Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nuggets from Haiti - 2011, part 3

On one occasion in February, we ventured out for a walk around Tabarre with an American who spent over nine years in Haiti. Fluent in Kreyol and everything Haitian, Joe gave us our first opportunity to shop in an open-air market and eat our first street food: lambi (raw conch). The vendor carried a large white paint bucket from which he scooped the raw sea snail into a plastic cup for us. He drenched the lambi in hot sauce, handed us some toothpicks and we tentatively tasted it. Not bad!

Sonya and Joe sharing a cup of lambi

Be prepared to share your space with lizards and many other 4, 6 and 8-legged creatures no matter where you are in Haiti. We have yet to identify some of the creatures that shared our beds at the guesthouse during the night and, frankly, we would not like to visit them again. It has become a running joke to see who among us is the “tastiest”!

Hana enjoying the advances of a very young man!

Does blonde hair attract attention? Absolutely. The tiny fingers of the babies and toddlers at the orphanage wrap around the light strands and run their fingers through it. People walking past on the street and stare. Young men blow kisses while some even work up the nerve to greet a “blanc” teenage girl and ask if she has a boyfriend (while simultaneously refusing to make eye contact with her mother standing by her side...!). A dark bandana or hat helps thwart such attention.

Nuggets from Haiti - 2011, part 2

A treasured memory is from a visit to the dormitory for St. Vincent’s youngest residents while lunch was served. Those able to reach the table on their own sat down and began to eat while the non-ambulatory kids were fed in their wheelchairs. After Yolen finished eating and the worker cleaned up, Sonya took a wet wipe from her bag and began to clean Yolen’s mouth of excess rice.

Diana eating in her wheelchair

Lunchtime, eating beans and rice, a Haitian staple


One of the deaf boys noticed, came over, and pointed to the wipes. Thinking she understood, Sonya pulled one out and tried to give it to him only to be refused. He simply pointed to his mouth and pointed his chin toward her, wordlessly requesting that his mouth be wiped too. This began a chain reaction of face wiping for every child in the dorm!

Everyone "needed" a wipe!

Good for wiping all parts of the face!

Everyone wanted their photo taken with a wipe.

Poses were struck! Smiles abounded!

It was wonderful to be able to provide this very simple pleasure for these sweet children but equally heartbreaking to know how much each child craves a mother’s touch even in the most practical ways. It is due to these types of experiences that we spend as much time with the children as possible when we visit, offering these moments that both the kids and our team cherish for a lifetime.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why Haiti?

Ariel of Haiti not long after take-off from Port-au-Prince

(While we usually write our posts from the perspective of our group as a whole, this one comes directly from TRTP Vice President, Sonya. This was written on her flight out of Haiti on her last trip at the beginning of July, 2011.)

With the last peak of the Haitian mountains barely visible from my window, my heart is heavy as I leave this little island in the Caribbean. The clouds break momentarily and the winding dirt roads through the twisting mountains become visible for a few precious seconds. My typing stops, my eyes close and I silently wish my plane were bound for Haiti, not departing.

People ask why I work in Haiti—why my eyes sparkle when I share about my experiences there. A single clear answer to such a complex question is difficult to give.

But of this I am certain: it is truly the people that draw me back, that red thread of destiny that connects me to them and them to me.

These are my brothers and sisters, my extended family. Just as I spend time with my friends and family in the states, there is an increasing urge to do the same in Haiti. And just as I would help my family if they were in need, I want to do the same for these beautiful people. Even though my skin is a different color, I feel as though I belong there.

Possibly the best answer to the question “why Haiti?” is given by offering an invitation: come with us sometime.

Experience life in Haiti.
Meet people.
Word side-by-side.
Get to really know them, not just on the surface.
Laugh, cry and everything in between.
Build lifelong relationships.

When that first child reaches for your hand or asks when you are coming back…
When people recognize you as you walk through the gate…
When you go from person to person, hugging and kissing brown cheeks…
Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll know my answer to that question.

It is a feeling, too strong for words, too difficult to explain.

As my personal monologue comes to a close, we have traveled far from Hispanola. Visible now is the beautiful coastline of another island. The beach is white and the water next to the coast an inviting light blue green, stretching out into a deep blue. It is unmarred by trash, debris and the telltale blue tarps of makeshift tents, truly the stereotypical tropical paradise.

While gorgeous, it isn’t nearly as beautiful as Haiti in my eyes. And I cannot wait to go back again.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Camp Jake is around the corner!

We are SO thrilled about the progress being made on CAMP JAKE! For those who may have missed this exciting news, The Red Thread Promise is starting a camp, Camp Jake Richard, as a summer retreat for the orphans at St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Campers will enjoy respite from the intense Haitian heat in a unique, fun-filled learning environment brimming with new activities and memorable experiences for these extraordinary children.

Tom, Camp Director, and Jake

Tom has volunteered countless hours to ensure that the inaugural year of Camp Jake is a success: from scouting, selecting and securing an appropriate location for children with disabilities, to planning activities, to creating a budget and fundraising, to finding the volunteers. We plan to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for these kids.

Thirty-three students will attend the camp which will be located at Kaliko Beach, Haiti. Driving 1.5 hours north by bus, the camp site feels worlds away from the children’s mundane daily existence in the heart of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

A volunteer staff of energetic American youth counselors will provide an incredible week of transforming disability into ability. Volunteers include artists, musicians, cooks, and mentors to provide the children with a wide variety of fun and exciting learning opportunities. Medical professionals will be on hand to provide medical evaluations and to teach the children basic hygiene skills.

Camp Jake Richard is designed to remove physical and emotional barriers, giving the children an opportunity to engage in:
  • Creative arts, such as sculpting, painting, music, sewing, and jewelry making, which will be both fun and therapeutic. These activities will also teach valuable skills that may enable career opportunities later in life.
  • Physical outlets including sports, aquatics, dancing, and even a special Olympics designed to develop their self confidence.
  • Social activities including cooking, dancing, storytelling, and cultural exchanges between the children and the counselors.
Campers will be encouraged to wholly express themselves physically and emotionally. They will have the opportunity to explore life in ways that will broaden their horizons, creating life-long memories.

Tom and Kathy recently made a presentation to Rotary Youth Leadership in the New Orleans area. Sixty high school age youth drilled the presenters with questions about St. Vincent's Center, the students and how they can help at Camp Jake this year and in summers to come. To top it off, they presented TRTP with a check for $7800 toward this year's camp!

As the camp dates draw closer, we continue to encourage our friends and donors to say "I PROMISE" to support Camp Jake and the children from St. Vincent's. Giving levels are greatly varied to meet each donor's needs:
  • $25, $50, $75, $100 or any denomination you choose are welcome!
  • Sponsor an orphan for $500
  • Sponsor a counselor for $750
  • Become a t-shirt sponsor for $1500
For your convenience, a PayPal button can be found on the sidebar or checks can be sent to The Red Thread Promise, 4027 Dauphine Street, New Orleans, LA 70117. Kindly write “Camp Jake” in the memo line.

When you send a donation in support of Camp Jake Richard, you do more than send money—you send hope to a Haitian child with a disability. Please join The Red Thread Promise in fulfilling our mission to improve the lives of special needs children.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Celebrating Jacob's life!

Jacob Noah Beachy

July 21, 2007 marks the day that the world lost a beautiful little boy named Jacob Noah Beachy. He, as you may know, is the namesake for The Red Thread’s domestic program: Jacob’s Fund. Born with a congenital heart defect, he endured 3 surgeries to repair his tiny heart. Following his last surgery, at the tender age of 3, he contracted MRSA and slipped away.

Mom holding Jacob and sister, Elyse

But today we refuse to mourn his loss—rather, we choose to celebrate his life! We remember the funny, spunky little boy who surprised, amazed and delighted both his family and everyone around him. We share our favorite memories of him, such as the times he heard birds chirping and said “Those birdies are talking to me.” Or when he would go to a children’s gymnasium where the teacher would blow bubbles on all the children’s bare bellies. As soon as Jacob heard the word “bubbles”, he’d pull up his t-shirt in anticipation!

The Red Thread Promise honors Jacob’s life every time we award a scholarship to a child in need of hippotherapy, the same critical treatment that Jacob received on many occasions. We celebrate when these children enjoy small successes on the backs of horses, at the hands of skilled therapists and handlers. When they say their first words or take their first steps – things their families had thought impossible – we see Jacob’s spirit alive and well in each one of them.

Jacob during a hippotherapy session

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Jacob’s Fund to help provide hippotherapy to an underprivileged child living with a disability. Help keep Jacob’s spirit alive through your generosity. For your convenience, a PayPal button can be found on the sidebar or checks can be sent to The Red Thread Promise, 4027 Dauphine Street, New Orleans, LA 70117. Kindly write “Jacob’s Fund” in the memo line.

We leave you with Jacob’s favorite book to read with his grandma. When they reached the end, he’d shut the book and say, “the end.” Then he would hand it to Grandma and say, “again!” And, of course, she would oblige him every time by reading:

by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak

I love you through and through
I love your top side
I love your bottom side
I love your inside
and outside
I love your happy side
your sad side
your silly side
your mad side.
I love your fingers
and toes
your ears
and nose
I love your hair and eyes,
your giggles
and cries.
I love you running
and walking,
and talking.
I love you through and through...
yesterday, today, and tomorrow, too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nuggets from Haiti - 2011, part 1

So, what do a bunch of medical professionals do for fun during their down time in Haiti? They break out the Vaseline and other concoctions to mix up batches and batches of scabies medicine, chuckling as the non-medical staff turns green just looking at the homemade goop, envisioning what needs to be done with it in the coming days.

(seated) Sienna; clockwise from left: Sherye, Dr. Bheki, Wes,
Susan and Wade mixing up scabies ointment

Having too much fun!

And what does it look like when an English-speaking American doctor tries to communicate with a deaf Haitian brace shop worker? It is absolutely fascinating. Neither spoke the other’s language, yet they managed to have a deep conversation about the different styles of braces and orthotics handmade by the craftsmen at St. Vincent’s. Amazing to see how caring for others transcends any language barrier.

Brace shop workers "speaking" with Dr. Eric about the manufacturing process

Transcending the language barrier

These are some of the little snippets from The Red Thread’s first four trips to Haiti this year that didn’t warrant a dedicated post but we wanted to share. We thought you would enjoy these fun, interesting nuggets from our travels that provide another glimpse into our work and Haitian culture. Look for more "nuggets" in emails to come.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Good intentions aren’t enough

On our last evening in Haiti, a young man joined us at our table on the hotel patio. His eyes were wide, full of fear; his voice shaky and unsettled. Clearly relieved to have found someone that spoke English, he asked “is it safe for me to walk outside these walls alone?” We answered honestly with a simple “no” and inquired about his work in Port-au-Prince.

To keep what could be a long and complex story short, he came from the northwest coast of the United States. After some consideration he “decided to come to Haiti to help”. A plane ticket was purchased, a room booked and he was on his way to Haiti to work for four days.

Upon reaching the PAP airport, he found himself without cell service (many US carriers don’t provide coverage in Haiti). Speaking no French or KrĂ©yol, he was unable to communicate with anyone. A good samaritan helped him purchase a pre-paid cell phone and gave the cab driver instructions to take him to the hotel where we met. During the 30-minute drive, he experienced extreme culture shock as he was clearly unprepared for the Haitian way of life in and around the capital city.

Adding to his stress, his credit card company put a freeze on his account since he had last used the card in California and now it was being used in Haiti—they assumed it to be stolen. To complicate things further, the cell phone that he purchased only made local calls so he could not reach his credit card company to unfreeze his account. The cherry on top of this twisted ice cream sundae was the fact that he had little cash on hand and was unable to pay for a cab or new plane ticket if his plans changed.

After less than an hour of conversation, he decided that it was in his best interest to leave immediately. We offered that he share our cab in the morning so he could at least get back to the airport and attempt to get home.

While his intentions were laudable, he stayed in the country for less than 24 hours and never lifted a finger to help anyone. Both time and money were wasted and he put himself in an extremely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation. The most unfortunate part is that he will most likely never set foot in Haiti again.

This brief but important encounter inspired us to share our thoughts on international volunteerism.
  • Research the country where you intend to work. Find out basics about the culture, currency, political environment and overall stability of the country. Decide if this is an area in which you will feel comfortable working.
  • Consider how your passion and skills may translate into the work you are interested in doing. Talk to or research people currently participating in this type of work in your country of interest to learn from their experiences and make sure it is a good fit for you.
  • Have a clear plan. Know where you are going, with whom you will be working and what you will be doing before entering the country.
  • Learn some common phrases in the native tongue. When locals hear that you are learning their language, cultural barriers begin to come down. Don’t assume that everyone speaks or understands your language.
  • Ensure that you have sufficient resources while traveling. Bank accessibility and cell phone service may be limited or non-existent in some areas.
  • Travel with at least one person who has been to your destination in the past. Someone with experience is worth their weight in gold.
  • Prepare for emergency situations. Register with the embassy of your home country so they are aware of your presence. Purchase sufficient travel insurance to facilitate medical or political evacuation if necessary.
  • Come with an open mind and equally open heart. Embrace the differences that you will experience. Build relationships that may last a lifetime.
By taking these steps you will greatly increase your chances of really making a difference in the lives of others and meeting your own philanthropic goals.

Desiring to help is a wonderful thing. But without proper planning, you may not have the fruitful experience you had hoped for.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The angels in red

This post is from Sonya personally. She is the Vice President of The Red Thread Promise.

One of the highlights of my last day in Haiti was going upstairs in St. Vincent’s dormitory to visit Yolen, a teenager that I have felt a strong connection to ever since we first met back in February. She is a quadriplegic with no use of her legs and extremely limited use of one arm and hand.


Yolen was lying in her bed when I entered the dormitory, but when she turned her head toward the door and saw me, her smile lit up the room. Each time we visit, I take the time to stroke her arms and her hair, to wipe lunch remnants off her face and talk to her, whether she can understand me or not. She recognized me instantly and kept reaching her tiny atrophied arm up to me so I could rub her arm as usual. We “talked” for awhile and then I had the honor of lifting her frail body out of the bed and into her new red wheelchair.

Her red dress reminded me of the day we presented Diana her chair back in February. She blended right in! It was such a blessing seeing Yolen in her new chair next to Diana. I look forward to seeing her again.


One of the sight-impaired boys examining Diana's wheel

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The gift of mobility

It has been a long and challenging process getting this container of wheelchairs to Haiti. Months of fundraising, thousands upon thousands of dollars, countless emails refining details with the manufacturer, 45 days on the sea en route to Haiti, piles of paperwork and finally navigating the Haitian government’s “process” in port and customs. But it is so worth the effort.

The culminating event was no Hollywood production (as much as we would have liked one!). It was a small group of dirty, hot Americans and Haitians working together to distribute the new chairs to St. Vincent’s students, alumni and community members.

In our best effort to practice responsible wheelchair provision, all recipients were brought to the courtyard at the school. Unlike many organizations, we do not believe in a “one size fits all” philosophy.

Four different size wheelchairs were set up outside Fr. Sadoni’s office. The older children and young adults capable of making their own decisions were able to test drive multiple chairs to determine which one was the right fit and would best suit their individual needs. Ronald helped up select the proper size wheelchairs for the youngest children who were waiting for us in the dormitory.

Caravanning the empty wheelchairs from the storage space to St. Vincent's school

As soon as all sizes had been determined, the team set out to the storage area to gather the appropriate chairs. One of the recipients, Rony, followed us and waited patiently outside so he could be first. As soon as he selected the one he wanted, he hopped in and was spinning around in an instant, practically doing a dance with his new wheelchair! He immediately requested a pen so he could mark it with his name that he proudly wrote on the backrest. He even stayed to help Sonya affix the stickers to the chairs.

Rony trying out his new chair

Adding his John Hancock to the backrest

Proud and tall

Unlike the frantic rice and water distributions following last year’s earthquake, the process at St. Vincent’s was calm. All the chairs were set out in rows, delineated by size while recipients eyed the chair that they wanted.

One by one, each person climbed into his or her new seat, some independently while others required assistance. A few were tentative, moving gingerly and slowly, testing out the brakes and the maneuverability of the mountain bike tires that are so different than the smooth hospital wheels they are accustomed to. Others were quickly trying to figure out how they could do tricks, pop wheelies and fly around the courtyard!

Helping a student into her new wheelchair

Test drive!

While their reactions varied greatly, audible thank you’s in Kreyol, English, French and sign language abounded.

Much to our surprise, some of the older boys chose not to accept a new chair. The puzzled looks on our faces prompted Jean Robert to ask why. The young men said they couldn’t play basketball in them! One boy explained that the thick all terrain wheels (meant for traversing rough terrain) wouldn’t allow the fluid movement necessary for wheelchair basketball. While unexpected, we respected their decision and, of course, now we are researching sports wheelchairs to include in coming shipments.

Since school had ended at St. Vincent’s right after our departure earlier in June, many of the students were on summer break with their families and unavailable to receive their chairs that day. However, there are plenty for them all when school returns!

Spare wheelchair parts

We are happy to have provided these chairs to St. Vincent’s and look forward to returning on future visits to check how the chairs are serving the children. Because of your generous monetary donations we could also provide enough replacement parts and tools for months to come. Thank you again for your continued support of The Red Thread Promise.