptly discarded them. More than the students’ appreciation, their happy and innocent faces in an unfair world upset me. I felt a desire to give them more than what was allotted to them.

In conclusion, my experiences in Haiti greatly impacted me. One thing that I learned is the importance of speaking Creole. I had thought speaking French would be wonderful, but the kids I met often asked if I spoke Creole. I think I would be able to connect more to everyone, kids and adults, if I spoke the language they prefer. By choosing to learn Creole, I am telling them that I honor who they are, and I care about them, as opposed to speaking a language I personally love that has unfortunate associations.

Now that I am back in the U.S., I feel like some part of me is still in Haiti, and I am not the same person. Throughout the day, various things strike me, including the difference between the large speed bumps we traversed at an angle while traveling in Haiti to the smaller speed bumps on the HCC campus. Perhaps a metaphor? This is just one minor example, but I am no longer blind to how some make do with little and others like myself have had a lot afforded to us. The latter situation comes with great responsibility.

 

Heidi Rademacher is a member of First Church in Northampton, and works at Holyoke Community College.  This was her first trip to Haiti.

Haiti Matters: Entry #2

Today was a more typical work day in Haiti. The vehicle strike was largely over and school was back in session at CONASPEH. The eight containers of supplies were picked up early from Walls Guest House; we came in the van at 8:30.
 
 The CONASPEH campus looks good.  Some improvements were noted such as a few more permanent walls and ceilings.  Still very dusty and windy.
We split into two groups. The AIC  nursing students worked with the CONASPEH nursing students in doing well-child exams on young children in the morning and older ones in the afternoon.
 
Tomorrow they plan to  give CPR  classes plus working with the various mannequins First Church had donated. Later in the afternoon Pauline Bassett and I assembled the 30 nursing kits.   The new director of nursing,  Madam Celine, was thrilled and very thankful for them. A big Thank You to Mary Friedman and all the donors.
Diane Doherty started teaching small business development to two groups of people.  In the morning she taught a  group of 15 pastors who were either interested in starting a small business themselves or help people in their congregation. CONASPEH Pastors all have to have their own source of outside income.  One pastor commented that this was the most important class he had ever attended.
 
In the afternoon she taught a group of college students. The group started with three and ended with about twenty-two. Fortunately she had an excellent translator which made her job easier.  She will be able to talk with both groups again tomorrow.
 
Quite a different day from  yesterday’s beach day.
  
Mark Pohlman

Greetings from Haiti

Greetings from Haiti.
Dianne Doherty and I along with others from AIC and Northampton arrived safely Saturday afternoon in Port-au-Prince. It has been more play than work because of a traffic ban in PAP today to protest against the high gas prices.  With no tap-taps  running, students could not get to school.
Instead this morning we had a very productive meeting with Patrick and François Villier, the new nursing director, and our group to plan the teaching schedule for the week.  Patrick assured us again that the CONASPEH nursing program is close to being accredited.   He has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday  with the Director on Nursing for the  country so hopefully we will know more then.  We also plan to visit the nursing school in Leogone which is the only private accredited nursing school in Haiti to see what we can learn from them.
Getting Internet access is difficult here, but will keep trying.
At the church service on Sunday I talked about a wilderness being a place outside one’s comfort  zone. Coming to Haiti or Haitians coming to snowy Massachusetts were good examples.    Both provide opportunities to learn and grow.  I thank Pedge Daniels for expressing this idea after her visit to Haiti in 2009.
People were very interested that we came  from a  church that was almost 300 years old, much older than Haiti.
Thanks for your prayers.
Mark Pohlman