Monday, October 27, 2014

Peanut Butter Sandwich

Have you ever been offered food that you turned your nose up at? Maybe it was something sweet, but you were craving savory. Maybe It was too light, and you were wanting something more substantial. Or maybe...It was a peanut butter sandwich, and you just weren't in the mood.

Today, we were tasked with delivering lunch to several elderly people in Titanyen. The translation of the city's name? Less than nothing. Before leaving, we made up several peanut butter sandwiches. A simple meal, but one we'd  been advised their stomachs could handle. We bought a few cartons of orange juice too, which we poured into paper cups. Something refreshing to wash their meal down with. Our tap tap drove through the hotter than hot desert climate,  and eventually turned off the road, onto a bumpy, gravel and weed padded down path, lined tightly with one room shacks made of cement and metal. As we jumped off the back of the tap tap, we were greeted with eager neighborhood children, all hopeful and curious of what we came bearing. I quickly concealed the sandwiches under my shirt, knowing they were intended for the specific elders we were delivering to. One of the most painful things about Haiti is coming to learn you can't meet every smiling, desperate face with a so needed physical gift, be it food or drink.

The first shack fell below my expectations, as I crossed through the crooked door into a dark, dirty and small room. Greeted by Marie, a 104 year old women who sat on the filthy hard floor staring straight ahead and smiling. No entertainment in the form of TV, radio, crafts, etc. No comfort except the thin blanket that separated her frail bones and housecoat from the floor where she sat. Yet sadly, she knew nothing different.


After each home we visited, my role as conductor of the greeting wagon, bearing the sandwich became harder and harder. My optimistic smile slowly became forced and a lump in my throat quickly formed after every home and life we peeked inside of. Eventually, our group moved onward into the fourth home. We were welcomed into Aloude's home, a bit more spacious and bright than the past few.  Her children and grandchildren followed her and us closely inside. After a brief greeting via our translator, I handed the peanut butter sandwich to Aloude.  Sometimes it's uncomfortable giving away something  like a peanut butter sandwich, which to us, feels small and minimal. But Aloude very graciously accepted it and within a few seconds began ripping the sandwich into pieces, dispersing it amongst her many wide eyed, hopeful grandchildren until there was nothing left. At that point, my heavy eyes could no longer hold their tears. Amongst the  deep poverty and despair in Titanyen  lies selflessness, love and generosity deeper than any I've ever witnessed. Which all stemmed...from a peanut butter sandwich.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Incredulous

Haiti is a baffling intellectually, unbelievable sensory experience in terms of sights, sounds, and smells, and an intensely emotional overload.  It is a spiritual journey of biblical proportions and an opportunity to feel more alive, more gratitude, and more love than one can imagine while trying to serve the people of Haiti.
Wayne Jeffrey
October 25

Yesterday our team went to two amazingly beautiful orphanages where the children are well cared for and loved.  

It brought me back to my first mission trip to Haiti in 2010.  On that trip we visited two very poor, run down orphanages.  At one of these orphanages I met a young man of about 11 years old.  We hugged, played and bonded for a life time. In his eyes I could feel the hope of having a mother to call his own. His smiles were addicting.  He was fun and played joyfully with the other children.  Fast forward 6 months when I returned once again to the same orphanage.  As soon as I jumped down from the tap tap the boys went running to find my “ Haitian son”.  They brought him to me smiling and he was once again full of joy.  Between playing soccer with his friends he would run to me for  hugs and love.  

Now, fast forward to yesterday, October 25, 2014.  It has been over a year since I was last here in Haiti.  Today we visited his new orphanage, which is outstandingly beautiful.  A castle on the hill overlooking the city below.  The children were all busy with the events of that day and I had been wandering around the complex for awhile.  As I glanced up to the top of the hill where the children were taking part in the days events, I  saw to boys staring down at me.  One was pointing toward me for the other to see.  My heart leaped because I knew it was my boy.  The next few minutes will be replayed in my heart forever.  Our hearts instantly connected and we walked quickly to one another and embraced.  This time his eyes were sad.  I could feel his lack of hope that one day I could be his mother.  Tears were in his eyes, as we both told one another that we loved each other.    That’s when I became shattered.  My heart and soul hurt to the very core.   I would love nothing more than to be his mother.  In my heart I am.  But it hurts so desperately much!!!!!!

I know we are not supposed to bond to one orphan over another, but it just happened.  The other children know of our bond and make sure to always bring us together. No matter how much time passes, our life long relationship will always be.

I believe our whole team has been amazed and shattered at different times in different places on the trip this week.  We leave our hearts here in Haiti with the Haitian people.  They will always be with us as we travel back to the United States.  


“I am a shattered person amazingly used by God”

















Saturday, October 25, 2014

Friday October 24      “Kids”

Today we went, as in the bible, “up the mountain.” Two hours in the tap-tap truck, through another city in Haiti at a higher elevation, still obviously Haitian but much more upscale and bourgeois than anything we have seen here. Yet we drive still higher till the pavement ends and only a rough pathway up the mountain remains. As we crawl along in the tap-tap, we are passed by people walking faster than we can drive. Creeping along with mere inches to spare to the edge of the mountain, we are passed by a small motorcycle carrying 12 “kid” goats, 6 per side. 
   
At long last, we arrive at Reiser Heights School, climb out of the truck, and are awed by the magnificent vista looking down the mountainside to a huge lake in the distance. As we make our our way into the school of 340 students we are met with smiles that melt our hearts. The students dressed in their crisp uniforms come to us with hugs and high-fives and the younger ones hold our hands and jump into our willing arms. Each classroom is filled with children eager to learn and behaving as obedient, respectful students.

As we move from classroom to classroom, the children flock to us unconditionally. Even though words fail us with a language barrier, the language of smiles and hugs and affection break through with no problem at all. The school is emptied to the schoolyard and an inspirational, joyous singalong is begun with the students, translators and mission team.


Too soon, it is time to leave these lovely, loving young children and load us up in the tap-tap for the trip back “home” to Port-au-Prince. As we think and reflect about our trip and all we have seen so far and the things about  which we have learned, changes for the better very likely will be effected by the educated people. The people of the future--the kids.






















Thursday, October 23, 2014

“I thirst” 
In the chapel in which we celebrated Mass today, the words, “I thirst”  were affixed to the wall next to the crucifix.  These were some of the final words uttered by the Lord as he hung upon the cross.  With arms outstretched, Jesus spoke of the very human need to satisfy physical thirst.  But, his words also revealed the heart of God’s plan of salvation, a divine thirst that each person lean into God’s loving and merciful embrace.

We spent the rest of the day attempting to satisfy thirst - human and divine.  We met the Reiser Relief water truck in Cite Solei, a portion of Port-au-Prince that many regard as the poorest area in the world.   Most of us agreed with that assessment.  The conditions were horrendous.  One of our group described the conditions as “subhuman”.   The truck honked the horn, alerting the people that the water truck had arrived.  The people, mostly women and children, arrived at the truck with various size buckets to collect water.  Several girls and women picked up buckets full of water, placed the buckets on their heads, and walked to their homes.   They then hustled back to the truck and repeated this routine several times.  The team helped others carry the buckets to their homes, which gave us a different look into their lives.  Hopefully, the water in these buckets went toward satisfying the human thirst for at least one day.

Our team was also privileged to participate in God’s plan of announcing His divine thirst for them, especially the children.  They flocked to us, some with dirty clothes and some with no clothes at all.  They raced to us, wanting to be held, to be embraced, to be loved.  What a joy to welcome them into our arms, sometimes a child in each arm and one on the back.  God was thirsting for them and used our outstretched arms to reveal that thirst, that they would know of His intense, personal and eternal love for them.

But, God was also revealing his thirst for the team members.   The children approached us with outstretched arms, inviting us into their embrace, into His embrace.  At that moment, amidst such difficult conditions, we needed to be reminded of God’s thirst for us, of his intense, personal and eternal love for us.  We needed to lean into his merciful embrace, which was accomplished through the outstretched arms of the poorest of children.  














Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sick and Dying Babies

The lobby was a hot, open room with a tiled floor and a dozen mothers and fathers holding their sick, dying, and crying babies. Some were nursing. Some were sleeping quietly in their parents' arms. All were painfully innocent, and had succumb to more pain and suffering in their short lives than any adult I have ever known. 

We had arrived at the aptly named home for “sick and dying babies”. 

Once our collection of donations had been wheeled in, we gingerly made our way through the lobby and to the grounds. Beyond the lobby lie countless sick children. Some are orphans, but most live there due to a lack of proper medical care at home. Babies cried in their cribs, their bodies too thin to hold up poorly fitting cloth diapers that hung low off their hips. There were older kids too. Playing with blocks, or sheepishly making their way over to us in a hope to be noticed. Of course, we were happy to oblige. We held them, fed them, played with them, and gave them the special attention that a handful of overworked and underappreciated nuns and workers couldn’t always provide. 

One young man in an orange Tigger shirt took a liking to me. I don’t know if it was my smiling face or sweaty shoulder he was using for a pillow. Either way we were a good fit, and saying goodbye was more difficult than I expected.

Today was surreal. There wasn’t our jobs, or bosses. There were no tall buildings, no morning commute. There was nothing for us to grab on to to define “reality” as we knew it. There were only people. Babies, kids, sisters and workers, and a loving group of Americans that, for a couple hours, held and fed sick and dying babies.




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reality Becomes Personal



Yesterday reality stared us in the face.  Today we got to touch it.  Fifteen of us just finished debriefing the day.  We were all asked to share one word that reflected our feelings of the experience we encountered.  Our words were diverse ranging from “incomprehensible” to “joy” to “touch”.  Let me explain the diversity.  
Yes, all of us are struck by the dire conditions. We drove for over 3 hours today and everywhere we went, the view was the same (no “it gets better around the corner.”)  The other words reflected the “personal” experience.  
This morning we were on the road by 9:00 heading to a home for sick and dying.  While there we all gave massages to people of all ages.  For the woman, we also painted their nails if they wanted.  That’s where reality become personal.  It’s hard to describe the joy you see on someone’s face when the comfort of cool lotion is rubbed on their skin or their feet and shoulders and arms massaged. The smiles and the eyes which say thank you are priceless and memorable.  (As my son said before I left on this trip “mom - smiles overcome any language barrier”.  He was right). 
The afternoon took us to the Village of Jesus a home for abandoned aging women.  Here we feed them lunch with our homemade peanut butter sandwiches and orange juice (which were a huge hit.)  We then again did our “spa treatment”.  This is when “touch” begin to resonant with us newbies (first mission trip).  Touch is something that gives others respect.  We quickly learned showing people they are special through touch is powerful.  People just want to know they matter.  
As all of us head to bed exhausted from the days experience (and heat) what appears to be the most dominate feeling or thought is this.  As one of the group put it “we are all special in God’s eyes.  When we touch others sincerely trying to make them feel special, they are the ones who make us feel special”.  


















Monday, October 20, 2014

Oct 20: Haiti: The Concept Becomes Reality

4:30 am:  MSP airport, 30 50-pound suitcases with donations from baby clothing to health supplies, 15 carry-ons, 15 back packs, and 15 teal-shirted travelers eager with anticipation.
2:30 pm: Port-au-Prince airport, same 30 suitcases....15 carry ons...15 back packs....and 15 teal shirted travelers jamming into a mini bus called a Tap Tap - looking similar to the "how many clowns can we get in the tiny car" circus act.
4:30 pm:  Arrive at our new home - bags down, and off to buy some supplies in that same clown car, and our first chance to see the streets of Haiti.  What we experienced:
-  People carrying huge loads of "wares" on their heads, including water
-  Selling any and everything on the street - including mattresses duct-taped to the dirty fences lining the street
-   Several LOTTO stores (gambling)
-  A man urinating on the street
-  A grocery store not that different from "the states"
-  Traffic - chaos, gridlock, pick up truck-taxis jammed full of Hatians, bouncing up and down - HARD on the streets - us too.
-  Boys  about 10 years of age jumping on to the back of our moving bus/tap tap - sticking their hand through the security screen in the back of the bus begging for anything we might give.
-  An evening of tired travelers feeling a sense of oneness around a table prepared with shepard pies and then getting our "gear" (donations and food) ready for tomorrow.
-  Last prep: our heads and hearts.  A deep breath, a catch in our throats:  first stop - hospital for sick and dying - Carrefour.  Our job:  get up close and personal - as in - rub lotion on the elderly that are in need of loving touch.  Stop #2:  Village of Jesus in Leogane:  Home for Elderly Abandoned Women.  Assignment:  Love them up thru serving lunch, mass, singing/music, and washing their feet.
Nothing like jumping feet first into the deep end.
Here goes...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Discombobulation

I can hear the children of Cite Soleil crying for attention, “Hey You!” I turn and their arms are raised up for me to pull them up into an embrace. They so long to be held and gently loved, even if just for a moment before I have to release them back to their impoverished life. Their eyes wide with hope and despair as I have no choice but to turn and leave them behind. They have followed me home however, as they fill my dreams as I sleep. I can hear their voices, feel their hands in mine, and I can see their eyes as they speak of horrors I don’t want to hear. I can feel their ground of dirt, rocks, garbage and mushed in human waste underneath my feet as I walk with them clinging to me, and I myself cling to them. If only I could blink my eyes shut to their poverty and open them again to some sort of affluence. The best I can do, which is not nearly enough, but for the moment maybe it is, is to hold them close, give them a sense of love, security, and safety, and just for a moment, may they know that somebody cares.
My streets back home are filled with BMWs, Mercedes, Mustang Convertibles and the like, as they rev up their engines waiting for the light to turn green and waiting for those who run the red lights to finish up their hurried and risky ways. I had a hot shower this morning. I wanted to turn the water off. So I did. I ran it cooler after that. The restaurants and bars are filled with laughter as people mingle about with jolly conversations, none of which relate to the poverty of Haiti. I cannot converse. I go home early.
I went to work Monday. On the way to work I wandered through my knotted stomach and tear stained cheeks wishing I were back in Haiti, wishing I had a young child in my arms and another holding my hand, wishing I could be there to give them another moment of very needed love. Instead, I was dressed for work and preparing to teach young college students. I taught them about poverty, humanity, and the value of water. The rest of the week I have kept to myself for the most part. I’m looking ahead. What can I do? How can I do more than 4 suitcases? There has to be more I can do. 
Tracy Oliver

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Safe Haven

The morning was Haitian-bright as we ate our routinely delicious breakfast and donned our bright blue Reiser Relief t-shirts. We filled our water bottles and climbed into the back of the tap-tap, which was beginning to feel like a second home. The road was as bumpy as ever on the way to the water truck filling station, and we welcomed the break we were allowed while we waited for the Reiser truck to take its turn under the spigot. Cows, goats, and chickens picked their ways around the compound, and we laughed and chatted under the shade of a small garden of delicately pink-flowered trees. The sky was a vibrant, caribbean blue, and the mountains in the distance were shrouded in a pale mist that kissed the tops of the looming rocks. The beauty of the island couldn't be overpowered by the dust rising around us or even by the horn of the Reiser truck, that blared loudly at us to signal that it was ready to leave. We jostled along behind it, singing songs and laughing wildly.
Our second entrance into Cité Soleil was no less powerful than the first. My eyes raked the homes packed in closely on either side of me, and while I waved at the children running excitedly alongside us, I was completely speechless. Before we even touched the ground in Soleil #17, children were climbing into our arms and grabbing for our hands. A chorus of "HEY, YOU! HEY, YOU!" rang out around us, almost deafening. Even as water began to gush from the truck, the children stayed wrapped around our entire bodies, trying to communicate with us in any way they possible could (usually by shouting "HEY, YOU!" as loudly as humanly possible.).
I began to notice a kind of protective bubble around the truck. It was as though inside the radius the invisible force field the water provided, the desperation of Cité Soleil melted away. There was hope inside the bubble: smiles, laughter, hands being held. Kids sang, danced, and played in the water. They were completely unafraid of the "blancs", the foreigners. They weren't afraid to ask for help setting buckets atop their heads or transporting the sloshing water down the alley. They were not only nourished physically by the liquid life we were providing by the gallon; they were nourished spiritually.
After the rush of Soleil #17, we travelled just a bit farther to Juno's Orphanage. Luckner, one of our wonderful guides, vivaciously honked the horn of the tap-tap at a dusty gate set into a pale wall, and we were admitted in. Inside the walls was a completely different world than the one we had just experienced. A large tree sat in the middle of a well-kept courtyard, its bright leaves offering shade to seventeen beautiful kids who immediately welcomed us into their home with hugs and smiles. They were gracious beyond their few years, playing nicely and sharing the toys and games we had brought for them. Their laughs reverberated off of the stone walls as they made farms from play-doh, played soccer and catch, painted their nails, and tied ribbons into their gorgeous hair.
Almost as soon as my feet first touched the ground, I felt it again. The bubble. The hope. Desperation stopped at the gate, but it did not come from a truck full of water: it came from the children. The building. Juno himself. They all powered the force field with their endless love, and it was strong. Inside it, there was no hardship, no memory of sadness, or of loss. It was beautiful, and I felt so incredibly lucky to be a part of it.
As we made our way back to the guesthouse over the characteristically bumpy roads, I realized that this was the magic of Haiti: safe haven despite tragedy. While the protective bubbles may be invisible, the beauty and endless love are not. This is Haiti.

-Meg Maurer

Friday, July 11, 2014

Éliminer!

Yesterday we went up to Reiser Heights, a school that Reiser Relief continues to support. We had planned on giving them an American style carnival experience, but they surprised us with a full-fledged variety show including singing, acting, dancing, and even a spelling bee! It was incredible to watch!!

The spelling bee highlighted the fact that Haitians have a different style to teaching than we are used to. When one of the little girls misspelled a word (or didn't spell it with French pronunciation), the head teacher immediately yelled out "Éliminer!!!!" with a VERY loud sound system, and directs the student to get to the back of the line.

Of course we felt sorry for the poor students (some of whom looked like they wanted to cry), and we shuddered at the corporal response from the head teacher. But then after contemplation I realized that the only reason I had a negative response is because it was different than I was used to. When you go to a place like Haiti that has such a different culture, it's best to leave all your biases behind. With an open mind we can accept a different way of doing things as different, but not inferior or wrong.

It's next to impossible for Haitians to finish high school and go to college, due to how expensive it is and how hard the standardized tests are. After 6th grade, if a student doesn't pass the test, they're done. And that's it. The teachers know this, so they need to be very hard on their students to get them ready. And that's where "Éliminer!!!!" changes from a harsh word into potentially a student's saving grace.

Bill Munson

Hands

This week I held many hands. Some reached out to hold mine, others I reached out to hold. Together, for a moment or more, we held hands together as we walked through a moment in time. These moments held buckets of water, hopes, dreams, hugs, tears, pain, comfort, security, trust, and love.

At General Hospital this morning I held the hand of a premature baby. The hand of a premature baby is about the size of the tip of my thumb. It is soft, fragile, and vulnerable. It has yet to experience the life that lay before it. My eyes filled with tears as I thought of what might possibly lie ahead for this sweet innocent baby here in the throes of poverty in Haiti. The mother sat close by with worry and hope in her eyes. Next to her in the next bed was another baby, and next to her was another baby, and then another and another, until finally two full rooms were filled with tiny little hands.

At Reiser Heights School, Cite Soleil, and Gertrude's, I held the hands of young children. They held on tight with fear wrapped in hope that just maybe, just maybe for a moment, they would feel visible, loved and safe. I held their hand in mine giving them all the love and comfort I could for that moment in time. Their fingers held on tight as it was time to let go.

At the Aube Center, I shook the hands of young adults going to school to educate themselves for a better a better life. They each want to make a difference. Their hands were strong and animated when they talked and sang. They shared their dreams and hopes, their hands raised to the sky.

The hand of an elderly woman in her 90s is thin, frail, rough, weathered, and vulnerable. It has experienced the life that lays behind it. It has held a baby, nursed a baby, raised a child, married, taken care of chores, carried baskets on her head, and, it has aged over time. Today, that hand rested in mine.

Today, I walked one moment at a time through a lifetime of hands.
Tracy Oliver

Floppy

There's a little thing in Haiti called "Tap Tap Time" that is truly magical.  A team of random people, each called to Haiti by a different voice, spend hours together bumping along in a vehicle unique to Haiti called a tap tap.  It's essentially a truck with a cage on the back with benches along each side.  We sit in a row across from our teammates with no cell phones, no responsibilities in the moment, and nothing but pure human interaction.


We laugh a lot.  We sing. We doze. We bump our heads on t
he metal behind us and above us.  We grip the overhead handrails during frequent pot holes, sudden stops and crazy intersections.  We inhale diesel fuel, chat with our Haitian interpreters, look at an array of amazing scenery, look at each other, try to drink from water bottles without shooting water up our noses or on our neighbors.  We chat.  We sweat. We be.

This week we have an extra team member named floppy.   Floppy has been the focus of hours of discussion.  We weigh the benefits and drawbacks of floppy.  We compose songs about floppy.  We hide floppy.  Laugh about floppy.  Shake, fill and spill floppy.  We connect as a team over floppy.

Floppy is a water bottle of unique size, proportion and material.

More importantly, floppy is a metaphor for building relationships.  When we separate ourselves from our family, friends and culture we become utterly dependent on God and our team for love, encouragement, and companionship.    And it is through these relationships that we feed our souls and transform our hearts.

I am so grateful to the beautiful team this week.  And I'm incredibly grateful to floppy for the hours of belly laughs.

Peace,
Joyce

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Dollar

A Dollar

In the states we have stores called, "The Dollar Store." It is a great place to shop for a paper towel roll for only a dollar, or a kitchen cleaning supply for only a dollar. One can even buy a couple of candy bars for a dollar and a birthday card too. What a bargain!

Here in Haiti, one can buy a child for a dollar. Do you find this shocking? I did. Permit me if you will to tell you my story.

Today we visited a school up in the mountains of Haiti. There are many families who live scattered amongst the mountain side. Their homes are made of tarps, some of broken concrete, some of corrugated tin, their roofs held down by heavy rocks to keep them in tact when it is windy. The children are forced to live in these conditions and it becomes all they know.  They sleep in the dirt, play in the dirt, eat their meals in the dirt, and carry their water in buckets. When it rains, their dirt floors turn into floors made of mud. Their clothes are tattered, worn, and dirty. Shoes are on the wrong feet, and few of them even fit. Parents do the best they can for their children. They hold them, wipe their tears, laugh with them, send them to school if they can, but it is not always enough, not here in Haiti where poverty is the way of life. They want more for their children than a life made of poverty on dirt floors with tarps for walls and no doors to close and lock to protect them. They become desperate to make sure their children have a better life than they can provide for them. They will do anything to help make sure that happens. This is where my story begins.

I held an infant in my arms today. Her big sister handed her to me to hold. This adorable baby stayed still in my arms as she kept her eyes fixated on mine. I became mesmerized by her as she continued to look me in the eye. My heart began to melt and I held her closer. Then her mother walked up to me, but she did not attempt to take her baby back. Instead she offered me her baby girl for a dollar. I looked at her in disbelief, and again, she offered me her baby girl for just a dollar. I told her I could not do that. I tried to give her baby back to her, but she refused to take her and walked away shaking her head and waving her hands. Her big sister still stood close by, so I gave the baby back to her. She looked displeased, but I gave her no choice. I had to give the baby back, her eyes still fixed on mine and mine on hers. Walking away was one of the hardest things I have had to do while here.

One might wonder why a mother would be willing to sell her child for a dollar? I will tell you this; the love she has for her child is selfless. She wants more for her than a lifetime of poverty in Haiti. She knows what goes on in Haiti and how difficult life will be for her baby girl. She did not know me, yet knew I would be able to provide for her daughter what she could not.

I wish I could have said yes. I wish I could say yes to all of the children here. But the best I can do is what I did today. I came to Haiti. I brought my heartfelt desire to love these children and the people of Haiti as best as I could. I came with bags filled with goods to help provide for their needs. I came with others who have the same heart for the children and the people of all ages here in Haiti. I came to do what I could and pray I make a difference, even if just for a moment...even if just for the moment I held that sweet baby girl as we looked into each other's eyes. I shall never forget those eyes.
Tracy Oliver

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Together

I firmly know and believe with every ounce of my being, that we are not meant to do life alone. It does not matter our race, culture, age, gender, religion, color, size, or language...we are meant to do life together! Today is the best example of this wonderful gift called, Together.

Today we delivered water to the people of Cite Soleil. As each of us poured out of the Tap Tap, we were immediately surrounded by children welcoming us. They jumped up into our arms, slapped us high-fives, held our hands, and reached out to us in unconditional love and gratitude. We returned the same to them. And so the day began...together.

Next came the water. As the water gushed out of the hose, children and adults came running to get in line to fill their buckets with water. Filling a large bucket with water takes team effort...in other words we needed to do it together. We took turns together holding the heavy hose as we filled the buckets the children placed in front of us. Together we helped the children fill their buckets. They were heavy and they needed help carrying them. So we carried them together.
We had the drivers and our guides helping us to keep order to the chaos, and we did that together as well. Together we worked to make sure every bucket was filled to the brim, small buckets held by small children as well. When the last drop of water dripped from the hose, every bucket that was brought to us was filled, and we all did it together.

What a wonderful gift.

Tracy Oliver

God Help Me

God help me.  God help me.  God help me.

I said this prayer over and over today.  It was my frightened mantra.  My cry for strength.  My whimper and my plea.

It took me 6 trips to Haiti to gather the courage to serve at the wound clinic.  Run by Catholic nuns, the clinic provides free medical care to the poor of Haiti.

When we arrived 30-40 patients were waiting outside with dirty bandages covering wounds on various body parts.  Some bandages had visible yellow pus staining the outside.  I was terrified to see what was behind the bandages.

After opening prayer we had a 1 minute training session.  Spray wounds with saline.  Clean with cotton.  Only use iodine if they are fresh wounds.  Cover with antibiotic.  Wrap. Here's your apron and 1 pair of surgical gloves that you are not to change between patients.

My first patient unwrapped his wound.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked in his eyes and then at his wound that he had obviously been living with for years.  I could see gangrenous tissue in it's deepest recesses. It was a wound that will never heal and that I suppose could eventually lead to the amputation of his leg.  I had no idea how vigorously or how gently to clean it.  I was afraid of causing pain.  I was afraid of not cleaning it properly.  I was afraid and horrified by the situation.  How could my rudimentary treatment be this man's only option?  How had the wound gotten to this deplorable state?  What agony had this man already endured and what more would he endure?

My patient guided me and showed with hand gestures how to care for him.  I completed his care and moved on to the next. And the next. And the next.  As did 4 Reiser Relief teammates who also humbled themselves to serve the sick today.

Haiti provides more questions than answers.  It puts me in touch with my limitations, my dependence, my humanity.   Thank you God for giving me the strength I lacked today.  Thank you Haiti for your lesson in humility.

Peace,
Joyce



Tuesday, July 8, 2014

People are People

Haiti people are the most amazing and resilient people I have ever known and had the honor of being in the presence of. One will not see them driving down the street in BMWs, nor will you see nice dresses and stiletto's on the women and the latest fashion on the men. There are no red, yellow, or green lights at the intersections, and you most certainly won't find a Macy's or a Nordstrom's here. What you will find is a street full of heavy traffic, old beat up trucks, small and large. You will see all kinds of vehicles carrying several Haitians at one time to get from here to there. The intersections are crazy at best as each driver nudges his way in and around, eventually making it to the other side. The horn is greatly relied on to let those crossing the street or other drivers that they are coming up behind them. The sidewalks are filled with these wonderful resourceful people bartering foods, clothing, and a variety of items. The side streets are so thick with people there is not room to drive a car, let alone barely walk.

When I look past the main busy streets, I see the homes of these people. They are made of tarps, corrugated tin, maybe a cement wall, and maybe a door.  They wash their laundry in buckets and hang them on walls to dry.

It is a very humbling experience to be here in Port au Prince. People are people no matter where we go. We all need to give and receive love. We all need our basic needs met. We all need to feel visible, vital, and important. Whether we drive a BMW down a nice suburban street or a beat up truck down a bumpy road here in Port au Prince, our inner most needs as human beings does not change.

Lessons in humility and humanity are here to be learned and taught.

Tracy Oliver




Trust

Last week, I was going to bed comfortably in a temperature-controlled bedroom with fifty pounds of food in a big blue suitcase at my bedside.
Yesterday, I touched down in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, prepared to come home fifty pounds lighter.
Today, July 8th, was our team's first day of mission work. After waking up to an incredibly delicious breakfast, featuring island fruits and fresh, hand pressed juice, we hopped up into our tap-tap and headed out over the dusty roads for our first destination: a home for sick and dying adults. As soon as we entered, a swarm of Haitian boys ran up to introduce themselves and show off their ear-to-ear smiles. The nuns greeted us with a little more reservation, and sent the women and men to their gender-respective sections of the home. As soon as we cleared the last step leading to the spacious upper level, several young girls in pale lavender gowns ran past us giggling and beckoning to a room at the end of the hallway.
When we passed through the doorway, they descended like a flock of birds: nesting in our arms, picking at my long, straight blonde hair, and chattering loudly enough that they woke the twin babies sound asleep in the corner. Each of us found a niche in that room: the moms quickly and subconsciously moved to comfort the unhappy babies, and the teenagers assumed the familiar roles of best friends and sisters. The room rang with songs, gasps, giggles, and tickle fights-- just like any other sleepover anywhere in the world. In that room, there were no Americans or Haitians. There was no English or Creole. There were no healthy or sick; no straight blonde or curly dark hair; I was not sixteen, and the young, smiling girl in my lap was not "twa"-- three years old. We were nothing but girls, sharing in the lightness of laughter and song that connects girls everywhere.
The walls of the next room were lined with cots that supported the frames of resting women, and although the air was more serious, it was by no means any darker. The women, eyes bright, motioned for us to sit by their bedsides and rub their skin with lotion. The third woman whose skin I massaged told me, after I asked her in dreadful Haitian Creole, that her name was Juli. She asked me for mine in return, and when I told her that my name is Meg, she gasped and put her hand over her heart. She replied in Creole, "Oh, that is so good. Very very good." This kind of appreciation, this trust; I had never experienced anything like it. While I massaged her back, I thought to myself: how would I act in this situation, if the roles were reversed? Would I really be so willing to let a complete stranger's hands massage my body? Would I really appreciate something as small as that person's name enough to have that kind of reaction?
How can I learn to live with that level of compassion?
I got a glimpse later that day, when we jumped back into the tap-tap and headed out for Notre Maison, which translates to "our home". It is exactly that: a home for orphaned and disabled children. There, the unwanted became so much more than that: they become fiercely loved. We connected with incredible kids and staff through feeding, chatting, holding hands, pushing wheelchairs, doing puzzles, and just being together.
Today, I am thankful for Juli, the girls, and the kids at Notre Maison for needing me, wanting me, and trusting me more than people I've known for significantly longer than just an hour.
The rest of this week, I will be so thankful for Reiser Relief, the staff here, and my team for giving me the amazing opportunity to reciprocate the love I've been shown.
The rest of my life, I will be so deeply and completely thankful to Haiti and its people  for showing me the amazing extent of the human soul to love with the heart and not the eyes.

Meg Maurer




Monday, July 7, 2014

Travel Day pictures

Here are are gathered at the Minneapolis airport before embarking.
It was 5:45 a.m. but we are very excited!!


And here we are gathered at the Healing Haiti guest house in Port-au-Prince.
We are looking forward to a wonderful week serving the beautiful people of Haiti!!


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why bother?

In just one week our team of 13 will begin our week of service.  What can we possibly hope to achieve in one week in Haiti?  Will our small acts of kindness make a lasting impact?  Will helping a child carry a bucket of clean water to her shack matter?  It's not a sustainable solution; why bother?  Will singing songs with the elderly, praying and sharing smiles make a difference?  It's just one day and one person.  Why bother?

Today's gospel tells us that it does matter.  We should bother.  Acts of kindness are our Christian imperative.  When we welcome the poor into our hearts and minds, we welcome Christ into our lives.

Matthew 10: 40-42 "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple--truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

Thank you God for this message. Our behavior and deeds of mercy reveal God's kingdom to others.  With small acts of kindness we participate in the good character of Christ.  When we serve others we are in the company of Christ's ways.  Small acts of kindness matter.

I pray that our team radiates Christ to all who we encounter in Haiti next week.

Peace,
Joyce

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Preparing

We're starting to pack our bags for our July 7-14 mission trip.   Here's a team member who is bringing baby bottles filled with formula to share with families at General Hospital.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jacmel

Although much of Haiti is built in concrete, very little in Haiti is “written in concrete.”  Plans are as fluid as the delicious cherry juice we drink here.

Yesterday was to be a treat of sorts for us, as Jean, the director of the guesthouse we stay at, had agreed to take us to Jacmel for the day, a well-known oceanside city in the southwest corner of Haiti.  The previous day, Joyce and I had learned from Sister Alta that The Sisters of Companions of Jesus operated another home for abandoned men, women, and children called Aisle St. Vincent de Paul.   It was located in Leogane, Haiti and run by a nun named Sister Claudette.  Since we were going to be traveling through Leogane on our way to Jacmel, we had added a stop at St. Vincents to our itinerary. 

After minimal delays, we actually arrived in Leogane on time and were able to located Aisle St. Vincents.  Finding Sister Claudette proved to be a bit trickier as the complex was huge.  When we finally did run into her, she grilled us as to who we were and why we were there.  As always, the magic words, “We are Father Reiser’s nieces,” helped to win her over.  It was obvious she was a very busy woman, and she started out giving us an abbreviated tour of the area.  Most of the complex had been destroyed by the earthquake (Leogane was near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake), and the rebuilding was still in progress.  What had already been completed was beautiful.  Besides housing 100 men, women and children, many of who are mentally or physically handicapped, they also ran a preschool and an elementary school.   The grounds were lush and well cared for and the buildings immaculate and bustling with activity. 

The final building we toured was the Administration building.  Sister asked if we would like to see where Father Reiser had fallen and hurt himself so many years ago in Haiti.  We were stunned to learn it had happened here.  We had always known of Father’s awful injury to his leg that had caused the remaining years of his life to be pain-filled, resulted in subsequent multiple hospital stays, and had prevented him from traveling to Haiti ever again.  But we had been unclear as to what had caused the injury.  She led us to a small, dimly lit restroom, and we witnessed the innocent-looking spot where the injury had happened.  The moment was an intensely emotional one.  Somehow it helped me to finally put closure on that catastrophic event in my uncle’s life. 

After this somber moment, Sister Claudette took us back outside onto the beautiful grounds, set up chairs and a little table covered with a lace cloth, and under a big tropical shade tree, we ate fresh mangos together as fast as she and Jean could expertly peel and slice them.  We parted best of friends and promised to bring her one of Father Reiser’s books on our next visit.  I feel so blessed to have another of the wonderful nuns from the Sisters of Companions of Jesus to call my friend.


From there, how can I summarize the rest of the day?  Let me just say it included a twisting and turning trip up and down the mountains, a tour of Jacmel (picture a slightly run down section of New Orleans!), a stop at a construction site where we were given a tour of every room, a banana and mango harvesting experience, eating fresh fish oceanside, and a spectacular view of the sunset as we working our way up and over the mountains on the way home. 

Over and over in my mind on the drive home as I watched the setting sun and reveled in the memories of another wonderful day in Haiti, a phrase used so often by Father Reiser’s sister (and my beloved late aunt, Sister Bertrand) ran through my mind:  “All this and Heaven too.”

God bless the people of Haiti.



All This and Heaven Too

Yesterday my sister Ann observed that this has been our Haiti "trip of the nun."  We were privileged this trip to spend time with Sisters who we already knew and meet new Sisters who have dedicated their lives to Christ through vows of poverty, obedience and chastity.  They live among the poorest of the poor and spend their days spreading the Gospel with loving hands and compassionate hearts.

Yesterday we were privileged to meet Sr. Claudette.  She manages a crew at a facility called Asile St. Vincent de Paul who care for 100 abandoned elderly men and women and severely disabled Haitians of all ages.  She is an energetic and spry woman with an excellent sense of humor that reminded me so much of Fr. Reiser.    She knew both Fr. Reiser and Brother de Paul and graciously took us on a tour of the facility, most of which was reconstructed after it was destroyed in the earthquake that hit Haiti in January, 2010.

At the end of our tour she took us to an administrative building, pointed to a bathroom, and told us that this was the place where Fr. Reiser had fallen down and injured himself in Haiti.  I was shocked as I had never known exactly where this had happened.  Now I was standing in the exact place and hearing a first hand account of events.  I had always known that Fr. Reiser had fallen 'somewhere' in Haiti, that the wound he had from the fall had become badly infected, never healed properly, and had plagued him for the next 10-15 years until he died.  Fr. Reiser wrote of how he accepted this suffering, that is was nothing compared to the suffering of so many Haitians struggling to live, and that he offered his suffering up for them.     Sr. Claudette immediately recognized the emotional response in both me and Ann triggered by the place and the story, and kindly led us out to a shaded area in the garden to tell us more about her life story and the Sisters of the Companions of Jesus.  She served us fresh mangoes and fed our souls.  I was a lovely moment that I didn't want to end.

Towards the end of our time together she told us that she is so happy.  She doesn't have nice clothes or shoes or signs of status, but she doesn't need those things to be happy.  Serving others brings her joy.  It was simply and beautifully stated.

The rest of our day was spent traveling to Jacmel in southern Haiti and going on a series of adventures that included touring the downtown area with lovely architecture that reminded me of New Orleans, visiting a house under construction, harvesting mangoes, oranges and bananas, eating fresh fish at the beach, and enjoying majestic mountain vistas.  As we were driving through the mountains, Ann asked me what our aunt Sr. Bertrand (our mother and Fr. Reiser's sister) would have said at this moment.  The response:  "All this and Heaven too."  Not only does our Lord provide us with the beautiful gift of this earth filled with bounty, but there is also the promise of eternal life in His glory in Heaven.

On our way back into Port au Prince, we bought produce from a roadside stand for the guest house and put it in the back of the truck.    When we hit a traffic jam our Haitian friend / guide / driver / interpreter for the day, Jean, kept looking in his rearview mirror and checking on the produce.  He told me that in traffic jams there are often truck robbers running between vehicles and stealing whatever they can from the back of trucks or tap taps.  Then a couple of minutes later he pointed out a boy who was scoping out vehicles in front of us, darting this way and that, jumping on trucks and then jumping off.  A young boy, likely hungry, committing a reckless act.  What would you do if you hadn't eaten all day?  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  It was a sobering reminder of the great need and desperation that is the daily reality for so many Haitians.

Peace,
Joyce

Friday, March 28, 2014

Such a Simple Thing...


Even now, on my fifth trip to Haiti, I continue to be amazed by the largeness of things here in Haiti that are so ordinary by American standards. 

We invited the director of our Terra Promise School, Elder Morland, and his wife out for dinner.  Terre Promise School is located in Cite Soleil, the slums of Port au Prince, and over 500 students currently attend the school.    Elder operates the school on a shoestring budget, and deals with poverty, gangs, hunger, and homelessness on a daily basis.  

After many email exchanges between us, transportation issues were worked out, and Elder, his wife, and his nephew (the driver of a borrowed vehicle) picked us up at the guesthouse this evening.  All three of them were dressed in their finest clothes, and almost immediately expressed to us what a special evening this was for them.

At the restaurant, they were hesitant about what to order, and even after consulting with me and conferring amongst one another, they all ordered identical meals and one of the most modest on the menu.  We convinced each of them to order beer or wine, and Elder raised his eyes to God in a silent moment of thanks before taking his first sip of beer. 

We shared a delightful dinner of conversation (in spite of language barriers), new discoveries, photo sessions, and even business together before calling it an evening. Elder shared exciting information with us regarding another ministry in Haiti that Father Reiser had played an important role in helping, which we knew nothing about!

 It was such a treat to get to know Elder and his family on a more intimate level, and undoubtedly, we reached an even better level of trust and understanding with each other.  All three of them thanked us profusely for dinner and expressed to us how dinner out at a nice restaurant was something they would never normally be able to experience. 

Leaving the restaurant, it struck me how much we take for granted such an experience in the United States.  Every future meal eaten out in the U.S. by me, and shared with family and friends, will take on a different meaning for a long time to come.   And I have a wonderful Haitian friend to thank for giving me that insight.