MARCH 2017…our team of 9 traveled over the course of 2 days to Port-au-Prince, the first 7 members arriving on a Friday and touring the city before collecting the last 2 of our team from the airport on Saturday afternoon and beginning the journey by mini-bus to Marigot. Six out of the group were seeing Haiti for the first time and visions of chaotic streets, drivers not obeying any semblance of rules, curbsides and riverbeds complete with trash, persons navigating fearlessly through the maze of slowly moving vehicles to cross streets gave way to sweeps of mountain views from a less busy road snaking its way up over the mountain to Jacmel on the sea. By Jacmel, the skies were growing dark and when we arrived at the rectory in Marigot, night was upon us. There, the priest from Belle Anse met us and we transferred our bags to his Toyota. With nine of us and all of our bags, the vehicle was packed – my seat was upon the bags and spare tire at the back. The others piled tightly together on the bench seats that lined the sides of the SUV. – If you have never traveled unimproved roads of one of the poorest nations of our world, you won’t be prepared for the experience of driving from Marigot to Belle Anse.

Even when your driver is experienced, it is not an easy ride. As we bumped and jostled along, I became more and more unable to stay on the pile of luggage that was my seat. It was dark, we were laughing and singing, I was bumping and bumping – about half-way through, one of the teen-aged young men offered to switch places. Imagine, if you will, body surfing in a tangled mass of knees and elbows…how else can I describe that switch of seats? The change was made and we continued for over 2 hours to bounce about in the back of the SUV. The dinner that awaited us made the rough ride worth it!

With us was a Landscaper who we all know as “Bubbi” – he came to work, so we set about assessing the situation – from tools and materials brought from the US to finding what was available locally and finding local talent to help. First thing Monday morning, we headed to the preschool to begin tearing out the damaged section of wall and carry away the rubble. Before long, the footing was being framed and before we finished that day, it was poured, the beginnings of repairs to the well were started and as the work progressed, Bubbi had identified key workers who shared their local expertise while he shared his and they learned from each other as to the best way to get the work done. Buried in this poor little town we found such talent and willingness to work that the successful repair of the wall was soon complete.

A tall, lanky man hovered around seemingly watching intently, remaining quiet for the first day, and not contributing to the labor. Others would hover around, lift a concrete block and move it a short distance when they caught the eye of one of our group – and in broken English tell us that they, too were working in expectation of being paid. We had to clearly state and restate how many we were paying and who they were. This tall man, though, never offered that he was “helping,” and he intrigued us. Eventually, when it was clear that we were trying to figure out the best solution for making a safe but useful cover for the well, he began to offer advice. Carpentry, we discovered, was his area of expertise, yet an accident of about 10 years past, had left him with just one arm and largely unemployable. Bubbi discovered that he had a wealth of knowledge and worked together with him to design a clever, tri-folding cover with rope for lowering a bucket – and Woody, earned the title of head carpenter, joining Lixon our head mason as the local leaders in charge of the construction projects.

With the wall almost complete, we began leveling the ground for the steps into the classroom area. Concrete blocks were laid on their sides to make two 6-inch steps with the third step into the classroom. Our two teenage travelers, Will and Quintin assisted young Haitian men mixing the concrete for all of the masonry work – a job accomplished by creating a hollowed pile of gravel, sand and concrete mix on the cement slab in the middle of the yard then pouring water in and mixing with shovels, this was scooped into 5-gallon buckets and carried to the wall or to the steps. Our American youth worked side-by-side with the youth of Belle Anse and with as much passion and effort – their actions surprised a few of the locals. When we visit, people often rush to help us carry our bags, expect us to eat first, and so forth, sometimes it is uncomfortable because we feel that they believe we have a status that entitles us to comfort and excuses us from physical work. I have never traveled to Haiti with Americans who do not want to work side-by-side with the Haitians they meet.

Having employed several community members to assist in the completion of the construction jobs, we split up our group so some of us could spend time working with the children in the preschool and with the preschool teacher. We want our preschool children to be fully engaged in their learning activities – getting full body movement, listening to engaging stories and doing activities that bring the stories they hear alive but our limited budget has kept us from bringing a training program to our staff. What we do to teach the teacher is to bring books, materials and supplies with us and work side-by-side with the teacher(s) while we “teach” for the day. This time, we read in French,, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, drew giant letter C’s, molded beeswax into caterpillars and made butterflies out of colorful tissue paper to attach to sticks and the children ran about, their ‘Papillons” fluttering behind them on sticks.

During this trip, we also met with a committee of youth from the local public high school and began the process of planning for a Days for Girls program. There were 5 young people, one young man and 4 young women who agreed to get as many as 300 “girls” registered. We left them with registration forms and instructions that someone from Return2Haiti would return by late June to pick up the registration forms. The Days for Girls program was scheduled for August.

Finally, we also visited the Catholic elementary school and Skyped between the children there and a Catholic elementary school in Michigan.

It was a busy week, yet we found time to sight-see a bit – observing an octopus, a lionfish and sea urchins at Oyster Lagoon, swimming every afternoon in the sea and hanging out with the children at the beach.