Thursday, February 27, 2014

My Parents' Visit to Cange, Haiti


On January 18th we returned from a visit with Alan in Cange, Haiti.  It was a busy week filled with experiences and friendships we will never forget.  It is difficult to put into words the impression this visit made on us but we would like to share a few of these experiences with our family and friends.

First of all, we want to you to know that Alan is doing well.  He’s happy and enjoying the work he is doing in the Cange community as well as the surrounding rural areas.  His Haitian Creole has improved to the point that he spends a lot of time translating for visitors (his parents included).  We are very proud of the relationships and trust he has developed with the people.  A testament to this was the number of invitations we received to visit locals’ homes whether to share coconut milk, a meal, or to receive gifts that were presented to us in gratitude for his work there.  

He has various projects he is working on with much of his time spent in meetings with locals to form committees, objectives and support.  Whether it is forming a town council, agriculture development, water supply initiatives, or finding a new location for the town marketplace, all are intended to educate and create a sense of sustainability and responsibility within each area.  It is a slow process but he is motivated by the their increased realization of such an approach.  Much of his work is detailed on his blog for those that are following or would like to learn more.  The web address is:                    

Some brief highlights of our week were:

Sunday church service at the Episcopal Parish within the Partners in Health/Zamni Lasante campus.  Alan lives within this campus along with Clemson engineering interns, visitors, Haitian nurses and doctors, children in an orphanage and other locals.

Tour of College Bon Sauveur, the Episcopal school for primary – secondary education.  Built in 1982 from the inspiration of the (now retired) priest of Cange, Father Fritz Lafontant.  The cost for each student is approximately $100/year. Partners in Health had supported the salaries at the school; however, following a significant drop in financial resources after a surge of donations in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Partners in Health had to stop funding of the teachers. The Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina (EDUSC), a 35-year partner of Cange, as accepted the call to raise emergency funding for the school for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 in addition to seeking long-term sustainable strategies for supporting College Bon Sauveur. You can find more information about this at their campaign website:
Tour of open sided classroom (within campus) for those who can’t pay tuition for Bon Sauveur. All levels are grouped together with one teacher.

Hike (530+ steps) down to Bas Cange (Lower Cange) to visit the dam sponsored by EDUSC and built in 1983 as the first water source for Cange.  It was updated in the past 4 years by Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries (CEDC).  It brings water to 8 stations dispersed along the village main street as well as the entire Zanmi Lasante medical campus. 
Tour of Centre de Formation Fritz Lafontant (CFFL).  This vocational school is supported by Partners in Agriculture / Zamni Agrikol. Students from the Central Plateau can study agriculture, woodworking, or construction. Sales of the products produced at the farm and school support the operation of the school.

Zanmi Lasante ordered 375 benches from the students of CFFL to use in the Ecole Populaire schools around the Central Plateau

Tour of new University Hospital in Mirebalais (10 miles from Cange) built by Partners in Health/ Zamni Lasante.  Mark met with the chief of surgery and the one part time Urologist.  He also assessed the need for urological equipment.  Folks spend the night outside waiting to be seen by a physician the next day. The teaching hospital is the largest solar powered hospital in the world, and it produces more than 100% of its electrical needs during peak daylight hours.
The last and most memorable experience was a mid week 6 hour hike across the mountain from Cange to La Hoy, a rural zone of various small communities in close proximity to each other.  Each community contains several dwellings in which connected families live.  It was here we witnessed the challenges, joy, respect and love that define the Haitian people. 

Two friends of Alan’s, Jonas and Pierre, (and 3 other gentlemen) organized the trip and invited us to join them.  Alan had not been to this area and wasn’t aware of the mission these gentlemen had.  Our first stop was in Zaboka, where we visited an elderly gentleman who lives with his wife.  He had an infection in his toe that was spreading up his leg and was in severe pain.  It was obvious he needed immediate attention.  We discussed the situation and moved on to the next 2 “zones” named Plaine de Rose and Plaine de Sucre.  Being the very first visitors to their area, we were greeted by 30+ multigenerational members of these communities singing a beautiful song, clapping and thanking us for our visit.  They presented us with a silver key to their community and welcomed our families and friends to visit anytime.  

At this point a young man shared his testimonial of the struggles they endure – no water, no food, no medicine and fear that they will be forgotten. They asked if we would share their story to bring this awareness to others. After this greeting, we were lead into a fenced area decorated with large, beautiful fans made of palm fronds.  We passed through an entrance of trailing fronds into a courtyard with a single table covered with a beautiful white embroidered tablecloth – a treasured possession to share with us.  Here our guides gave us a large bag of fruity hard candies to pass out to our hosts.  It was very moving to see their joy in this small treat.  From this ceremonial spot we continued to walk further up the mountain to see the homes of each individual family.  They were 10X10 shacks each with 4 wooden walls, an opening to enter and roofs made of rags, thatch or tin.   There were no raised platforms inside for sleeping and many housed 8 – 10 people.  We did see one home with a raised area that accommodated a paraplegic lady with no explanation or treatment for her condition.

We also saw the only water source for the area, and because this is the dry season, it contained a very minimal amount of water.  The water is contaminated and out of desperation they drink from this water source, thus a high rate of cholera plagues the community.

Needless to say, it was a very somber hike back to Cange where we shared a meal at Jonas’ house.  Here the gentlemen told us about the organization they have formed to help the folks in this area.  After sharing their email address and plan to rescue the man from Zaboka, we headed back to the campus. 

The next day with a payment of food and water, a couple of our guides recruited some men from the zones to bring the sick man down to the medical clinic in Cange.  Once this was arranged we got a call saying they needed to buy some clothes to replace his soiled clothes before bringing him into the clinic.  We offered to help with the expenses of the food, water and clothes – a total of $12.00!  From the clinic the man was transported to the hospital in Mirebalais.  His diagnosis was severe diabetes.  Fortunately no amputation was needed and he was carried back to his home with medications.  Our prayers were answered before we left for the U.S.

Haiti is a beautiful country where many people lack basic necessities. But the people are filled with such joy of life, self-respect, love for each other and their country but most importantly, love of God.  This was witnessed as we heard singing and watched silhouettes of arms raised in prayer on the mountaintops at dusk each evening. We understand the need they have to learn from others in developed countries.  However, now we realize there is much to learn from them as well.

We are so grateful for this opportunity to visit with Alan and relate to his experience.  Also, we are truly thankful for all of our blessings, especially our family and friends.  Your continued prayers of support for Alan have kept him strong as he continues this mission he is called to do.

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