Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Haiti - 2015 - Final Day

(Editor's Note: I am sad to say that this is the final blog post of the Haiti 2015 Mission. Katerina Silis did us the honor of writing this final post.)
Taking it to church with Katerina, Jenn, and Bebe

Right now it's 10:23 and I'm on the plane preparing to begin the last leg of our journey home. Now that we're waiting for take off, I'm feeling exhausted because our day was filled so much more than travel.

At the beginning of my day, my 7:00 a.m. alarm felt like a rude awakening after being able to sleep in a bit yesterday, so I overslept, quickly ate breakfast, and threw my packed bags in the van that would take us to St. Paul's for a church service. I must admit going into it, I did not think I would enjoy it as much as I did. I knew it would be a two hour service in a language I did not understand so I was worried I might fall asleep. I was pleasantly surprised to find the service engaging from the minute we pulled up to the school and saw the congregation standing outside, which included the Dynamic Ladies, the church choir, and others including some kids from our summer camp dressed in white robes for the service. We were seated in the front as the congregation walked around the church singing and entered. The women singing had strong, soulful voices accompanied by drums and electric keyboard throughout the service. We were given prayer books so we could sing along. The service was like a musical conversation between the priest and the people and the people and God. The atmosphere was lively with the drums (I tapped my foot to the beat the whole time). Even though for the most part I could not understand what was being said, I think that, I would describe it as what church should be like.

Cameras couldn't catch the speed of this church dance party
Mr. Yee gave his first homily at the service today, which was a close reading of the mustard seed parable. Father Walin kindly translated his speech into Creole for the congregation. Mr. Yee talked about our relationship with St. Paul's and the children as a growing seed that we will cultivate into the future. His speech was hopeful and talked about how the children and community would develop.

Mr. Yee, Father Walin, and the Homily
Then, in the middle of the service where we shook hands with one another to 'keep the peace', the children from the camp came forward to embrace us. In that moment, I felt so much love as the community thanked us for all that we had done that week (we even had a mini dance party in the middle of the service). Afterwards, a man came forward and talked about how he obtained a brain injury and had to undergo surgery on his head after rubble fell on him inside a building. It was scary to think about how someone doing something seemingly safe like standing in a building could obtain a life-changing injury. Then, towards the end, Father Walin thanked us on behalf of the congregation for coming on the service trip and expressed his hopes that our relationship will grow stronger over the years as we continue the summer camp. After the service, we bid the kids reluctant farewells before we headed off to the airport. It was especially sweet to see Bebe refuse to let go of Jenn even though we had to leave for the airport.

Even the offertory was danced up to the altar 
Post-Service Goodbyes
On the way to the airport, I rode in the Father Walin's truck. Dokken and I were in the back seat, Ms. Engelberg, and Madam Scott were in the bed of the pickup truck, and Father Walin drove us with his mother sitting shotgun. The view on the way to the airport was gorgeous with the sea on the right and the tall mountains on the left. The father played traditional Haitian music in the car while we all took in our last views of Haiti before our return. We arrived at the airport, thanked Father Walin, and headed off through security.

Final Picture of us all outside the airport
Fast-forward back to the end of the day: now I'm here on the plane heading back to VA. I'm scared I might forget what I have seen in Haiti and yet I feel like I never will because of everything we have seen. I want to thank all of the members of the group for making this experience so special and for all of the inside jokes (love you all!).

The plane's A/C was a gas. So were our jokes.
In a few words, they are: Drake, bad country music, the Daddy bracelet, the flick of that wrist, Mary Grace knows so many lyrics, 1000 miles, and other things I can't remember right now.

The one thing I want to leave you with is some perspective in the form of a commonly told story. The guy who always complained about his shoes stopped complaining when he met a footless man. This story tells of confronting problems larger than your own. On this trip, we saw that we have so many problems that are so small in the scheme of life, so we shouldn't blow them up to more than they are. We will remember there are people out there who don't know where their next meals are coming from, or don't have a roof over their heads, so we won't be the person who always complains about his shoes.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Haiti - 2015 - Day 6

(Editor's Note: Today's post is brought to you by Sean Dowling '16 with varying input levels from the rest of the group.)

The children look on as we tour their church, St. Mark's
Hey Guys, it's Sean. Today, we were blessed to be able to sleep in for the first time all trip. Well rested, we moseyed from our rooms to the breakfast buffet line. After enjoying our breakfast and applying buckets of DEET, we piled into our van and began our trek from our hotel to Saint Mark’s School. To our dismay, we were stuck in what seemed like endless traffic on the main road, causing us to turn onto a much smaller, much bumpier side road. The unforgiving gravel road reduced our van to a snail’s pace. This, coupled with the heat of and being packed into the van like sardines, made the ride less than enjoyable. Our moods, however, were lightened when I pulled out my speaker and played music ranging from Drake to Kenny Loggins. Perhaps the most interesting part of the drive was being able to see the uncountable amount of street vendors selling their goods to the people of Montrouis. We even saw a few of the kids from our camp running around outside!
A view of the river that streams down from the same mountain that provides water to Montrouis 
The bumpy ride 
Fr. Walin introducing us to Saint Mark's School, a K-6 school he has expanded
We tend to create a scene wherever we travel
When we arrived at Saint Marc’s, which is situated a bit inland and a little bit up a mountain, we were greeted by the school’s principal, who, along with Father Walin, gave us a tour of the school grounds and its hand-built church. We were then treated to something totally foreign to us back in the States: sugar cane. A farmer brought a few stalks for us to munch on, and munched on them we did. We were particularly intrigued by the sweetness of juice that emerged from the fibrous plant. After finishing our sugarcane, we piled back into the van and returned to the hotel.
St. Mark's Church, newly built as of April
out of recovered materials from the Seminary
The inside of St. Mark's Church
Enjoying some sugar cane
Enjoying some sugar cane II
Everyone got in on the sugar cane action

Mr. Yee gave us the afternoon off, leading many of us to go to the beautiful beaches. While some tanned or swam, Mary Grace and I attempted to knock coconuts out of trees with rocks, and after many throws, we succeeded! Only to find our coconut to be rotten.

After a peaceful afternoon, we gathered for our last supper, which we shared with Father Walin. Dinner is always a fun time – a place for us to unwind and talk about the day, eat good food (unless you’re Palmer, who only eats rice), listen to live music, and for Josiah, to get in his feels.

A view of our favorite deck at Moulin-Sur-Mer 
A view back towards the main area of Moulin-Sur-Mer
As I sit by the ocean in my rugby shorts, a t-shirt, SAINTS headband, and worn-out, painted-blue Sanuks, I can say that I am genuinely sad to have to leave tomorrow. Running the summer camp, while challenging, brought me joy to know that I was making the days of so many of these kids. The Haitian kids were some of the most polite, kind, and fun-loving kids I’ve ever met (even though they had a tendency to kick in sensitive areas while roughhousing). And even more than the kids, I have grown so much closer to the other members of the group than I ever expected. I came in not really knowing more than one or two people well, and am leaving with some friendships so close that words can’t adequately describe them, so I won’t.

This has truly been one of the best experiences of my life, and I am sad to see it come to a close.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Haiti - 2015 - Day 5 - Final Day of Camp

New Saints
(Editor's Note: Tonight, I intended to pawn off this duty to two students, but we got so late in our reflection that I felt bad keeping them up any longer and decided to write the entry myself.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to be with a group of students and faculty where the risk of an overlong-but-still-meaningful reflection is real and present.) 
Final Day Swimming
Final Day Shenanigans

As the director roved the seminary grounds rounding up the children for our final fairwells, there were a few moments when students lingered around the water (we went swimming in the afternoon today) and the Director of St. Paul's School, Edson, shared short conversations with students before ushering them forward towards the central court.  The conversations, though, did not seem disciplinary in nature; rather, they wafted in soft tones towards us, the faculty chaperones, as we watched on the sidelines.  Madame Scott approached Edson to ask about those conversations, and he explained that they were short because the conversations were pretty simple: the kids didn't want to leave, didn't want it to be over yet.  It looks like we've got some new members of our Saints community, and not just because they're wearing the t-shirts.
Ms. Engelberg notices me taking a photo of her showing photos to St. Paul's students
I spent the last half year with the students trying to plan for as many contingencies as possible in this project, but I don't think I could have anticipated how visible our impact was.  Over the last few hours of the camp, I could see and feel the connections that students forged.  When I picture Giddings (and Palmer, and Sammy, and Katerina, and more), I now picture them with what seem like dozens of girls clinging to their arms and following them about.  I picture Margaret in the ocean with Haitian students swarming around her, vying to appeal to her attention.  I picture Josiah in the quad with Haitian students swarming around him, trying to tackle him to the ground in the cruelest-friendly way possible.  Finally, I picture Jenn in the final farewells of the camp with a young child so comfortable in her arms that the girl fell asleep and Jenn had to stay with the girl until she woke up, long past when the majority of students had left back up the shaded path of the seminary and back up busy Rte. 1 back to their homes.  As an English teacher, I sometimes get caught up in academics and its myriad abstractions, but at the end of this camp, reality wrenched me from my own mind and left me stunned.  We had planned so many activities--in English, arts and crafts, athletics, and today, video making--but now, I can't believe that it's only these activities that delivered us to this point.
Giddings and only one other girl this time
Swimming Buddies
Father Walin (center) gets in on the action

We worked on updating our last mission, the computer lab, today.
Final Mural-Making at St. Paul's School
Not Happy

I once heard someone say that the promise of a great school is that it should be a place where each child is known.  Someone will know that child's name and that child's story and no one will be a simple number.  In listening to the students speak about their experiences in the times we spend together in casual conversation over dinner or in transit from place to place, it seems these students have, at least in small part, done this.  We shared the different pictures of what we now call "our" kids and reflected on our hopes on what these students would do or become.  Over our reflection tonight, though we talked about large ideas that no single person can hope to solve, we always returned to the stories of the individuals we'd met, never forgetting that these problems affect actual human beings and are not simply concepts in abstraction or words and numbers on a printed page.  I'll always remember Don Luigi, the student who pulled me aside to say a goodbye he pieced together out of the little (but still impressive) English he knew.  As he grasped for the words to express his thoughts, I realized that he was trying to say that he was sad that I was going and that he'd miss me.  I realized I'd have to teach him how to say those words, mostly because I realized I'd have to use them to express how I felt in that moment.

Don Luigi and I
We gave them bubbles...
...and enjoyed them ourselves...
...which led to some competition.
My experience with Don Luigi illustrates that this is not a one-way relationship, either.  Earlier in the week, Father Walin, the pastor of the Montrouis community, chastised the students of St. Paul's for calling us all by generic names for "foreigner."  Almost as though to prove a point, in his final act at the camp was to ask us to raise our hands separately to ask the group of students to give each of us individual thanks.  Though there was some stumbling over more difficult names, the crowd of students offered each of us, by name, effusive thanks.  As the students filtered out, they all asked for phone numbers, Facebook pages, and the like to keep in touch.  It's easy to think that this is the perfunctory end-of-summer-camp activity, but one of the SSSAS students actually received a call from one of the students about ten minutes after the end of the day!

Dokken walks with a new friend
More people walk with new friends
We'd discussed a possibility over dinner that our feelings and relationships that we've gained over this project might be a bit selfish--that we are more helping ourselves grow and learn, and not necessarily benefitting the community of Montrouis as much as we are benefitting ourselves.  Though I think this is a very real danger, the depth of stories and the difficulty of questioning leads me to believe that we have made a small step towards achieving otherwise.  We get to take a break from the physical rigors of the camp, but I know that we won't be taking a break from the pictures in our minds anytime soon.  Plus, we're still in Haiti!  Personally, I can't wait to see what the next two days--and beyond--bring.

They just really wanted their picture taken
Halle and two boys, one of whom is very happy to be with her (or to have a bag of water)
Final moments of camp
Jenn and the Sleeping Child

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Haiti - 2015 - Day 4

(Editor's Note: Tonight's entry is brought to you by Jessica Edwards '15. Jessica also had to put up with technological maladies in order to get this entry to you as the editor's computer has decided to take ill-timed breaks with the working world. He thanks Jessica for her understanding and depth of thought despite the situation.)

Here in Haiti, it’s not uncommon to see kids and SSSAS camp counselors as canvases for artistic masterpieces; while the students at St. Paul’s and St. Mark’s used paint yesterday to decorate a few of us, today their mediums were stickers and glitter. Besides for decorating their favorite counselors, the kids put the glitter and stickers to good use. We used animal stickers to teach them how to say “les animaux en anglais” and more craft materials so they could decorate their print-out group pictures that we took yesterday. While arts and crafts activities are always exciting parts of the day, our third camp day was one filled with learning, creativity, fun, and laughter from everyone, and it makes me sad to think that tomorrow will be our last camp day.

After breakfast, during which the boys shared how they broke the bed the night before (Note: it is fixed now!), we headed to the Seminary and arrived to see the same 140 smiling faces. Jenn and I prepared for our English lesson in “l’equipe vert” (the green team) by gathering worksheets, whiteboards, and paper. After a series of teaching animals through pictures and several “Kijan you di sa … en creole? Et en anglais?” (“How do you say… in Creole? And in English?”) utterings; matching animal stickers to a worksheet; singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, “The Hokey Pokey”, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”; reading Dr. Seuss’ tongue twisters in “Fox in Socks”, and playing a rousing game of “Duck, Duck Goose”, everyone was ready for some free time before lunch.

While I was surrounded by five girls who asked me to join their energetic dance circle, others chose to “jouer au football”, jumprope, throw frisbees, play tag, or look at “la belle mer”. After we left the circle, the same group of girls made me promise to them that I would swim - or bathe as I translated it - in the water tomorrow. You might imagine my confusion as we hadn’t swum in the water with the kids all week, but I answered them with a maybe to later find out at dinner that we would also swim tomorrow after lunch like we did after camp on Tuesday. The rest of the free time was left to finding kids to entertain. Margaret and I used it to swing and carry one of the cutest and youngest little girls whom the kids call “Bebe”, thumb wrestle some of the boys, and get our hair braided.

A lunch consisting mainly of rice and beans (just like my mama’s house) prepared us all for the active arts and crafts session. Music varying from country to R&B to the Pitch Perfect soundtrack filled the seminary as kids floated in between stations like picture frame decorating, bracelet making, dancing, and sports. Through making bracelets for the kids, using my basic Creole vocabulary mixed with French to converse with the students in a language I call Freole (also known as Crench), and receiving artwork written in French that says “Je t’aime” (I love you) and “Je ne t’oublierai pas” (I will not forget you) from some of the girls, I am contiously discovering more about each child and receiving more love and compassion from them everyday.

At the end of the camp day, I stood with the group of students while being gripped by three girls. In just three days, I already felt a part of the St. Paul’s community, so the fact that we have only one more day with them resonated with me as we said our final goodbyes for the day before heading to the school to unload and set up some the donated laptops. Right now, I will make the most of our last day of SSSAS SummerTimes: Haiti Edition, which I already know will consist of lots of laugher, love, and “lavage dans la mer” (washing in the ocean).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Haiti - 2015 - Day 3

(Editor's Note: Today's post is written by Giddings Harrison, a rising senior on our trip. She wrote the post once, but that first posting succumbed to a broken internet connection. Despite this, she was a good enough sport to write her thoughts down again. Thank you, Giddings, for sticking to it to produce a great entry!)

Bonswa! Giddings here. Right now, we are sitting under a cover during a massive thunderstorm. It's as if we are stuck in a tropical Sound of Music scene. Palmer, Sammy, Adele, and I have already sung "My Favorite Things" to add to the Sound of Music feel. Anyway, on to the reflection.

This morning we started with a traditional Haitian breakfast which largely consists of carbs and coffee at the hotel. We then left for the seminary for the day. Our van rolled up to the Seminary blasting "Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars--for those of you who do not know the song, please look it up so you can get an idea as to how absurd our van seemed. The children had just finished eating their breakfast, which our fundraising allowed. They did not wear their uniforms today. Many of them had on Nike gear and High School Musical tee shirts.

We began the camp today with English lessons. Mary Grace and I teach l'equipe bleu, “the blue team,” which has 22 children ranging from the ages of six to sixteen. We taught them numbers and colors today by having them repeat after us and by coloring. Once they finished their coloring, we went on to teaching them "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and more of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." After, a few girls in my group wanted to take pictures using my phone. I taught them how to take pictures and they taught me a hand game. It would be safe to say that I now have 200 photos of me playing a hand game with one of the girls. Fortunately, by the time the gestural conversation and hand games became old, a dance circle had formed.

The dancing was vibrant, as expected. Much of the dances were call-and-response so we caught on quickly. These dances occupied a large group of primarily girls until lunch.

At lunch, I separated from the group of girls I was with before dancing. However, they managed to find me afterwards to play jump rope. There were two girls in particular who stayed with me throughout the whole day clinging to my arm. They became my helpers during arts in crafts while we made drums out of solo cups, tape, and stickers. They declared the role of taping the cups and handing them out to their peers.

Once the line for the drum-making station died down, the two girls and I moved on to painting. The paint was meant to be confined to the giant roll of paper, but it quickly spread beyond onto the walls, pavement, trees, and us. Sean and Josiah “misplaced” paint onto my face, which caused the children to follow their lead. Soon enough, children were grabbing paintbrushes to use to give me a blue tempura paint facial. Others were covering Adele, Josiah, Sean, Katerina, and Jenn in blue paint.

Once the paint had dried, we resembled blue monsters and assumed the role as such by chasing the children. The seminary was transformed into a chaotic game of tag. After the game, the blue sweat dripped from my face onto my clothing. The same two girls were upset by my uncleanliness. They began tugging on my sweaty shirt saying, lave, which means, “wash,” as they led me toward the ocean. Once I was in the water shin-deep, they began saying, couche, meaning, “lie down.” I resisted, thus they found an alternate method to wash me off. They began splashing my neck, shoulders, and arms with the salty water. Under their care, I knew I would be clean. When they were satisfied with their work, they walked me back to the seminary. One of the girls took my bandana to dry off my face. There was a raw compassion in that moment that I had not experienced before.

When the two girls left, they hugged me and gave me hi-fives as they said “Bye-bye, Giddings.” The day before, Father Walin had chastised them for calling us les blanches, a general (though not derogatory) term for “the whites,” but today they knew our names. They no longer saw us as just white. I went from being la blanche, to la bleue, to Giddings in just one day.