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Musings from Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Hello everyone and welcome to the sparkly new EduHaitian Blog!

 

 

Date: 2nd May 2016

Author: Alice Edwards

''Why I'm motivated to cycle 100's of miles to ensure young women can go to university in Haiti''

I'm sitting in a field 11 miles from home. As far as the eye can see there is farmland, interspersed with hedgerows and monolithic trees. The land is flat and the bright yellow buds of canola are catching the light. I am sitting in the shade of a tree wrapped in ivy, clasping my water bottle and desperately trying to stretch out a cramp. I'm an amateur cyclist, you know the sort, the one who gets distracted by the scenery and pootles along at a pace close to walking. In fact, I'm generally a commuter cyclist. The journey between home and work, all three miles of it, is what I have mustered 3 to 4 times a week for the last few months.

But at the beginning of May I've signed up to complete a 100 mile cycle. In fact, I have been set the challenge of cycling the grand total of over 300 miles in April and May, and counting. I naively thought that this figure seemed smaller than reality has proven. Sometimes each mile feels like a marathon. On days when the weather is poor and my legs are aching from spending 12 hours on my feet during shifts, it can feel like mustering the energy to get out is unachievable. Yet, achievable it is, and I feel like my energy is sourced from the inspiring determination of Olguine and Darline who study nursing and Darline who studies business.

Whilst I hurriedly whip my legs around the bike, three rather extraordinary women are sitting down with pens and pencils and learning. Helping to contribute to their education by enjoying the wonderful British countryside is a pretty remarkable feeling. I feel a personal connection to this campaign as two of the ladies who are studying are nurses. I am a recent graduate of nursing. I thought that my course was intense, in fact it almost broke me on occasion. Three years of study, 18 months of it on placement whilst coordinating assessments, living on a meagre income and minimal holiday. I complained, I swore, I cried, but I finished it.

Then I began to learn more about the Haitian nursing school system. Four years of study and then a six months’ unpaid placement. When you learn more about the difficulties encountered in the Haitian university system you have to check yourself and recognise your privilege of studying the UK. I may have been living on a small income but I was supported during studying through a government loan. Whereas these young women have to support themselves, pay for their schooling and are subject to fee changes whilst they study.  As well as the yearly admission fees and regular course fees, they must also pay for the cost of books, additional costs for work placements and even handouts provided by the lecturer cost extra money. This is why we are hurriedly trying to raise money in order for them to complete their school year, things are rarely straightforward in Haiti and we had no idea of the final costs of attending university until the young women started.

Whether you train in Haiti or the UK, nursing is an intense but rewarding course to choose. It leads you to a career with good job prospects, to independence. I firmly believe that education and healthcare should be accessible to all. Education is key to lifting people out of poverty. It gives a person the skill in which to not only earn money but also improve their knowledge, it is a sustainable tool that helps someone not only for a day but for a lifetime. These women are dedicated, capable, committed and pretty inspiring. By investing in their education, you are investing in Haiti’s future.

For me, EduHaitian is symbolic of supporting a system to help itself. As a grass roots charity it acts to empower people to complete their education. By working directly with a Haitian partner we are ensuring that Haitians can help Haitians. This is the first year we have supported students to accomplish their potential of completing university. I truly hope that this is something we can continue to offer to our students in years to come.

Lets keep those girls in university - donate here. 

Date: 13th September 2014

Author: Freddie Owen

A Rookie’s first week in Haiti...

As I reach the culmination of my first week in Haiti I sit in a Hotel enjoying a rare bit of air conditioning and consider how my thoughts have changed in my time here. I came in an eager teenager who’d read much on third world poverty with a foolhardy sense of preparedness. But all my preconceptions were thrown out from that first day as we walked down the road from our base at Haiti Communitere to pick up some street food. The hot wind hit me with what I’ve come to associate as the smell of Haiti quite like nothing you find anywhere else; perhaps it’s a combination of the mountains of rubbish and grim latrines which line the roads and the thick black smog three quarters of the cars spew out of their exhausts. The condition of this road itself would have been a nightmare for any local council in the UK with potholes far outnumbering the areas of flat road. All the while, as a Blan (foreigner) walking down the road you can’t help but felt like the one in a million odd one out, with inspecting eyes following your every movement. As we reached the restaurant,  the local ‘experts’ Liv and Emma ordered our lunch (I hesitate with this as with me and Karen [Emma’s Sister] present we enjoyed a much smoother experience in Haiti than the chaos Liv and Emma described from their previous trips).

On the menu – Haitian Surprise, but despite some foreign textures the dish had all the character associated with Caribbean cuisine and the obscene amount of oil used to make it definitely quenched any risk of food poisoning. Despite this almost overwhelming initial impression of Haiti, which no tourist guide could prepare you for, I began to see how people found it so hard to leave this place.

As the days went on, Haiti time (notoriously slow) became my time as I adopted its flow and began to enjoy the lawless battlegrounds which were roads. Although I clung like a leach to my 5 ft 6 inch sister (I’m 6 ft 4) on my first journey on a Moto, I began to see not anarchy but organised chaos as everyone had their own part in the show. Haitian’s themselves are very friendly by nature and I would happily extend my stay in their company if I could.

Many were budding entrepreneurs talking to me about their great money making idea and all with a shared ambition to ensure they leave Haiti in better state when they die. Such admirable qualities of Haitians in the face of realistic day to day hardship are no better summed up than in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains, telling the story of American Doctor Paul Farmer, which my sister, Liv, charged with reading on my trip (well worth a look if you’re interested!). On top of all this was the experience of meeting all the kids sponsored through Eduhaitian in those early days of our trip.

We interviewed 40 kids in those 3 days, in our wonderful partner Junie’s school. This was so we could update their profiles, with me and Karen asresident scribes writing as much of the conversations down as we could. With none the teams Creole being good enough to serve as little more than humour to Junie and her colleagues, she was more than happy to translate. Although I feel this only served to intensify the intimidation for the kids; 4 loud Blans sitting around them, speaking a foreign tongue and taking notes. Safe to say many of the children were shy and reserved introducing themselves but warmed as the interviews went along. Many had come in their best dresses and siblings often in matching outfits.

Hearing some of their journeys over the past 4 years, from struggling in Haiti’s damaged society post-earthquake to thriving as young students in education, showed to me how important Eduhaitians work is. As one of the eldest students currently in nursing school cried while she thanked us for supporting her through school, it served as a very touching moment for the group. It also dawned on me how precious an education is and how necessary it is for us to ensure these kids get one. [The fact we were even having such a conversation on something supposed to be universal is to me the biggest crime I’ve witnessed during my time in Haiti]. Interviewing the younger kids was thankfully a little less emotional for the group and occasionally funny; with one of the children having the impressive target of growing up to become candy. Across all the kids their ambition was refreshing to hear; if all goes to plan we will have some Gynaecologists, Salesmen/women, cloths retailers, paediatricians, stylists, accountants, entrepreneurs, diplomats, lawyers, clinical doctors, musicians, artists, nurses and a racing car driver out of the program in the not too distant future.

On the final day of our visit to the school we hosted a party for all the kids, the first time all 40 sponsored kids would be together at once. With sweets handed out and the promise of a hot meal the kids were in a jubilant mood and proceeded to welcome us with a clearly well-rehearsed performance. As we sat there enjoying the show we had little knowledge they were expecting us to return the favour. Panic struck the team as we threw around ideas like ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and ‘the Macarena’. We had agreed on the latter and took our positions in front of an expectant crowd. Contrary to my knowledge, Liv and Emma decided a last minute change to ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ was on the cards and without telling me began their rendition of the childhood classic. What followed is surely the least coordinated, enthusiastic attempt of song and dance ever witnessed. But after our 25 second long piece, to my amazement we were met with laughter and rapturous applause by the Eduhaitian kids. This did not mean we were out of the woods as soon individual performances were taking the stage. The dance of choice was what I suppose you would describe as Haitian ‘twerking’. My attempt seemed to gain particular amusement – perhaps they had never seen a bloke with such flexible hips before. When finally the dancing was over, a girls Vs boys penalty shootout commenced, with a surprising victory for the females, albeit with a significant handicap. As we then took on the challenge of getting everyone into one photo, which we succeeded in, we felt a sufficient appetite had been worked up to warrant dishing out the hot meal. 

Another wonderful Haitian classic dish: rice, beans and chicken, was greatly received by the kids. Many hid their first plates in a bid to wangle another. Parents and older siblings began to pick up the children as the party drew to a close, a celebration we can hopefully turn annual. 

My experience in Haiti has been incredible and I would recommend anyone to visit the Eastern half of Hispaniola. I would like to thank everyone I have met for being so friendly and accommodating and look forward to hopefully seeing you again in the future. I withhold a special thanks to our Eduhaitian team of Aussies Emma and Karen and sibling Liv who made the trip so awesome.  

 

Date: 13th September 2014

Author: Karen Simpson

"I'm going to Haiti, wanna come?" "Sure"

My sister lived in Haiti for over a year. (She was supposed to go for a month but stayed a little longer.) She started up this foundation and told me so many amazing stories about Haiti so I wanted to see her work and this 'Haiti' place for myself. She invited me along as she was coming over to visit the kids and Junie who is the school principal. So I packed my bag, under Emmas supervision, asking 'do I need sneakers?' 'No.' 'Do I need a hair dryer?' 'Ha! Hell no.' 'But all I have is shorts, singlets, Tom's (shoes) and undies. My bag is only half filled.' 'Perfect. That's all you need.' 'Ok. I'm packed!'

I love travelling with my sister. We get along so well and even though we are different in a few ways (I like to be clean, she not so much) we are very similar too. Always have a laugh together and make the best out of any situation. And what better way to travel than with my best friend.

So we arrive to the compound and straight away meet some amazing people. Their stories, vision and adventures are huge. And their hearts are even bigger. They range from learning Creole in sign language to teach deaf children to making thongs (flip flops) from car tyre treads and then others who are here to help with education. And that was what I was here for, to see how EduHaitian works and to do my bit.

When we arrived at the school and saw the kids, their faces just lit up. Haitian kids are adorable. They have so little compared to the kids in Australia but they keep smiling. There is no grass to play on, or trees to climb. The soccer ball (football) has a hole in it and hardly even rolls. But they make their own fun by doing hand games and dancing and singing.

We interviewed the kids, and they were shy to talk to us a bit, plus their principal was doing the interpreting but then they opened up and we got some great information on them all.We asked them questions about their favourite colour and who their favourite singer is and then questions about their school too. Some liked maths, others liked literature and they all liked the summer camp they went to. Some of the older kids were very grateful for EduHaitian and giving them the opportunity to go to school. One of the girls who is studying to be a nurse brought us to tears because we asked if she had any questions and she said "No. But thank god for you and for what you do and for Junie. May god protect you."

Hearing these stories and realising that education is not common in this country made me realise how important it is. I mean, really made me realise. Kids of all ages are in the same class but they don't care. They are just happy to learn.

I'm so proud of EduHaitian and especially my little sister for making such a difference to so many peoples lives and for giving me this opportunity to be a part of it.

I didn't know what to expect when I came here. I just thought it would be an adventure but it has been so so so much more. Getting to see Haiti and experience the culture. And getting to know the locals and also the volunteers from all over the world, hear and see how they are making a difference is so amazing.

Thank you to everyone who made this adventure special for me and a huge thank you to everyone who donated too. I tried to take a lot of photos during my time in Haiti but they don't do it justice. But be comforted to know that the smiles on the kids faces are for you. For keeping them alive and educated.

 

Date: 11th September 2014

“Learning is the best”

My name is Olivia Owen, co-founder of EduHaitian and lover of all things education. 

My location of writing this blog is oh so familiar. Our EduHaitian Haiti office is at the Haiti Communitere base where i’ve returned back to  year on year. Communal living with old friends, new faces, safe inside the walls of the secure compound manned by our ever faithful on base security. Over the years of staying here, many sustainable buildings have been erected which we now sleep in; management have evolved, volunteers have returned, others have not, stories have unfolded and a lot of wonderful projects have been nurtured because of the unique, affordable and creative space this place delivers. 

The execution and sustaining of EduHaitian would’ve been a different kind of struggle without the presence of this place. Another significant reason to reflect on the sentimentality of a place is down to the amazingness of returning with my fellow co-founder Emma. As we’ve discovered in an earlier blog, Emma lived and worked here for over a year back in 2010/2011. It was here where not only the two of us met and formed a lasting friendship that would birth EduHaitian, but also where she met her now husband, Chad. The two of them departed together in 2011 and eventually resided in Emma’s native Perth, Australia. Since then i’ve returned on two annual visits (2012-2013) without Emma and as fantastic as both those trips have been, there is nothing like having us one metre apart while we do what we do best. We put so much admin time in throughout the year monitoring the students progress, fundraising and communicating updates to our sponsors, it is wonderful to then see how hard the kids have worked, what struggles they may have overcome and how they are working towards their future goals when we come to meet them in Haiti. 

Our EduHaitian story began when I was leaving Haiti for the first time in 2010. Just in time and after three months in country as a post-earthquake general volunteer I met Emma. A simple conversation began our journey. I was due to depart the following week so I sat down with Emma to explain my visions for an education program in Haiti. We instantly clicked, both passionate about future generations, education and sustainability. Emma was the connection to our absolutely wonderful, soon to be (at the time) Haitian partner Junie Bertrand and her program, Kore Timoun. With me in the UK fundraising, Emma based in country full-time and Junie between the US & Haiti, our partnership and EduHaitian as an organisation began to take shape. 

Learning to me is oh so very important. My background is pretty treacherous and if i’m totally honest, in the past i’ve thoroughly disliked school. For various reasons the school system didn’t work for me. It wasn’t the right time. Information would not go in; I wouldn’t let it. Eventually I stepped out and after a lifelong aim to never go back to any kind of schooling I finally had the space to realise what I had lost. The inability to not learn had stopped my development and growth even though I was convinced I could live without it. Failure consumed me and I felt empty without the beautiful incoming of knowledge that learning had given; finally it all made sense. My life changed dramatically when I then went on to have a wonderful learning experience at a different educational setting. I trained to be a teacher, I learnt to empower others and my self-confidence grew daily. 

The reason it felt appropriate to share this story is because that feeling of discovery when you really realise your full potential is immeasurable. If you can find a way to relate education to every day life and find inspiration through your learning then it can be an awesome ride. That’s what we want to give these kids, not just in lesson time but as their confidence and awareness grows, whenever they pick up book to read, that time that they discover Haitian history, or when they share their burning new learnings to their parents who may not be able to read or maybe they now understand the political system better and want to find their way in to influence it. Learning is around you, it’s schooling that gives you the tools to understand how to use your new found knowledge effectively. That burning feeling inside you when you’ve worked so hard, learnt a new skill, reached your goals. It is so powerful, every individual should be given that opportunity; i’ll never forget that feeling when education changed my life and am honoured that we get to advocate the rights to education at such a grassroots level. 

In the beginning we made the promise of ensuring five children were given the opportunity for an education. Our humble beginnings have kept our ethos strong; quality education over quantity. We succeeded in supporting those first few students and decided to spread the word, grow a bit more and make a long term commitment to empowering young Haitians. Our program now has grown to forty sponsored students through the support of our fantastic donor community and our Haitian administered program. Each student is accepted into the program through Junie, our Haitian partner and community leader. Every case is carefully considered before Junie agrees that an education scholarship will not only help the child, but their families as well as their future. We l

isten to their needs, desires and visions before acting accordingly. It is paramount that our program is Haitian led and directed to follow the commitments of the students. 

For the first time ever in academic year 2013-2014 we have had a 100% per cent pass rate with all of our forty students. This is a phenomenal success and largely down to the hard work, persistence and inclusivity of our Haitian partners. Those children who may not have out of school study support were given extra tuition after school. If a child is not meeting the require grades there could be many reasons why but it is never down to the incapability of the child. It’s about us adapting to meet the needs of different styles of learning. This has worked and when we met the children this year, we sat and listened to many wonderful stories of their individual journeys. 

Our 2014 visit to Haiti has been exceptional. Joined by my younger brother Freddie (previous blog entry) and Emma’s big sister Karen, i’ve had a really different trip to the usual. It’s amazing 

sharing the place me and Emma have both called home at different times in our life. I can not go on without mentioning how helpful both Karen and Freddie have been in assisting with our program here in Haiti. They’ve taken it all in their stride and really immersed themselves into EduHaitian life. Thank you so much to them for taking the time out of their schedules to come and spend time with the kids, us and Junie. So much has happened, i’m not sure I have the words yet.

I’m aware this blog has taken a turn down memory lane but I wanted to explain a bit further where this all began. Hopefully you now understand and bit more about who I am and what drives me. For all those who have supported us whether you’re really into what we do or you’re just starting to follow us, truly, thank you. We cannot do it without the love and support from our respective communities. We hope your love and support of education in Haitian grows and grows. I’m currently still here, heavily immersed and honestly, really, really proud. 

Not sure if we’ve mentioned already but three members of the EduHaitian program have begun nursing and medical school (university level). That is a million levels of RAD! Oh man, education rocks!

If you would like to get involved in any way, we would love to hear from you.

 

Date: 7th September 2014

Author: Freddie Owen

As I sit here on the plane after enjoying Godzilla and X-men with a cup of tea and 3 seats to myself courtesy of Delta Airlines I find it a struggle to elegantly narrate my reasons for travelling to Haiti (part of the purpose of this blog). Writers block aside, ever since I Skyped my older sister Olivia with all the family while she was on her first trip to Haiti I felt an engagement with a cause much more real than any outside speaker in a school assembly could have ever given me. As I began to learn about global issues in lessons and the odd Ross Kemp episode my interest in what Eduhaitian was doing spiked. So when my sister mentioned the chance of joining her in Haiti and see the impact of her charities work on the ground I jumped at it. Anyway the thought of my sister venturing away from home at 19 on her own to the disaster scene which was Haiti post-Earthquake in 2010 made any potential trip to Magaluf with the boys this summer seem that much less significant. Instead I thought I’d do something really cool with my extra month’s holiday before Uni and join Liv, Emma and Karen in a 4 strong Eduhaitian team in Haiti.

I hope from this trip to feel I may have helped in some small way the next generation of Haitians springboard the fortunes of their country. Just as I’ve felt very privileged to have the background and education I’ve had growing up in the UK I’d like to think someday Haitian kids can say the same thing about their childhood.

Moving onto what’s been going on for me in the lead up to this trip: The first issue I needed to negotiate before travelling was this pesky Chigawanyu thanks to our good friend the mosquito. But no sooner had my wonderful mother Ruth found out about this disease had 10 bottles of 100% DEET been ordered; a potent measure probably likened to lathering a mosquito equivalent of sulphuric acid on our skin. This, along with the 11 vaccinations I had in the last month was enough to make me realise where I was going would be a world away from my cosy life in Penfold Lane.

Although as of yesterday, once me and Ruth had got the mosquito nets, diralite, complan, protein bars and the squad jersey’s had arrived I began to feel a lot more assured about my trip. A token trip to Revs (local pub) last night to say goodbye to the boys meant all that was needed before leaving today was to exchange my pig money for US dollars and pack my case. Despite the good work of my new sister in law Maxine and niece Ava in packing my case (tip: roll cloths don’t fold them) it still ended up being overweight. In fairness I lay blame on my team members as I was travelling with all the EduHaitian teams’ kit, squad treats and Livs net and dry bag...pick on the young guy. Wearing my hiking boots and half my wardrobe I said goodbye to the mother and headed through Heathrow’s security, onward to the Isle of Hispaniola.  

Date: 29th August 2014

My name is Emma Walsh, co-founder of EduHaitian and the author of this first blog entry.  Over the course of the next few weeks we are excited to let you in on our wonderful world and share with you our raw emotions and experiences and give you a variety of perspective as we head to beautiful Haiti. 

In one week, I will travel from Perth, Western Australia with my older sister Karen Simpson to Port–au–Prince, Haiti where I will be joined from the UK by my incredible co-founder Olivia Owen and her younger brother Freddie Owen. This is just a short trip for us this time (I promise mom), but we very much look forward to keeping you regularly updated along the way. The first stop is to collect the yearly reports for all the students who were sponsored by our organization this past school year and enroll them in their classes for next year. Whoop!

I have a flurry of excitement, fear, and anticipation whirling around inside me; all encompassed with a sense of hope.  Haiti has – and always will – hold a very special place in my heart. It plays a very big part in my life story.  It is, after all, where I met my husband and it will certainly be strange to be there without him this time. But, there is something rather poetic in the fact while I am in Port–au–Prince, he will be in my hometown of Perth.

When I left Haiti in 2011, I wasn't really sure if I would ever go back, and I promised myself that I would only ever enter the country again if I had purpose - something to truly offer, and after years and years of hard work and dedication to EduHaitian, I am extremely proud to be returning.

Since being back in Aus, EduHaitian has grown from a little 2 person organization of just Olivia and I, to an all singing all dancing fiscally sponsored UK charity with an advisory board (squeal!).  And although we sound all big shot, our grass roots mission and values are still exactly the same and it has been really amazing to see what can be achieved when a bunch passionate people come together.  It’s awesome.  Extremely satisfying to develop a dream, I highly recommend it. 

Our model is simple: we provide support to remarkable community leaders who deeply understand the Haitian culture, the needs of the community, and can facilitate the change. Over the past four years – with the support of our donors and our Haitian partner Junie Bertrand – we have been able to provide 40 children with the ongoing opportunity of an education. As a local leader, Junie is deeply involved with the community, and recognizes the importance of supporting the Haitian education system.

Junie Bertrand is all kinds of rad.  She is our Haitian mama, teacher, mentor and dear friend and an incredibly strong individual with a heart a mile wide. Over the years, Junie has kept us up to date with the progress of each child and their situation and we regularly have Sunday Skype chats where she tells us stories both of sadness and success.  I cant wait to share some of Junie's stories with you all while we are there.  She is also hilarious!

Of course I am most excited to see the all the EduHaitian kids, teachers and the community, but there is also all the little things, that on a personal basis I am excited about.  Some dear friends of mine will be there at the same time, so I am excited about that.  I am excited about the music. I’m excited about the bbq street chicken and avocados.  I’m excited about drinking lemonade outside the church with friends and chatting with the street vendors.  I am excited about stepping out of the corporate world for a moment and being forced to go with the flow.  Nothing makes you go with the flow more than Haitian traffic.  I am excited to meet new people and see how much Creole I remember after all these years.  I am excited to hug Olivia.  And I am excited to be able to share it all with my sister. 

Words can’t express how stoked I am to have my sister Karen coming along with me on this trip.  For my entire life, she has been my #1 fan, and I am hers, so to share this experience with her makes my heart sing.  In Haiti, family is everything, they commonly ask “Hi, how are you?  How is your family?” so it will be awesome to introduce her. 

I had a dream the other night that when Karen and I arrived in Port Au Prince, it was completely different, unrecognizable.  The UN was gone, all the houses and schools were rebuilt and the community was bustling with employment, economy, and life.  I dreamed that I had to explain to Karen what it had been like when I lived there. Describing the rubble, the roads, and the pollution.  I dreamt that I didn't know where particular orphanages were anymore, I didn't know which school the children went to now or where their mama shopped. 

But the reality is, the little girl that I know that lived in the third tent along, still lives in the third tent along.  The street kids on the corner will still ask us for a dollar, and they will be four years older than last time I saw them there.   I hope that I have to describe some things to Karen.   There is nothing more I hope for, than to spend every minute we are there telling her how much it has improved and what has changed.  My fingers are crossed.  But at least, at the very least, I can introduce her to 40 children that I know have changed, whose minds have been opened and whose lives have improved in the last four years.