We got home late last night after a long and tiring week. But we accomplished much in a short time.
At the orphanage, we left behind a thoroughly cleared garden. A compost pile, with directions on how to continue to compost. A variety of vegetables planted now that the rainy season is coming, and the children helped put the seeds into the ground. I cannot say enough how hard this group worked, in 90 degree weather, to accomplish the garden. Marlene Cosgrove, Colleen Hegg's mom, was the master gardener coordinating the vision. Colleen, Gina Mazzolini, Wendy Hedeen, Pam Miklavcic and Carol Mader, a priest from this area, (and me too, a bit ...) worked to remove pounds and pounds of trash, to dig out buckets of rocks, to trim back foliage and dig beds, and create pathways, and establish the compost pile. We hope that by involving the children in cleaning and planting the area, that they will want to continue to help the garden grow.
Inside, Eddie Aparicio, a friend of my son Andrew's, coordinated the mural project. Eddie is a student at the Maryland Institute and College of Art, and this was his first mural. He and Andrew prepared the wall, then began the arch in the color of the Haitian flag, with the seal of Haiti at the top. On Wednesday, the children took turns donning a surgical glove, having their hand coated in paint, then leaving a handprint behind in the arch. The adult staff at the orphanage, and all the adults from the mission team who worked there, also left their print on the wall. Thursday, they spent the day finishing up the mural.
Two solar ovens were left behind with the cooks at the orphanage to practice with. While the ovens are too small to really be used for cooking for all those children, it is our hope that the cooks will experiment with them for bread and other goods and think of ways to use more ovens in the future. Also, Wendy Hedeen and the orphanage children created drainage areas for the pipes that shoot water off the roof of the orphanage when it rains. This will help prevent erosion of the yard in the rainy season.
We left behind toys and soccer balls, jump ropes and games, which the children seem to enjoy using when their homework is done. They play nicely with one another and treat the toys with care and respect, so we hope they will last a long time and brighten their lives.
On Wednesday night, there is always a program for HOM volunteers by the local churches. We were all as excited as any proud parent when the children from St. Blaise Orphanage led off the evening with a song. They were beautifully dressed, their few dress-up clothes having been carefully ironed by the orphanage workers during the day. You should know that one woman washes all 52 children's clothes each day by hand in a metal tub. From 9 till dinner she sits at the side of the orphanage and scrubs each article of clothing until it is clean then hangs it to dry. The children looked beautiful, thanks to her, and sang even more beautifully.
Also, a beautiful group of women from St. Pierre Episcopal Church sang at this event. They sing a capella with the most exquisite harmonies and hand gestures. Pere Jeannot says they are going to make a CD this summer and he promised to bring many copies of the CD when he comes to the U.S. next fall for the annual HOM meeting. I know I am going to want to give them as Christmas gifts, and they will make a wonderful addition to the alternative Christmas market. Take a listen ...
Finally, Thursday was a glimpse at a potential future for the fisheries project that was outlined in the most recent issue of the diocesan newspaper The Record. Pam Miklavcic and I, along with Roger Matthews and Jim Schairbaum from the HOM Board, and Pere Jeannot, went far into the Haitian countryside to explore this possibility. We went past the town of Cange, where Paul Farmer founded his famous Partners in Health program, over the mountain to the town of Thomonde. There, the project leader from Food for the Poor showed us their fish ponds which are in the process of being dug, along with a second site for six more ponds.
But more exciting was discovering a site nearer to Mirebalais. One of Pere Jeannot's churches, St. James, is out in the countryside near a river. The church also has a small school, with students up to age 19 or 20. They need to learn trades and crafts that can help support themselves and they are very interested in tackling a fish pond program of their own. Not far from the church, we discovered a beautiful piece of sloping land that has great potential for as many as six ponds to raise tilapia to feed the community and to sell at market. The property is owned by the man who owns the hotel where we stay every year, a man who has created fish ponds like this on his own farm, which we also looked at. So there is hope that this site might become a pilot project for the people of St. James's church. Much more remains to be done, but there is a vision.
This is in addition to the many other HOM projects going on this week ... the clinic, the mobile clinics out in the mountains, the dental teams going to the schools with fluoride treatments, the construction crew building shelving in the orphanage, the dentists at the clinic pulling hundreds of teeth, the ESL classes taught by the priests Chris Yaw and Carol Mader, evening Bible studies for Sunday School teachers at St. Pierre, VBS activities for the orphanage students, teacher in-services for the instructors at St. Louis and St. Pierre's schools. So much was accomplished, but so much more remains to be done.
Finally, in the marketplace in Mirebalais, Pere Chris discovered the dirt cookies we have read so much about. They cost 12 cents apiece, and are made from oil, sugar, and fine dirt from out in the mountains. I will have them to share tomorrow at our Sunday services. Despite everything we did, this is a country with profound issues of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, poor health, subsistence agriculture, and a government that is disfunctional at best. Nevertheless, the Haitian people endure, with dignity and courage, with intelligence and hope. There are many, many more things we can do in the future.