The Five Senses, plus one

The Heroes of Independence, where the Haitian Revolution was won.

The city of Cap-Haitien is Haiti’s second largest city and is home to over 800,000 people. Since the January 12th earthquake over 40,000 survivors have relocated here. Driving through Cap-Haitien for the first time was slightly jarring. Everyone seemed to be moving in some direction, where I’m not sure. The unemployment rate is at 95%. The only place I can compare it to is East St. Louis, Illinois. There African Americans face a similar plight with 90% + unemployment rates, poor housing, along with high poverty and disease rates. East St. Louis does not however have the same historical significance as Cap-Haitien, the Haitian Revolution started here. This is King Henri Christophes town. I am surrounded with great Haitian history. But I am also surrounded with the legacy of colonialism, political corruption and deep poverty.

Tuesday morning we went to visit a brother and sister Gaby knew in the largest hospital in North Haiti. The claim to “largest” is not what you would typically think. Words can not express the despair and sickness I saw there. When we entered the compound there were people milling around. Walking up to the surgery ward I saw a small dog laying in the middle of the steps surrounded by people who paid it no attention. The dog looked half dead. The structure is unlike what most Americans think of when they think of hospitals. There was an emergency ward, a surgery ward and separate wards for women and men. However, you will find no receptionist to tell you where to go. You will find no halls and no separate patient rooms. The room held about 25-30 beds all with patients who looked like they were at deaths door. Any patient who stays here must bring their own linens, their own food and basically fend for themselves. I still cannot remove the stench of sickness from my mind. I will never forget the smell of pending death. Now you may ask why I am designating these people to death, I’m not. I did not see one person in the recovery phase. There we flies open air bed pans and an extreme lack of sanitation. The emaciated look of these human beings was stark and it would take nothing short of a proper medical facility to improve their quality of life.

Imagine receiving a blood transfusion in a gas station bathroom. Think of that and you might be close to the reality these patients face on a daily basis.

With most things there is a silver lining. While walking through the different wards we did see several groups of young women being trained to be community health aides. They are being trained to go out into their communities and promote positive health. Basic things we take for granted in the States are not common knowledge or practice for many living in absolute poverty. Just as many of us learned to wash our hands, not to cross contaminate and how to care for cuts, the people in this city must learn too. These things are not just organically learned!

Once we left the hospital we headed to visit with the members the of local womens group, The Association of Valiant Women of Limonade (RAFAVAL). These women are a stark contrast of those we saw in the hospital. They are working to build power for themselves. I had the opportunity to talk to the women and learn more about the issues they face in Limonade. Domestic violence, family planning and assertion of women’s rights were among the greatest. I took some video footage of them singing a song about strength and power, the internet connection isn’t fast enough for me to load. I WILL load it once I get back to the states.

This is my work, to fight for our women- Ernise, RAFAVAL Coordinator (Pictured Right)

These were not women who sit idly by waiting for someone to save them. RAFAVAL boasts a membership of over 500 women from the 3 sections of Limonade. The women meet once a month. They organized THEMSELVES. Sonje Ayiti partners with them to produce and sell Cocoa d’Haiti. I’ve tasted hot chocolate made from this cocoa and it is WONDERFUL. The proceeds go back into the Koud-a-Koud project to help fund more micro-loans. I purchased some of the cocoa today and plan to share once I get back.

We are who we are because of what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. What we become is because of our vision.

My next post will focus on the concept of vision. I’ve seen the fruit of Sonje Ayiti’s vision and will share more examples. I’m headed to Port-au-Prince tomorrow. I’m not sure what I’ll see there, but I’m sure that it will leave one of the many everlasting impressions I have of Haiti. I am staying at the Haiti Response Coalition house and hope to shadow some of their organizers working with communities living in tent cities. Until next time…Peace

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