Thank you for reading this far! Please feel free to refill your drink as I share the remainder of our January journey and a bit about our future plans with this work.
At Sadhana, I was inspired by how well organized that allocation of our duties were. Because we were cooking on an open fire, someone had to be cooking literally all day. We did it collectively, in shifts The first cooking shift began at about 6:00 to have breakfast ready by 8 or 8:30. The next shift began right after breakfast and the final shift began right after lunch. Also, we tended to the area. I dug holes with a pick axe to plant citronella around the kitchen hut and main hut.
We washed dishes daily with sea sponges, ashes, and vinegar. We stumbled through cacti and tall weeds to collect fallen sticks to light our daily cooking fires. I embraced the hard work, even in the 90 degree sunlight. The only job that I avoided was cleaning the restrooms – makeshift 3/4 enclosed palm leaf huts with buckets inside for pee and poo. I really avoided that job, lol. My son did hard work too, but I let him take a lot of breaks. He was so excited to be able to come home and tell his friends that he used a real machete.
There were bonuses to being at Sadhana. We not only got to participate in all aspects of reforestation, but to distribute food bearing trees to neighboring residents around Anse a Pitre. It filled me with great joy. Other bonuses that warmed my heart were:
- Distributing clean water through the community every time that we “flooded” the canal to irrigate the trees. The water had to flow by people’s houses and yards before it reached the treed areas. Women would stand outside with buckets and jugs collecting the water to bathe, wash clothes, and even to drink.
- Learning the art of water conservation AKA “How to Grow a Forest in the Desert”.
- Learning to build a rocket stove – an outdoor stove made of red soil, water, and donkey poo. The donkey poo acts like concrete and is completely hygienic after the drying and the heating.
- Learning to use solar ovens to prepare simple meals.
- Participating in the distribution of and a workshop on solar ovens to the local women.
- Solar oven cake!!!
- Conducting research and experiments to see how to build a natural refrigerator and how to make ice by using a solar oven at night (only partially successful, lol).
- Friday Documentary Film watching nights (with Solar Power, projector, and a sheet!)
- Learning about local culture.
- Dancing to Haitian drumming.
- Practicing Capoeira Angola with international volunteers.
- Drinking rich creamy Haitian hot chocolate on a cold night with my friends. (It gets cold at night in the desert.)
- Learning to cook new healthy meals.
- Making new friends.
- Seeing children’s smiles surround me every time that I took a walk around Anse a Pitre.
- Holding a Writing Workshop and poetry reading for the Sadhana community.
- And mostly, my son’s enjoyment of it all, his growth, his writing, his love for Haitian food, love for being outdoors 24/7, inspired love for helping others, and his excitement to return and continue helping at the earliest opportunity.
I have been teaching my son bits of French, Spanish, and Kreyol over the past few years without enough consistency and no formal lessons. After this trip, he is motivated to learn all three languages without prodding, because he wants to be able to communicate on his own in situations like our recent trip. I cannot measure the effect that our journey had on him now, because I am confident that it developed him in ways that I will not notice until he is an adult. I am so happy with how everything went. So, so happy.
I will return to Haiti March 13 – March 23, 2015 to continue equity creating work in the areas of clean water security, fresh food security, and preventative health. Many people have asked me about how they can support these initiatives. Thus, I am offering this campaign as a means of making our efforts cooperative. The fundraising goal is $1,200. If you would like to contribute, I have a page set up at https://www.crowdrise.com/nikalainhaiti.
On Thursday, we will make our way to Port au Prince to the Family Nursing School at 28 Delmas. I built a relationship with them on my May 2014 trip to Haiti, where I set up medical clinics in tent cities with the University of Houston Honors College Medicine and Society Program and assisted Dr. Carl Lindahl in training Haitian earthquake survivors to conduct interviews of other survivors to preserve authentic narratives and serve as a tool for mental healing (survivortosurvivorstories.com). The interviewers were paid for a full year’s Haitian wages for less than a month’s work – finally, fair wages!
In Delmas, we will meet with Haitian survivors who are interested in being future interviewers for Survivor to Survivor to offer them that economic and service opportunity. Also, I will facilitate setting up a space for Happy will teach a workshop to a large group of nursing students on maternal health. Lastly, I will travel with the director of 28 Delmas to take pictures of an area where he is building a school and a community to assess and document it so that I can help with their water supply.
A few people in Houston have pledged possible assistance through either well digging or water filtration, so I need to see which system would work best for the area. Also, this new community in Delmas is a desert area similar to Anse a Pitre, so there is also the potential for food growth based on what I’ve learned.
I would like to share a rather long post with you about my and my son’s recent service work in Haiti. Please grab a cup of coffee and settle into a comfortable chair. This will be broken into three posts, of which this is the first.
With cooperative support, my nearly eleven year old son and I were able to travel through Santo Domingo to the border Haitian town of Anse a Pitre last month. This was my first time taking my son on an international service trip with me. My friend Sarah, a University of Houston Psychology alum and child educator, traveled with us. Once there, we engaged in reforestation with a permanent community, Sadhana Forest.
It was quite the adventure getting there. The Spanish that I learned waiting tables for 5 years as a teen paid off in navigating through Dominican Republic. The first little road bump was when our taxi did not show up at the airport. I was able to secure a taxi and negotiate the price. We made it safely to our hostel in Zona Colonial where we slept the first night. You see, the Haitian border is only open during certain hours of the day, so if you do not arrive in Santo Domingo before 6:00 am or so, you have to wait until the following day to make the journey to la frontera (the border).
We rose around 4:30 am, which was too early to get the complimentary breakfast, but I was prepared. I had so many Cliff bars in my bag, lol. Our taxi arrived around 5:00 am to take us to the bus station. As we drove along, he pointed out Chinatown, beautiful governmental buildings, and the Presidential Palace. The Palace is constructed much like the United States capitol building, but with what appeared to be Christmas lights illuminating it through the morning darkness.
We arrived at the bus station, which was well lit and bustling with people, nothing like what was described in our communication with Sadhana. Sarah was the first to realize that we were at the wrong bus station. There was no way to be sure, but she had a feeling. I communicated with the taxi driver again that we wanted to go to the border town of Pedernales. He insisted that we didn’t - that to get to Haiti, we should take the air conditioned tour bus to Port au Prince. He thought that we were confused about our destination. We insisted, no, we want to go to Pedernales. Finally, he resigned with a frown to take us to the bus station to Pedernales.
The sky was still dark as he drove us down a narrow alley filled with discarded clothes and cans. My heart was almost jumping out of my chest. No, let’s go back to the tourist bus, I wanted to say. As we pulled into an even narrower, darker alley, he pointed to a guagua, or minibus, and said, “There.” The sun started to rise, bolstering my confidence as we moved our luggage to the guagua. Shortly, women began to set up cooking stations along the street to sell sausages and bread to workers.
The bus began to fill with mainly Haitians, trying to return to the border. Then, with chickens and small farm animals. The bus driver moved us to the front because we were, “Las Americanas”. I was a twinge guilty, but also thankful, for the privilege of a US passport. The ride would be 7 hours long and I did not have to worry about the noise and smell of chickens bombarding me for the entire trip.
Once we arrived in Pedernales, our group that was scheduled to meet us was not there at the bus station. I was so nervous just standing there with luggage and a young Caucasian woman, both of which identified me as not from there. Pedernales is actually a very safe town, but at the time, I didn’t know that yet. Moto conchos (motorcyle taxis) crowded around us to offer rides to la frontera. Sarah was nervous about riding a moto concho, but our bags were too heavy and conspicuous to drag for a long walk. I realized that we should we packed only backpacks. I turned to Sarah and said, “we’re going to have to ride the motos.”. She reluctantly agreed.
I had seen 4 or 5 people at a time riding moto conchos during my 2013 Human Rights trip to Dominican Republic, so I wasn’t nervous about riding. I knew that the drivers were very skilled. I placed my son in the middle so that he was sandwiched between me and the driver. Another moto took our big “checked” bags, while we carried our backpacks. We held on tight for a bumpy and gorgeously green ride to the border. Once we arrived, I realized that Sarah had placed her leg on the hot part of the moto and burned it. She knew not to do this, but in her nervousness, accidentally did it anyway. The locals began prescribing remedies. ”Toothpaste,” they said. Sarah pulled out her toothpaste and swathed it across her leg and foot shaking off the pain like a soldier accustomed to adversity.
The border was so calm that we should have realized that something was not right. A verbal stir went about of “pasaportes” and “las Americanas”, before we were swept into the Dominican immigration office. Our passports were stamped and we were allowed across the bridge. It was not until we crossed into Haiti that we were informed that both offices were closed for the day due to an earlier protest. They let us through because of our nationality.
In Anse a Pitre, a young Haitian man from Sadhana was waiting for us – Roosevelt. He informed us that someone was at the bus station now looking for us, but had been a little mixed up on the time. There is an hour difference between the DR and Haiti. I was so happy to have confirmation that my journey would soon reach a destination, I wanted to go right away. We hopped on moto conchos again to reach the forest community. The area was clearly a desert as far as climate – there was so much dust and many rocks and cacti. Yet, as we neared Sadhana, mango and avocado trees replaced cacti, with mountains swooping overhead in a breathtaking horizon.
Since we arrived on a Friday afternoon, our volunteer requirement would begin on Monday. We were able to take a tour of the facilities and visit the local beach.
Our first work day was Monday. We rose at 5:30 am for stretching and activity assignments, and began daily by 6:00 am. Our volunteer work was titled sevas, which I believe is Sanskrit for service or a love offering. It’s funny how when I thought of reforestation, I just thought of planting trees. I did not get to plant a tree until maybe the third day there.
I carried heavy buckets of water around the grounds to water trees, cut weeds with a machete to mulch trees, reached nervously (for fear of spiders or scorpions) into piles of fallen bamboo leaves to mulch trees, cleared the canal of clothes and trash to allow water to flow through to irrigate trees, carried saplings in buckets for 2 mile stretches to reach yards in need – not to mention what needed to be done to maintain the facilities and volunteers.
See more about our journey in the next post! Meet you there!
As I recently shared, I spent two weeks of service in Haiti in the latter half of May. Here in the States, I often feel that I am living in false reality. In the age of social media, talk is confused with action and acknowledgment is mistaken for participation. When I am not actively contributing to solutions – my intelligence is only self-placating and my degree useless. It is not enough to know. I must do. It is my human obligation to direct my life in a way that adds to alleviation rather than exacerbation of the ills of the world.
It is my human obligation to direct my life in a way that adds to alleviation rather than exacerbation of the ills of the world.
Due to the United States unique and often exploitative relationship with Haiti, anytime that I buy a shirt, I may be supporting a sweatshop. The CEOS get rich while the workers have to choose between eating and sending their children to school. Anytime that I use my phone, I may be supporting a call center that does not allow pregnant women to breastfeed or take restroom breaks. These are all things that I have heard personal testimonies of well-known American companies doing in Haiti.
I cannot completely eliminate my role in Haitian exploitation because imbalanced trade with developing countries is so circumferential to our economic system. However, I can proffer alms to equity. As a good friend recently told me, it may be only a drop in the bucket, but if no one puts any drops in the bucket, the bucket will be empty.
My “drop” is a choice to support a young girl’s education. Elandia is in second grade. Her favorite class is reading. Elandia, her mother, and 2 sisters live in a small tent in CAPVA since the earthquake of 2010. Someday, she wants to live in a big house and have her own bed. She aspires to be a doctor because there are many sick people living in CAPVA that aren’t able to receive medical care.
I met Elandia while running a deworming station near her school. Contrary to the norm in Haiti, Elandia’s mother does not have to pay for school. It is funded by donor contributions. Elandia and her classmates’ educations depend on people continuing to care enough to donate.
Whether Elandia has a uniform each semester (usually children in Capva’s only real outfit) depends on if those who begin to donate remember that children are always growing. Some of Elandia’s friends came to school nearly naked because no one donated for uniforms for them this year. Some boys wore only women’s blouses that hung to their knees, because that was all they had.
How you decide to put your drop in the global bucket is your choice. Today, I made my first $30 monthly contribution to Elandia. My $30 will pay for her books, uniforms, and help to keep the school running for her peers. If you would like to do the same or find out more, please visit holdthechildren.org.
Many friends have told me that they want to contribute to an international aid group, but are afraid that the money is not really going to the children. I visited Elandia’s school myself and can vouch for the credibility of the organization. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. God bless you.
Today, my son received his first letter (via email) from a boy his age in Senegal. This is the first time that my son has ever had a pen pal, and he is really excited about it. I have been researching international work exchange (volunteering with a family, business, or NGO in exchange for room and board) and found a sweet homeschooling mom in Senegal who needs help with her children for a semester or so. If things go well with our children getting to know each other, maybe we will stay with her family for a little while to gain a different experience of the world. (If you are interested in opportunities like these, visit workaway or HelpX.)
Benefits of a Pen Pal
Having a pen pal can help our children to learn more about their selves and about the world. They can also practice reading, writing, and typing skills in the process. You can tie in lesson plans on English Language Arts, Geography, and Social Studies easily into your children’s pen pal writing assignments. For instance, they can learn about the terrain and weather in their new friend’s country, the history, the culture, and the literary classics. Also, they have fun playing the games and sports that their friend abroad plays. Best of all, you can try the delicious international foods together!
Over the next week, my son and I will learn more about Senegal at the library and on the internet so that we can better understand his new friend’s country.
Finding a Pen Pal
If you would like to get your children started with International Pen Pals, there are several sites that can help.
Students of the World: Etudiants du Monde (Students of the World) is a French non-profit association, whose aim and ambition is to open the doors of the world’s cultures to young people. If you are a student, then the website will propose you pen-friends who are the same age as you, in the countries of your choice. Then, you will be able to discover new cultures, exchange ideas, stamps, postcards, improve your knowledge of a foreign language, and why not decide later to travel there ? The database includes 250,000 pen pals from 220 countries, 4,000 blogs, 7,000 clubs, 2,500 pen pal groups, many forums, educational games, 248 schools from 57 countries, and cultural information about 234 countries & territories (including 234 forums, 532 touristic pictures from 65 countries and 750 “virtual tours” views from several countries).
Global Pen Friends: Global Penfriends Internet Friends Club specialises in Postal and E-mail pen pals from all around the world. Their members are REAL people of all ages, looking for pen friends. Registration and profile submission is free. Their goal is to create a comprehensive listing of people from all over the globe who are interested in communicating with other people, whether it be for friendship, cultural exchange, language, travel or education. The site is family friendly and developed with Safety in mind. People of all ages are welcome here and can search for new contacts in a safe and friendly environment. All profiles on our system are manually approved for language and content.
My Language Exchange: My Language Exchange is the effort of Helene Cormier and Dan Yuen to help people all over the world learn, practice and become fluent in a foreign language. Together, they decided to use the Internet to bring the benefits of language exchange practice to people all over the world. In October 2000, MyLanguageExchange.com was launched. This was an online community that has since helped thousands of people find language exchange partners and improve their second language.
Pen Pal Safety:
There are some basic rules that you can follow to keep your child safe when writing to a pen pal.
1. Choose reputable websites.
2. Use Skype or other video chat software to verify that the person you are writing to is a child.
3. Don’t arrange to meet with anyone without having had extensive conversation and doing some of your own research.
4. Never send money to anyone.
5. Don’t respond to requests for sensitive personal information (i.e. copy of your passport, social security numbers, etc…)
The sixth rule here should be HAVE FUN, but I already know that you will do that.
I hope that your children have a great time with their new pen pals. Let me know how it goes! We will do the same.