"Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive...then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

Thursday, December 9, 2010

And now this...

Things are calm in our apartment, but we're hearing reports from the streets that the situation is chaotic.  The airport is scheduled to be closed again tomorrow and to top it all, President Preval has now placed the blame for everything on the protesters saying in a live radio speech "This is not how the country is supposed to work.  People are suffering because of all this damage".  He completely misses the point that his inability to lead a functioning government is the reason the country is not working and people are suffering and now people are angry and taking to the streets.  

I read two articles that summarize the situation if you'd like to learn more (pasted below).  

We remain in "lock down" until things become more stable, so no need to worry about us.  It's the rest of the country that needs your thoughts and energy.

I think the headline of this one says it all:  " Warzone Haiti: UN armoured cars take to rubble-strewn streets as cholera-hit protesters vent fury over Presidential election result"....


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Election Results

Yet another roadblock to true democracy here.  We were sent home from work at 2pm yesterday in anticipation of the release of presidential and senatorial election results and are on lock down until further notice.  What was scheduled to happen at "6pm sharp" happened at 9:20pm.  Gunshots, rioting and burning tires were the immediate reaction.  Our neighbors / friends who also happen to be journalists stopped by after their long day today and last night.  Frank did a great job of summarizing why people are so angry on his blog so instead of recreating, please read his story here:



Thursday, November 18, 2010


Today is a holiday in Haiti, so I'm working from home (work easily justified because we leave on R&R on Saturday!).  I was just struck by one of those moments when I again realize how lucky I am so I thought an early list of all that I am thankful for is appropriate: 
My thanksgiving list in no particular order:

#1:  All morning I have been glancing out the patio doors of our apartment watching all the different birds and geckos on our patio and in the trees around our apartment.   I just read an article last night about how Haiti's remaining birds, frogs and animals are heading towards extinction at a faster rate than any other country in the world due mostly to the fact that there is only 1% left of Haiti's cover of trees.  
My Thanks-giving: How fortunate are we that we (a) regularly have birds and frogs to watch in our own backyard here (b) someone somewhere is working to slow and hopefully stop the extinction and (c) that we have an apartment and it has a patio!

#2:  One of the projects I need to finish is a draft of a Livelihoods project, meaning that my organization will be looking for funding to do a training and work integration program to work towards solving Haiti's economic crisis and incredibly high unemployment rate.
My Thanks-giving:  Based on my most recent knowledge, almost all of our friends and family that would like to be employed currently are - it might not be in a dream position, but at least it's an income and an opportunity to work.

#3:  Another project I am working on is trying to find partners and funding for a teacher / tuition assistance (education program).  In Haiti, with 90% of schools private education spending accounts for 40% of family revenue yet 52% of Haitians are illiterate, perhaps because 79% of teachers have no formal teacher training.
My Thanks-giving:  With one of our kids graduated from college two more are deep into it and will hopefully have the perseverance to finish - at least they have the opportunity to even attend.

#4:  I may not always agree with the direction the U.S. government takes but compared with what I witness here every day I will take it.
My Thanks-giving:  I am a citizen of a country with a true democracy and citizens that, for the most part, understand the power of their role in it.

#5:  Watching others diagnosed with typhoid, anthrax, hepatitis, malaria, dengue fever, now a horrible Cholera outbreak which is sometimes difficult to discern from the diarrhea that is everyday life here... 
My Thanks-giving: Health and access to preventive medicine and, when needed, quality health care.

#6: Above all else, My BIGGEST Thanks-giving: Friends and Family - Thank you for being there to support us along this amazing journey!  And for Al for alternately enjoying, enduring but ultimately appreciating every moment we have together.

#7:  Oh, and I also have to give thanks to Pasha, the owner of the amazing French Bakery in our neighborhood that feels like a combination of New York and Europe and provides a little normalcy to the day AND has the most amazing Almond Croissants that are second only to an actual Patisserie in Paris.  Really!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Prosthetics in Haiti

The group of Healing Hands employees that Al has been training for several years are doing amazing work... one of our neighbors is a freelance journalist who visited and added some photos and his thoughts to his blog.  His thoughts are here:



Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I've been asked to do a few interviews at work - here are a sampling:



The video on this (scroll down to the middle of the page) features yours truly and will provide a glimpse of some of my frustrations with the situation here and the Cash for Work program that has been a big part of my job (you'll need a whopping 14 minutes for this one):

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Relatively little damage from Hurricane Tomas!  We have a day off and are hoping the sun will shine so we can get outside and take some deep breaths before bracing ourselves for whatever comes next.    

Without journalistic abilities myself, I keep searching for someone that will be able to capture the   overall essence of the biggest problem here in Haiti and I think this editorial is close:


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Another Disaster?!

Hard to believe we are facing another possible disaster here, but we are doing what we can to prepare for Hurricane Tomas.  I have spent the last two days at one of the camps we manage and have helped to remove every possible object from the common areas that could become a missile.  I hope we did all of that work for nothing, the storm misses us and we can move everything back in and set up all the tents again!  Despite all of the warnings and information about the storm very few people are leaving the camps.  Some don't believe the storm will hit (let's hope they are right), for many there is nowhere else to go and some are reluctant to leave the only possessions they have left.  I am very worried for them.  

It was extremely windy earlier and now it is calm but has started to rain.  We were told we needed to leave work by 3pm today - the UN closed their base at noon and the Haitian government asked schools and businesses to remain closed today and tomorrow.  Along with the work in the camps, I had several news outlets call for interviews.  Here is one that is online already:


I am at home and Al just called to say he is on his way. We have plenty of food, water and movies as long as our electricity and / or laptop batteries hold out.  I will post updates as soon as I can after the storm.  Keep your fingers crossed for a big MISS!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Over the Mountain

What a great hike!  We left Port au Prince Saturday morning at 6am to drive up into the mountains with five friends.  We set off at 8:30 and followed a path we'd taken a few months ago.  This time we continued to the top of the mountain.  At 6,000 feet, one of Haiti's two National Parks contains one of the only forests left in the country.  We stayed overnight at a small lodge there.  They fed us well and Sunday morning we were on our way down to Jacmel and the beach.  We covered the 6,000 feet down in 5 1/2 hours on what the lodge owner called a "goat path".  It was one of the hardest hikes we've done but definitely worth it!  Our days at the beach were cut short by the need to get back to Port au Prince for hurricane preparations.  Hopefully we won't have much to write about for that.  Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed.

Lots of people and these donkeys were loaded with carrots on their way down to Port au Prince.  Not surprisingly, we had them for lunch and dinner at the top.

Look closely - the baskets are full of live roosters hanging quietly.

La Visite National Park.  Despite the big road, there are no vehicles other than the Ranger and a few motorcycles. 

10 miles and almost 5 hours to hike up - we were glad to arrive at the lodge.  The Calla Lilies in the vase on the right are growing wild all over near the lodge.

Wood (made into charcoal) is still the most widely used fuel source and as you can see from the photos, deforestation in Haiti is very real.

The top 1/3 of this photo shows the river coming down from the mountains into the sea.  We were warned to get across the river before the storm hit.  When we arrived at the bottom we rode in a tap tap across it - water came into the back of the truck and it hadn't rained the night before.  Hard to imagine the amount of water after it does rain.

Al posed with coffee beans growing just for him.  He loves his Haitian coffee!

One of the many things we hiked through or past was this banana grove.

While hiking down the edge of the mountain a herd of cattle with big, sharp horns were coming up.  We teetered on the edge of the path hoping they wouldn't get too excited about us being so close!

Finally at the beach!  This beach house has been rented by a friend of a friend for a few years.  It was amazing to sleep so close to the water.

Other friends had driven the four hours from Port au Prince (it is a different route, but it's crazy that we hiked there in 10 hours) on Saturday and had food, water and a cold beer waiting for us at the beach.

Our friend Leah (second from the right with her husband Jake) loves Halloween so for the first time since we've been together Al and I dressed up - we carried our mummy costumes up and over the mountain so we could wear them for 10 minutes.  We had some good laughs.  I'm second from the left and Al is in the middle.  Our friend Ann is on the far left.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Introducing Mark's Babies

On a Sunday when the newest crisis here is the Cholera outbreak that has now arrived in Port au Prince, I prefer to focus on a little hope and happiness.  Mark's ti poul have been named:  Wishbone, Wings, Titi and Legs.

On a more serious note,  we are doing everything we can as aid organizations to continue to teach proper hygiene including washing hands with soap and washing raw food with clean water.  We have people going door to door daily in the camps we manage to check on families, isolate anyone that is sick and provide general Cholera information.  We did a soap distribution yesterday morning at 7am.  All that and holding our breath hoping it doesn't become an epidemic.  The good news is that it is easily treated if identified early.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Art Fair

So much fun last Sunday!  We went to a huge Haitian art fair - Haiti is known for it's amazing artists.  Good food, some music... just like some of the neighborhood art fairs in the U.S. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Update on Mark

Remember Mark?
Mark just had chicks!  She had them behind the giant stable of crutches behind the Healing Hands guesthouse a few days ago.  I couldn't get close enough to take a photo - she's tucked tightly into a corner (hopefully to protect them from the rats!).  I heard them and saw one tiny little guy last night when I stopped by after work to have a peek.  Hopefully they all survive and Mark will bring them out to meet us soon!


One of the things I'm most happy about is a project that was able, for a short time, to make a difference in the lives of a few people.  We were having a hard time finding work for people with disabilities in the Cash for Work program I manage in one of our camps.  One of the items we purchase most is Haitian Brooms. 

We were able to find a skilled educator to teach a small group of people with disabilities how make the brooms which we then used in our program.  During the four week program the group received tools, materials and training and received Cash for Work wages.  Those interested in continuing on their own were tested yesterday to ensure they were ready to produce brooms which could compete with those sold in the open marketplace.  All five that were interested will keep their tools and enough materials to get them started.

Because the general population here is indifferent towards people with disabilities I hope to connect them to some hospitals or clinics that could purchase their products directly.   I'm also looking for additional funding so we could continue the program with more people and other skills (sandals, handbags and shopping bags from recycled materials and more).  In addition to people with disabilities it would be amazing to include other people in the "vulnerable" category:  single parents, the elderly, etc.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Storm Update

I spent the weekend at one of our camps, first assessing damage and beginning some crucial infrastructure clean up and today doing tarp distribution for the families that lost their home / tent.  We had many conversations around this point:  If we are truly trying to encourage people to leave the camps and return to their pre-quake neighborhoods are we sending a mixed message by providing tents and tarps to those that remain in the camps?  Wouldn't distributions to those that left (or never entered) a camp be a better, more consistent message?  But then are you really a humanitarian organization if you leave people without a roof over their heads?  There are no easy answers here!

Everything flew away from this area except the desk!

All that was left of the central part of one of the camps I work in.

Another of the camps I work in lost 80% of their tents.  Those that remain need major repairs.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Every day we check the National Hurricane Center website for new tropical storms and hurricanes, knowing that we'll at least have a few days to prepare the the camps and their residents.   With nothing on the radar, this afternoon we were taken by complete surprise when at 3:00 the sun was shining - at 3:05 the sky turned green and wind, rain, thunder and lightening like I have never experienced anywhere before hit.  The wind sheered many of the few big trees that are left in Port au Prince, landing on streets, buildings, and tents.  Worse yet, it blew tents and new shelters apart like they were made of paper towels.  One of the camps in which I work lost 80% of the tents and structures and we have yet to be able to survey two of the other camps.  When we saw the new wooden offices in the middle of one camp get sucked up into the wind and land on another tent we had to make staff evacuate.  We are now waiting for daylight (it gets dark at 5:30 every day) to be able to assess the situation.  The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming.  When morning comes we need to send in a few of our Haitian staff to check the reaction of the residents.  Who could blame them for being frustrated and even angry that 8 months after the earthquake it appears that nothing is happening?  It's such a long, difficult answer that not enough time exists in the day to try to explain to everyone so we just keep trying to move faster, but today proved again just how precious time is and how clearly, we are not moving fast enough.

Might be time to shop at Macy's...

The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010
By Jessica Leeder
The mask is finally off – and making its way onto shelves.
Macy’s, the largest department store chain in the United States, has unveiled itself as the commercial knight in shining armour responsible for giving more than 200 Haitian artisans their first full-time contracts since an earthquake rocked Haiti last January.
In June, the retail giant quietly began investigating the purchase of a handmade line of home-decor products as a means of aiding Haitian communities affected by the quake, including the world famous metal artists of Croix-des-Bouquets and the papier-mâché masters of Jacmel.
Within weeks of seeing custom prototypes, Macy’s buyers had reopened their fall buying season to order 20,000 products in 40 categories – the maximum number the country’s still-struggling artisans could produce. Their custom Heart of Haiti line, featuring vases, quilts, ceramics, wood carvings, paintings and jewellery, is now set to roll out in 25 select U.S. stores in October and will then also be available for purchase online.
One metal artist in Croix-des-Bouquets, Jacques Rony, called the chance to sell his work at Macy’s and work with U.S.-based product designers “a huge advantage.” He and his apprentices are looking forward to the stability the Macy's relationship will bring, as well as the opportunity to work with U.S. designers who have exposure to seasonal trends. That's hard information to come by from isolated Haiti.
Although in-store sales have yet to begin, the positive impact of the relationship with Macy’s has been increasingly evident across several artisan communities in Haiti, where 235 handicraft experts have been working for months on the product order – and getting paid. Now, the mere mention of the word “Macy’s” generates smiles in several artisan communities, including Jacmel, where the city’s papier-mâché artists now equate the name with the concept of sustained work.
“Even in a short time, we’ve heard that parents who were incredibly stressed now have their children’s school fees. Now they can buy shoes. They have money in their pocket. Maybe they’re still living in a tent. But they know they can have some bit of security to craft a life. They know we’re not going away,” said Willa Shalit, the head of Fairwinds Trading, a New York-based company that specializes in connecting gifted artisans in “post-trauma” communities with American corporations to build sustainable economic relationships.
Fairwinds, in partnership with the Canadian non-profit Brandaid Project
was the force responsible for expeditiously opening a channel between Macy’s and artisan communities across Haiti after connecting at a May meeting in New York during which the William J. Clinton Foundation urged American businesses to pitch in on the rebuilding of Haiti’s shattered economy.
Ms. Shalit’s company has a history of dealing with Macy’s – Fairwinds brokered a contract with the company five years ago on behalf of Rwandan basket weavers, whose Path to Peace products have been sold in Macy’s stores ever since.
“The relationship with Macy’s has changed the face of rural Rwanda,” said Ms. Shalit, who recently returned from a visit there. “What you see in the rural villages is homes and communities where [people] have been making a living for five years now. It’s that steady income that makes a change,” she said.
“Now they are known as the greatest weavers in the world. That’s what will happen here. They [Haitians] will be known as the greatest metal workers, the greatest papier-mâché artists in the world. They’ll be perceived as valued instead of useless and disrespected.”
Already, signs are positive that the relationship will last. Designs for the spring 2011 lineup are already under way. And Macy’s has been impressed early on by the work ethic among their artists in Haiti – in spite of their austere working conditions, they were able to produce prototypes for the company in just three weeks. (The process can take up to one year.)
“As a company, Macy’s believes very strongly in supporting communities in need – and in developing programs where we can do something together with our customer that is powerful and rewarding for the greater global good,” Terry J. Lundgren, chairman and CEO of Macy’s, Inc., said in a statement. “An effort like this provides great satisfaction to Macy's customers and associates, who care deeply about giving back,” he said.
In Haiti, artists are grateful that the company did more than simply pass through.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come through and do a lot of talking,” said Onel Bazelais, a master papier-mâché artisan who has been working at the craft for about 26 years. To supplement his income he maintains a small art shop in Jacmel’s historic district. Since the earthquake, his family has been living in a series of tents in a yard behind the shop, which doubles as a work space.
“My government has no plan for us,” he said during a recent interview. “I want to put my kid through university – I have to do something for my kids.”
Working on the Macy’s order has provided him and others much-needed stability.
“In Haiti, a lot of people have heard of Macy’s. That makes them feel really proud,” Ms. Shalit said. “That sense of cultural pride, you can’t say enough about what that does for culture and community,” she said.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


 I thought this article was very accurately written and sums up a lot of what I face at work every day (which is, of course, nothing compared to the people that are living it 24/7):


Kudos to my old co-workers at The LA Times.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Global Effort

One of the things that strikes me most about working in Haiti is how much of the global community is represented here. The best example is the fact that there are 46 different Red Cross chapters. I guess I'd never really thought about how many countries do humanitarian work all over the world everyday.  For instance, in the American Refugee Committee office here we have approximately 20 Ex pat staff (meaning people from countries outside the country you are working in) and 200+ Haitian nationals.  Of the 20 Ex pats there are 5 of us from the U.S.  The others come from France, England, Vietnam, India, Australia, Nepal, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Benin. 

It has provided some great cultural learning and some interesting invitations.  Last week a small group of us were invited to join our co-worker from Nepal (Nagendra) at a UN medal ceremony honoring the peace keeping mission, also from Nepal.  We were the only civilians and sat among the troops from Sri Lanka, Korea, China, India, Japan, Canada, Argentina, Peru, France, Brasil and more.  Interestingly, Nepal supplies the 5th largest world wide contingent of peace keeping troops to the UN.  The awards were a very high United Nations honor and were presented by the head of the UN in Haiti, Nigel Fisher.  

After the ceremony, the troops performed some traditional Nepalese dances and then we enjoyed some amazing food.  It was a very fun evening and Nagendra was a very generous host.  He regaled us with his stories about his treks to Everest base camp and how he helped to  build a suspension bridge nearby.  We forgot our camera so you'll have to squint to see what we saw through the Blackberry photos posted below. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010


What a great Sunday!  We met some friends in the mountains above Port au Prince for a hike.  It is tough footing on many of the steep hills, but it's a great workout and the scenery is beautiful.  The vegetation is so lush and thick that there are places you can hear people nearby but can't see them.  We hiked down to a waterfall and then followed inside the river bank then up another path.  We passed areas planted with corn, cabbage, hot peppers, bananas, and flowers which of course meant we we're walking through and past the homes of the farmers and their families.

We started and ended at a place called The Lodge which is a small hotel with a restaurant and bar.  Our friends had spent the night and several others that hadn't joined the hike joined us for a card game and a Coke outside in the cool mountain air.   

The ride down the mountain was like the last time we were there - a torrential downpour which turns the road into a raging river.  It is crazy!  We tried to capture it with our camera but it didn't work very well.  Just imagine a river overflowing its banks and vehicles driving through it. 

The street as seen from the car window

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Happy Kids

Most days in Haiti you can see joy on the faces of children or hear the giggles and shouts of fun.  When you look closer you can see they are very creatively playing with plastic bags tied to sticks, plastic bottles as footballs or using rocks for marbles.  Thanks to the generosity of some students at the University of Minnesota and the ARC Children’s Program the kids at several of the camps American Refugee Committee manages are also able to enjoy beautiful, handmade kites.

The ARC Children’s Program at Terrain Acra currently has over 900 kids enrolled.  The staff does an excellent job of keeping the kids busy with lots of activities including painting, singing, and dancing. I happened to be there on Friday and noticed the kites were out.  Unfortunately there was no wind so there weren’t many kites flying but the kids didn’t seem to care.  They were just excited about the possibility.
The craziest thing - kids here can be laughing, having a great time and when you take out the camera they immediately become somber!  Fortunately these kids were having such so much fun that I was able to capture the smiles.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Apartment and Budget Realities

We're finally moved into our own apartment and it feels good to be able to have a place to call our own.  We lost track, but are guessing we looked at 25-30 different small homes and apartments before finding one that fell within our budget range and fit the security/safety requirements of the organization for which I work.  

What has really been difficult to come to terms with?  The price of housing (and everything else) is way out of whack with the realities here!  We are paying $2,000/month (yes - U.S.Dollars) for a 2 bedroom apartment with maybe 800 square feet.  It is very nice and includes a parking stall but really?!  We paid 25% less for our brand new 53rd floor apartment with all amenities including air conditioning and doormen in the middle of Chicago.  Supply and Demand - prices went up after so many new aid organizations came in post quake but have been out of reach for most Haitians for a very long time.  

To put that into perspective, we've been encouraged to employ the fiance of a longtime employee at Healing Hands.  She'll come in 3 days/week to do cleaning, laundry and prepare/leave dinner for us - for the going rate of $62.50 US/month.  Another reality check - this morning I paid $115 for two small bags of groceries which will feed 2 of us breakfast and dinner for 4-5 days.  Gas is $5-7 US/gallon.   The other side of that is that for $2.50 US I can buy a styrofoam container of rice, beans and a little chicken leg from a street vendor and if I have enough time I can buy bags of rice, dried beans, freshly killed meat, etc from other vendors for a little less money that in the market.  

I guess it's the reality of living on an island with heavy costs to get things here but low wages paid to those needing to buy them.



Sunday, August 22, 2010

Plant Shopping

A series of tanks for raising Tilapia
Poinsettia Plants - they need to be watered every hour

Weeding the Oak Saplings
Pine Saplings
Harvested Millet - to be used as seeds for other farms in Haiti

Egg laying in progress
Eucalyptus - Good for Mosquito Repellent!

Corn husks with the composted soil it creates just beyond
Two friends invited us to go to a plant store on Saturday.  What a great surprise!  The "plant store" was actually a fully functioning farm complete with fish ponds, egg laying/chick raising, crops including corn, millet, onions, and nursery plants for personal purchase.  They also start pine and oak tree saplings for reforestation efforts.  Very impressive!