Grief and Sorrow

IMG_7029Four nights. Wailing, keening, punctuated with sudden stillness and low murmurs. Sleep, awake again. Piercing screams from unknown fathoms of sorrow mix with the rising and falling counterpoint of the voodoo drums, chanting, and cocks crowing. With the tinges of daylight the keening stops, the roosters fade and only the drums and chanting continue unrelenting. Soon they too will become still.

Today is the funeral. Relatives of the dead women come to us for money. Denise says no and apologizes, telling them that the money we have is for the living. We did all we could for the woman before she died.

The funeral is at three o’clock at the Episcopal Church. We have never been there, though it is not far. I know the path it is on because I have seen school children heading to and from their school.

Bermane, our security guard, is attending the funeral and walks with us to the church. I am not sure what I am expecting, but I am not prepared for what I see. The church and school consist of two “structures”.

One is a large aluminum frame tent, the fabric shredded from time, offering limited shade at the best. I can still make out remnants of the logo for UNICEF above the entrance. This is most likely been repurposed after the earthquake aid efforts of 2010.

The other structure is crudely built with a low flat tin roof and walls consisting of blankets and woven palm leaves. It is about twelve by sixty feet and jammed with rustic wooden school benches and a few rusty metal folding chairs. This is where the funeral is being held.

It is filling up quickly when we arrive but we manage to find a school bench near the back where the school children are sitting. At the front is the casket and two chairs for the minister and his assistant. There are no flowers, but instead there are two huge ribbons adorning the casket. The casket is open for viewing.  Soon there are between 75 and 100 people pressed shoulder to shoulder in the tight space.

As three o’clock approaches and passes, Bermane leans over and whispers that the minister has not arrived yet. A few minutes later Jon Louie approaches, he is the dead women’s brother-in-law and is in charge of all the arrangements. He asks us if we have a camera, we do not, but I do have my I-phone. The family wants a picture of the deceased. I tell him that I can use my phone and he leads me outside and around to the front where I work my way through the pressing crowd.  I take two pictures, show them to him for his approval and then work my way back to my seat. I consider taking a few pictures of the “church” full of mourners, but I do not know if the pictures would be wanted and do not want to be invasive.

When the minister arrives the service begins. After an opening song the minister leads prayer and reads from the gospel. When he begins to deliver his eulogy, wailing begins and gut wrenching sobbing and keening drowns him out. One woman collapses on the floor raising her hands in supplication, another young women drops her head to the desk and softly knock her head against the surface as she cries out in uncontrollable grief.  Other women join in the moaning while other come quickly to comfort and calm as best they can. The scene repeats itself several times, reaching a total frenzy as the casket is closed and the people rush outside with the pallbearers following with the casket. The sounds of grief gradually lessen as the crowd moves down the path and into the street.

Denise and I follow at a discreet distance and turn off at our drive as the crowd continues on to the place of internment. We hope we have been respectful and as supportive as possible, considering that we are outsiders. We are both very quiet, finding each other’s hands to hold as we walk up towards our apartment.

New truck

What a miracle! Mesi anpil,(thank you very much), to the Lay Salvatorians and their benefactors that has made this possible. After the years of traveling by moto and our mostly faithful Gator, we now are able to travel safely and further with out having to hire a car and driver. The is the added benifit of saving much money. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Bob and Denise

challenges, by Denise

January 25th, 2015 Yesterday was quite a day, it started out normal. I did the laundry and a young girl was helping me. The young lady complained of ear pain. I looked through my stores of meds and found some amoxilcillin but didn’t feel comfortable prescribing antibiotics. I would usually call Sr. Jackie but I knew she was busy with a medical team and was leaving for the States so I didn’t want to bother her. Then I remember our new friends , Anita works in medical so I called her. She said she would come over and had a better antibiotic for ear infections. A short time later a lady about my age came and complained her arm had tension, and it was making her lean to that side. She looked normal, her arm seemed to move normally and she was not leaning to her side, but I told her a nurse was coming and she could talk to her. Not five minutes later Jon Lwi came and asked for the Gator. I told him no. Then he told me there was a lady who is pregnant and I thought he was saying her water broke. So I told him a nurse was coming, and I would go to see the lady while we waited. I left with him and several other people to what I thought was her house, but instead I found her on a stretcher in the middle of the road. She was bleeding; Anita the nurse was walking up the road at the same time. We accessed the situation and decided she needed to go to the hospital. I ran back to my house changed my clothes very fast and grabbed some money. When I got to Anita’s truck they had just gotten the women loaded with several of her family members. We went to the hospital in town. The poor woman was unloaded and it seemed that maybe the bleeding was worsening. She was taken into a room and they took her blood pressure, started an IV and then told us they don’t have an obstetrician and she needs to go to Gonaives to the hospital there. So we loaded everyone up, with the IV bags and headed to Gonaives. This hospital is an hour away over a very bad road, travel is slow. We thought several times maybe we should stop and check on the lady but decided we could really do nothing for her and we needed to just keep going. The hospital there is brand new, and we were told they specialize in obstetrics. The woman was unloaded again and the whole family piled out, in the emergency room she sat up on the stretcher and asked for water, she was quickly taken back to the obstetric ward. In just a few minutes a nurse came out with a prescription and told us she needed the medication fast. I looked at the prescription and could tell part of it was an IV. We looked for a Pharmacy in the hospital and then found out we needed to leave the hospital and go up the road to this little shack to buy these medications. So off we went, for five American dollars I was able to buy what she needed. One of the men in her family literally ran the medications back to the unit. Anita and I walked back and stopped at stand to buy water. When we returned to the unit we didn’t wait long before the head nurse came out and told us that the baby had died and the mother. We were completely shocked. The poor husband was devastated. Then we all had to wait for about two hours for the doctor to finish a surgery so he could pronounce her dead and sign a death certificate. We then loaded everyone including the lady that died back up and drove back to Gros Morne , the family wanted to take her to a funeral home (usually they have the funeral in their homes). I had called Sr. Jackie to tell her the woman had died, she warned me to make sure the family understood we would not be responsible for the cost of the funeral. When we arrived at the funeral home it was about 8:30 at night no one was there, and the family called the number on the door. The funeral director came quickly we unloaded the lady. The family made the arrangements and we once again loaded up and Anita drove us up the mountain to Garcin. On the way up the mountain we came across a moto with a casket, we stopped and the husband got out to talk to the moto driver and to inspect the casket. It was well after nine o’clock before we arrived back in Garcin. Many people gathered and you could hear the keening. Many people were crying. The people held my arm as we walked up the road to my house to make sure I didn’t fall in the dark. I left them at the gate and continued up to the apartment, where there were more of our friends waiting. I did not know this woman that died but she was loved in her community. I found out she had two other small children. We left for Port Au Prince the next morning so I am not sure of the funeral plans. I know the family and friends will help this family get through this experience. In Haiti death is far more common place among young people, many women and babies die. There is no prenatal care especially in the outlying villages. We are trying to open a mobile clinic in our community, maybe had this women had access to health care this could have been prevented. But often the people don’t use their local clinics because they lack faith in the nurses that run them, or they just don’t have the money to go. Please keep this family in your prayers; working in Haiti can be very difficult. Thank you for your interest in our experience here, Denise

Haiti update

I need to make a note of clarification about our last post. Our witnessing the struggles of parents trying to send their children to school is why we are constantly talking about the School Sponsorship Program. When you sponsor a child in school for $90, 100% of the money goes for their education. No administration fees are taken and you directly make a very positive impact on the child you sponsor and their family. Thursday morning surgery was scheduled for the umbilical hernia on Jon Gary, the young boy pictured with Denise in our last published newsletter. Last week Sr. Pat had called and told us that there was a medical team coming and that it included a pediatric surgeon. Last Friday the boy’s father took him to the hospital to be screened for his eligibility. Jon Gary was accepted and his father took him in at 5:00 A.M. on Thursday. Denise and I drove the Gator down to the hospital around 10:00 to check on his progress. When we arrived at the hospital we pulled up to the gate and were admitted to the parking lot. There were four cars in the lot, two of them ambulances. I backed the Gator in next to one of the ambulances and parked. Conveniently, Sr. Jackie was standing on the sidewalk talking on the phone a short distance from where we parked. We are not familiar with the hospital so being able to talk to her would simplify the process of getting information. When she got off the phone we asked her about Jon Gary and she told us that his surgery had been cancelled. She informed us that the surgeon did not do umbilical hernia surgery on children under five. That in the surgeon’s experience, she had seen this condition take care of itself and make surgery unnecessary. When we left the hospital we headed over to the school that Sr. Pat runs in Foni Bo. The other half of the medical team was holding a pediatric clinic. When we pulled up outside of the gate where they were holding the clinic we were swarmed with curious children. Sr. Pat emerged and gave us an update on their progress. 250 children had registered for the clinic and they still had to see 200. She was being kept very busy with crowd control. Later she told me that they had seen 263 children. Departing the clinic, Denise and I went to our favorite restaurant for an egg sandwich. We then headed back up the mountain to Grarcin. Just outside of town we were flagged down my one of our neighbors heading back from the market with a large bowl on her head. We stopped and her and another lady loaded up her bowl and climbed into the back of the gator. Immediately another three or four ladies tried to climb in too. They were very disappointed when Denise told them “Gator pa force”, the Gator does not have enough power. It would have been beyond their comprehension if she had told them that there was not enough room. It is not unusual to see a 125cc moto carrying three to five people. Tap Taps, the “taxi” in the larger towns are Toyota pickups with added leaf springs and benches in the back that squeeze up to 14 in the back with some people hanging on the outside. Today, Friday, the medical team is going to Buchan Richard. This is the school where The Fr. Jim Agriculture Center is located. Denise is going to work with the medical team and I am going to meet with Sr. Pat about problems we are all having with finding food for the children’s lunches.


IMG_9312Our home while in Haiti is an apartment guest house built above the school in Garcin. As a result of the five parish schools, the school in Garcin holds a special place in our hearts. We have watched it grow from its start to an enrollment of almost 200 students, and then down to around 80. The drop in attendance is a result of the lack of funds. The worldwide recession resulted in a significant drop in donations that the school is dependent on.

With a goal to break the dependency cycle, we recognize that an educated population is a prerequisite to building a self-sustaining community.

There are many shortcomings in the education the children receive compared to an American school. There is a lack of books, of qualified teachers, paper, pencils and many days a meal. But dedicated teachers work for $65 a month. Many students walk long distances, often with no breakfast, and many days no lunch. Parents sacrifice basic necessities to pay tuition often choosing which of their children can attend.

Many years ago, before Denise and I began going to Haiti, we worked with youth participating in the World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine. There is one lesson that we have carried with us all of these years. It is about choices. We all have choices; we all have to make choices.  Some of us have many choices, others have few. Those living in grinding poverty have the least.  Their most basic choice can be, do I let my children drink from the cholera infested river, or do I let them go thirsty? And then, if I have five gourds, do I purchase the chlorine solution to treat my water, or do I buy a piece of bread to feed my children?

Now, as we have seen the people we work with advance slowly from that level, and now they have to choose, do I spend 200 gourds, (a little over $4.00), on a test at school for my child, or do I buy enough food to feed my family of eight or ten for two or three days?

From the time we left Haiti at Thanksgiving, to the time we returned after the first of the year, twenty children have dropped out of school here in Garcin because their parents chose to buy food.

Think about it…..


Just a few quick notes:

When we left Port au Prince, we hired our friend Lamouth to drive us. He is one of the Haitians that gave a workshop for our agriculture group, APWOKPRAM, last fall on bio-intensive gardens.

He is working on a problem for a group of sisters that bought several thousand acres of land. They want to develop it agriculturally but it is poisoned with salt. He is researching plants that grow in tidal planes and close to the ocean. The problem with soil contaminated with salt is a worldwide problem. I know that it is a big problem in Australia.

Sr. Pat called last night and she was reading our last newsletter about the little boy that Denise is holding that needs hernia surgery. She told us that they have a group of surgeons coming next week and one of their specialties is hernia repair. This morning I am taking the boy and his father to the hospital for evaluation.

I just got back from taking the boy and his father to the hospital. It looks like they have approved him for the surgery.

When we first arrived at the hospital I was approached by a young man with a towel wrapped around his forearm. Johnny was with me and as we looked on, the young man removed the towel to reveal an open wound about eight inches long and spread open about an inch and a half. The bone was fully exposed, but there was no blood. Johnny looked away and the man said nothing but looked pleadingly into my eyes. It was obvious that the man had no money to see the doctor. In this country if you have no money, you receive no service.

I asked Johnny how much money it would cost to see the Doctor and he replied 500 gourdes, about $10.50. It ended up being 400 gourdes. Later when Johnny and I were across the street at the egg sandwich restaurant, the young man found me, came up to me, sought my eyes with his, and softly said “Mesi”.

Just before we were getting ready to head back, Johnny’s wife came up on a moto. She told us that Johnny’s uncle had drunk some poison and that an ambulance had been sent to Kalabat to bring him to the hospital. We do not know the outcome. Please lift him and the family up in prayer.

Denise got a kitten from Sr.Pat. It is white and she named it Feebee. She, (we think), adopted us right away, including our little burglar alarm dog Sadie. We need a cat for controlling the fruit rats that like to eat out of Denise’s container garden on the roof. Sadie is now fat. She weighs almost 8lbs. We are putting her on a diet to get her down to a more healthy weight.

Will send updates as they happen, Bob

Haiti update

To all of our friends, We are very thankful to be back in Garcin. We arrived yesterday in Port au Prince, spent the night at Matthew 25 guest house. We did not see any problems other than UN troops moving in to the city and hearing on the radio that the US troops have landed. Please pray for peace. Our new truck is still in customs. The government shut down last night. We hope things are resolved soon. Hopefully we will be able to go back for the truck at the end of this week, at the earliest, We shall see…. Things look good here, ground has been cleared and planted here at the school in Garcin for a garden to help feed the children. All of us working together is very important. So many people want to give up when things are difficult. Please do not give up. Those of you who have not registered to receive this blog on our new website,, please do, it will makle it much easier for us. Bob and of course Denise

Haiti Update

Happy New Year to all of our partners in the Haiti Project.

We are starting off the New Year with a new web site and blogging platform. We are still under construction but we are using it to send this blog. I will continue to email these to those of you who receive it by email.

We will be heading back to Haiti shortly. We are expecting that our new truck will be out of customs and ready to roll when we return. This is a major step for the Haiti Project. Transportation has always been a problem that is both time consuming and expensive.

On our return one of the first projects on the table is providing formation for the teachers. Long time team member Cecile Muller is spearheading this three week long project. The project will begin with a meeting of selected teachers and leaders of the educational community to determine the most pressing needs and design the formation process. There will be special emphasis on using libraries. We are all very excited about what this means to the teachers and the students.

Haiti is well known for its political instability and even though we have just gone through a period of relative peace, the country is at another crossroads and desperately needs all of our prayers. There are so many needs that are neglected when any government is bogged down in internal conflicts. This is especially obvious in Haiti.

One of the issues that affect the children of our community is that the government has pulled back on its support of private schools, and has cut off food supplies for private school lunches. This has added to the challenges of feeding the children in our schools. Up until this year, one of our five schools received food from the government. Loosing this support, along with the loss of support from several parishes in the United States, results in the children of Riviere Mancelle schools not eating every day.

There are several groups with private schools that are collaborating together to provide a united front to address these issues, but lack of a stable government is making things difficult.

In our absence gardens were planned on being started at the schools. We are eager to see what progress has been made. This is a big step. Once the gardens are developed they will provided an important contribution to the school lunch program, along with teaching improved methods of maximizing yields in small areas. In spite of the importance of these gardens they do not address the immediate need of feeding the children. Please consider a small gift to help bridge the gap. Many people working together accomplish big things.

God’s blessings and his peace through the New Year