Yeshiva University - Haiti - June 2012

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Wrapping up our work at the clinic in Port-au-Prince

Today's blogger, Sam, teaching the students about dental hygiene

Today was Wednesday, day 4 of the trip, and what a packed day it was. The day began as per usual; davening followed by breakfast, but took a slightly different turn when, instead of hopping on our bus, we remained at the hotel to be honored with a guest speaker. Josh from Heart to Heart enlightened us with a talk about the organization he’s affiliated with, heart to heart’s history, its goals and its projects. Also interesting about that talk was that it gave us a fascinating perspective of an American living in Ayiti’s outlook on the country’s wonder, as well as its flaws.

After that we were off to school for the third and last installment of our projects with the kids: oral hygiene/health day. We held up posters of dirty, unhealthy teeth, and explained to the children how to make sure that their teeth would stay nice and healthy. Each kid walked away with an exciting goody bag filled with a toothbrush, paste, and floss.

Big Smiles!

Then all the kids made a circle around us and we transmitted a message of physical exercise by teaching them ‘cotton eye joe’, ‘the Macarena’, and ‘head-shoulders-knees-and-toes’, (which the kids loved and even taught us their own haitan version of the song!) After emotional goodbyes with our children whom we so closely bonded with these past three days, we traveled to a very old mansion in Petitiontville for lunch and a tour given by our very own Lionel.

Next we returned to the Heart to Heart building to put the finishing touches on our clinic.

We finished up painting, cleared out age-old trash that was piled up in corners, applied varnish to walls, and swept and cleaned the floors one last time. Confident that our work would be left in good hands, we finished up, admired our work, and returned to the hotel to clean up. Instead of having dinner at the usual time, we had the privilege of driving to the house of Maryse Panette Kedar at the Prodev office, who explained to us her efforts in solving Ayiti’s various crises mainly through targeting the uneducated, and the importance of each of us striving to help the world out any way we can. Her wisdom and charisma really inspired us to yearn to make an impact in this struggling world.

Lastly, after more dinner and bonding back at the hotel, we were enlightened by yet another of (Rav) Adam Berman’s deep and thought-provoking sessions. Tonight he entertained the notion of ‘Chosenness’ of the Jewish people, what that means for us and how it affects our relationship with non-jews, and the differences between responsibility and superiority. We broke up into pairs and read discussed various sources, whether it be from the Torah, from the Rambam, Rav Hirsch or others. Although by the end of the session we were physically exhausted and tired, our minds were fully awakened. That wraps up Day 4 of our trip to Ayiti.

To me, the most inspirational part of today was seeing just how happy the men from the clinic were, how thankful they were to us for all that we did for them, and how excited they were to put our work to good use.

– Sam

PS – Happy 2nd anniversary to Jon and his wife!

Happy Anniversary!

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Haiti: Day 3

Working at the school:
going back to the school for a second day was a truly meaningful experience. Any hesitation or separation that we felt on the first day completely dissolved when we reentered the classroom. The kids were excited for our return and even brought their projects (all about me) from yesterday back to school. We got to really connect to them on so many levels by teaching them and singing with them. Though communication is difficult this separation disappears in song. We united by tunes and tones from both of our cultures. This was a great follow up to the science experiments that we did with the kids. We taught them about engineering and architecture by building bridges, “pons”, out of toothpicks and gummies. We introduced them to the fun in chemistry by creating a chemical reaction with vinegar and baking soda – an exploding volcano. This message was only furthered when they got to mix and keep their very own silly putty. It was so meaningful to see how much they learned and cared to experience all the lessons we aspired to teach them.

During our mid-afternoon lunchtime break we were privy to attend the Haiti historical museum. There we learned about the Haitian history – from the time before the colonization of 1492 (Christopher Columbus) through the Haitian revolution, and ultimately learning about their recent history and current challenges.  It was interesting to see the influences of outside cultures on the Haitian society. We learned of the introduction of Vodo to the religion, the separation of French Haiti from the Spanish DR and so much more.

Working in the Medical Clinic:
When we arrived at the medical clinic today we were able to witness for the first time the difference we are making in Haiti. What just yesterday looked like a run-down wall, today appeared like what one would expect of any medical facility. It was nice to see what we had already accomplished and encouraged us to continue our work at an increased and more enthused rate

Favorite parts of the day:

Josh R – I really enjoyed the museum; learning about Haiti and its history.

Davina S – i loved singing and dancing with the kids in the classroom. We sang both American and Haitian songs uniting the culture.

Sarah B – My favorite part of the day was listening to the kids sing their Haitian national anthem

Melissa A – it was really fun making the silly putty with the kids. They were excited to learn about it and the process of making it.

Talia M – I liked making bridges put of gumdrops with the kids. Pons is bridge in creole

Yaniv L – my favorite parts of the day were the Haitian museum and teaching the kids the Baruch HaGever toon with hand motions

Sam W – building bridges with the kids out of dots and toothpicks in “science day”

Rebecca T – dancing with the kids at the school and reuniting with our friends that we made yesterday for another great day

Shani B – my favorite part was painting the medical clinic. Two little Haitian boys joined our work and it was fun working and getting to know them

John A – my favorite part was returning to our work. We got to see what we accomplished in our previous days work and for the first time really see the difference that we are making

Michal W – walking into the school and seeing the kids that remember me from yesterday and coming over and give me a hug.

Adam B – learning and discussing with team everyone.

Talya L – while driving we passed a Haitian painting of the “Last Supper”. It was interesting to see that amongst the other Haitian art another cultures famous piece entered the mix.

Avi A – I really enjoyed building with dots. Everyone really came together to achieve one goal. The kids got to experience group work and individual work by getting to build their own bridge.

Calixte Y – my favorite part was the volcano project. This was my first time watching this project be done and it  explodes like a volcano. The kids really enjoyed it.

Ruth B – I really liked dancing with kids. The kids get so happy when try break out in song and dance and it’s a medium in which we can bond over

Devora W – I was really impressed with the kids interest in what we were teaching them in our hands on learning. They had a lot of patience and concentration and wanted to take the time and effort to do it on their own.

Shauna R – watching the students at YU interact with the Haitian students of Heart to Heart.

Muller M – we work very hard and it was nice that it rained (first time in a month)

Aliza A – The united singing and dancing and cross cultures.

Miriam G – I really liked going to the museums today. It was really interesting learning about Haitian history

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The Heart to Heart Clinic in Bel Air

Developing our lesson plan on the roof of the Bel Air clinic

After our first day of getting a little taste of Hatain culture and history, we began our second day a little differently. We started off our day in Bel Air, which is downtown Port-au-Prince. As we drove through the area, our tour guide informed us that Bel Air is one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in Port-au Prince. The real work started when we arrived at the Heart to Heart Clinic in Bel Air. We were taken to the rooftop to assess the city from up high and to see some of the damage that the earthquake did to the area.

Heart to Heart is an organization that has set up a clinic in Bel Air that serves about 20,000 people who live in that area. JDC has been a partner of Heart to Heart since the earthquake, providing necessary medical equipment, care, and education. We were taken a back when we saw the one dentist that only sees five to ten patients per week. This is the only dentist in the entire area that is able to serve the thousands of Hatians who seek medical help. In addition to seeing patients, the clinic also has a pharmacy and a lab in the same building. When we took a tour, we saw many patients waiting to be seen by the pharmacist.

Heart to Heart has also established a school downstairs. We were told that classes are composed of children of all ages and that attendance is not necessarily consistent, but they are trying to encourage a culture of education.

We had the amazing opportunity to teach the Haitian children that attend this school, and we will also do this tomorrow and Wednesday. In preparation for our trip, we had decided that we wanted to do an “About Me” project with the children. We really wanted to be able to come away with a better sense of the children and their culture, as well as share something about ourselves. The students were split into three groups. Each student decorated a paper with what they thought represented themselves. They were told to include their dreams, hobbies, and favorite things. We went around and took Polaroid pictures of each of them, and they attached the pictures to their decorated paper. The children were fascinated by the Polaroid picture and how instantaneous the picture was printed. The art projects were really beautiful and served as a self-reflection for each of them.

We were overwhelmed with a classroom full of students, as other students started to join our group. We were embraced by children of all ages. It was truly amazing to see how we could all connect with the children, even though we could not verbally communicate. The only phrases we could say were, “what’s your name” and “how are you,” and we had to rely on translators for anything else. However, the language barrier did not stop us from forming a connection with the children. It was really a moving experience to see their happiness from the session. We ended the session by singing and dancing to popular songs that both we and the children knew.

After we parted from the children and told them we would see them tomorrow, we had lunch on the bus while we saw more of downtown Bel Air. The group then headed back to the Heart to Heart clinic to work upstairs on the actual clinic.

Today we focused on painting a wall of the clinic that was covered in grime and fading paint. We first sanded the wall and then began to paint it. We followed the instruction of other workers in the clinic. The walls of the clinic were chipped and dirty, and it made a huge impact to be able to brighten this area for the patients. When someone is ill and has to go to the clinic, it gives the patient more dignity to be able to go to an area that doesn’t look like it is covered in a layer of dust and dirt. The changes that we are making to the clinic are going to enable the patients to feel more comfortable in coming to seek medical attention. That was just the beginning. Over the next two days, we will be building an office for the clinic so that the patients can be consulted by a doctor in privacy, rather than out in the open, as is done now. One of the other workers in the clinic, Jimmy, expressed how excited he was for us to finish this project. We are truly honored to be working on this project, as we have already seen the impact it has on the spirit of the Haitians around us.

– Ruth

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Our First Day in Haiti

When looking back on my first day in Haiti, I am honestly at a loss for words. Today has been nothing like I have ever experiences and I’m sure I can speak for the majority our group on that statement. For all we saw and heard on our first day, I’m not certain were in for a truly powerful and emotionally-packed week.

It became clear to me early on that every scene and every image I was to encounter would be significant – in beauty and in destruction. It was an iconic start to our day when we were welcomed to the Port au Prince Airport by a band, perhaps hired by the airport or the government to impart a good impression to tourist before entering the crammed and hectic airport scene unfolding inside.

My first thought was how this airport must have looked during the earthquakes initial aftermath. We hasn’t seen anything. Our local guide Lionel has a huge personality, eager to educate us on the complex history of his native homeland. Jderhy, the JDC  representative in Haiti is helping us along the way in our journey. Riding in our van across this capital city, there’s an overbearing sense of culture shock; feeling as though this all may be a figment of my imagination or a scene in a movie about African blood diamonds or some obscure documentary  I may have come across while flipping channels on the TV. The sight of UN vehicles casually riding past impoverished neighborhoods is somewhat disturbing, conjuring up questions from the group to Lionel about government corruption and drug wars.

We encounter a torn nation, saddled with serious challenges but at the same time seemingly hopefully to overcome them and become stronger. We visit a clinic that is run by JDC’s partner in Haiti, Afya. There people paralyzed or severely injured by destruction are finding new ways to continue living in hope with state of the art prosthetics and intensive rehabilitation. Seeing the work some of these organization do for people who would otherwise be ignored is nothing short of inspirational.

And there’s a deep respect found when driving through the streets of Port Au Prince. The entrepreneurial spirit of every single Haitian at the side of the road, selling shoes or electronics or artwork to get by says something profound about these people.

At the end of the day we pass the government palace. The image of it in ruins post earth quake epitomizes the image of a paralyzed government crumbling down the beautiful fortress that is their very country. Though, the buck doesn’t stop at the states failures alone, there is a plethora of tangled history in many aspects of the society as well.

But, for all there is to say about the failures and challenges, I cannot ignore the overwhelming feeling of opportunity for the Haitian people. Through the next few days, I pray I can help build on those feelings and help envision a better future for some of these incredibly brave and fascinating people.

– Josh