Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Frandy Has a Blog

Our friend in Haiti, Frandy, started a blog. It is an on-the-ground look at life in Haiti. Frandy can report with complete credibility what it is like to live in a poor country because that is what he is doing. He knows this territory well. Frandy has many hopes and dreams for his life and is working harder than we can imagine to make them come true.

Today, Frandy accompanied my husband John to the clinic in Cite Soleil where John works as a doctor. John was impressed with Frandy's logic and judgment as Frandy witnessed the ravages that poverty has on the health of children.

We are thankful for the contributions that Frandy makes to Haitian Hearts. Make sure to check out his blog.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bob Corbett

Bob Corbett is a retired professor from Webster University, who has a long time interest and involvement in Haiti. He has a very comprehensive website on all things Haitian and also moderates a list serve about Haiti, to which I subscribe.

People from all over the world and with all kinds of ideas about Haiti post to this list. I have posted twice, most recently about Father Gerry Jean-Juste.

Quite often, spirited debates break out on the list. Recently, people have been debating how best to help Haiti. Once inawhile, Bob posts on the list, and I thought what he had to say was worth thinking about. It follows below.

I agree fully that there are innumerable decent Haitian people.
That's not what's at issue. The issue is: How do people change the
reality of THEIR Haiti?

I recall a very imporant learning experience for me. I
won't identify the person or place for fear I would jeapordize things in that
area. But, it was way back in Duvalier days. I was deeply impressed
with the work in one area and offered to provide some financial aid. The
Haitian leader of that group told me, "No thank you." I was quite
astonished. Every other place people just wanted anything I might be able
to offer. This leader told me:

1. If I take money from you and it gets out, then the "gwo neg"
in the area will wonder what we are up to, want their share, and we will be in

2. Soon, YOU will be suggesting we do this or that....

Thanks, Bob, but no thanks.

Eventually I got this leader to agree to allow me to give his group
anenvelop each month with cash, no questions ever asked, and no mention of
it. That ended up helping what is today a rather successful group, but
part of that success is DEFINITELY related to this leader's understanding of the
need to protect such information.

The problems in Haiti are not a lack of decent and hard working and
ambitious PEOPLE. It's leadership. There is a political class which
is a complete sycophant upon the people. There is an economic class which
is a complete sycophant upon the masses. There is a force -- it used to be
army, now it is police or thugs, who enforce the will of the powerful and keep
the masses in conditions of shocking poverty and powerless over their own

Okay, there may be a period of history here or there that I've over
exaggerated the disgustingness of leadership, but not by much.

Again, given the hard reality of the PRESENT, I think the best bet that
people of good will have in helping Haiti and Haitians is to forget "Haiti" as a
nation, and go to the villages, the more remote the better, and go SMALL.

Help the market women who need some funds for an initial investment,
help the farmer who needs a hoe or gwo bef or seed. Help the community
that needs water, help the community organization that needs a local store
ordispensary of medicines. Help the local community that needs a school
building or a teacher.

Those are things that many of us in the outside world can DO. We
can either do it alone, or we can bond with a small group of others and get
things moving.

At the same time, go small. Try NOT to be noticed. Try not
to attract the sychophants who will use power and force to steal the

THAT HAITI, the Haiti of the real people, the non powerful, the
politically insignificant, they are the hope of the future, be they in the slums
of the city or the more rural areas of tiny villages.

And pardon me if I step on toes here, but get the hell out of the
SPIRITUAL lives of the Haitian people. They can do that quite well
themselves. They need material help and medical help and educational help,
they don't need outside help with their spiritual lives.

Bob Corbett

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Out of Balance

Michael Jackson hasn't even been dead for eight hours, and I'm already weary of the coverage. I know his death needs to be acknowledged but the time that is being spent on it seems all out of proportion to what is important. This is a blindingly obvious observation and yet the situation of our out-of-whack priorities persists.

I wish we could hear more about children like Love, pictured above. Love, as you can see, was a beautiful child, and, yes, my use of the past tense means that she has died, probably from infection. You can read more about Love's short, sad life here at John's blog.

I would really like for us to hear more about Love, and the millions--billions?--of children like her, before malnutrition and disease take them away. And I think, Michael Jackson, from his current perspective, would agree. Why isn't saving these precious children the world's number one priority?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We Are All Broken

I thought maybe I could use a funny photo to help make a point about Haiti, which I will get to eventually. One of John's childhood neighbors sent him this picture yesterday. It was taken sometime around 1964. John is on the right in the back row and his brother Tom is sitting next to him shirtless. The boys are acting goofy, as young boys often take pleasure in acting.

Over the past few days, I've been reading a book, Living Gently in a Violent World by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Stanley is a university theologian and Jean Vanier founded L'Arche, "an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities experience life together as human beings who share a mutuality of care and need."

So much of what is in the book reminds me of Haiti. First, just the juxtaposition of the words Gently and Violent in the title, for Haiti and Haitians are both gentle and violent. I find the people to be gentle and when they are not, it is often the violence of the poverty that elicits the violence.

Jean Vanier talks about God's vision for the world: "It is a promise that people can get together. It is a vision of unity, peace and acceptance. It is a promise that the walls between people and groups can fall, but that this will not be accomplished by force. It will come about through a change of heart--through transformation. It will begin at the bottom of the ladder of our societies." (Italics mine)

It will begin in places like Haiti.

I want to quote a number of passages in the book where Jean Vanier is talking about people with disabilities. What he says, I think, also applies to Haiti.

"Jesus wants to break down the walls that separate people and groups. How will he do this? He will do it by saying to each one, 'You are important. You are precious.' There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that the other is important. Your are precious. You--not just 'people' but you."

"When we listen to stories of terrible pain and know we can't do anything about it, we touch our own vulnerability. We have heard the scream of pain, but we don't know what to do with it. None of us knows what to do with the deep brokenness of our world. Maybe that realization can bring us back to community. We can do nothing on our own. We need somewhere to be together."

"We must begin at the bottom. Jesus came to announce good news to the poor, freedom to captives, liberty to the oppressed, sight to the blind. Let's help the poor to rise up, and then help those who have power and money to see that for the sake of peace, which is the greatest good human beings can seek, they too should enter into this vision and start helping the weak to rise up."

"Jesus came to change a world in which those at the top have privilege, power, prestige and money while those at the bottom are seen as useless. Jesus came to create a body. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, compares the human body to the body of Christ, and he says that those parts of the body that are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the body. . . Who really believes it?. . .Do we really believe that the weakest, the least presentable those we hide away--that they are indispensable? If that was our vision of the church, it would change many things."

"I have been trying to point out that our deep need is to meet those on the other side of the wall, to discover their gifts, to appreciate them. We must not get caught up in the need for power over the poor. We need to be with the poor. That can seem a bit crazy because it doesn't look like a plan to change the world. But maybe we will change the world if we are happy. Maybe what we need most is to rejoice and to celebrate with the weak and the vulnerable. Maybe the most important thing is to learn how build communities of celebration. Maybe the world will be transformed when we learn to have fun together. I don't mean to suggest that we don't talk about serious things. But maybe what our world need more than anything is communities where we celebrate life together and become a sign of hope for our world. Maybe we need signs that it is possible to love each other."

My head is swirling with the truth of these statements. Let me just add a few more thoughts. Sometimes I get a little nervous when people start talking about how happy the poor are, not that I think that's what Jean Vanier is doing at all. People living in poverty have much to teach us about what is important. But I also think that some of the horrid, torturous conditions that I have seen children living in shouldn't be tolerated and we should work fervently to alleviate those conditions.

Secondly, when I think about how people at the bottom of the ladder are seen as worthless by the rest of the world, I think of my son. My son, who is an absolute dynamo, smart, compassionate, athletic, loving, my son was on the last rung of this ladder until God brought him to us. For me, he represents all of the children in the developing world who exist in such conditions that their gifts are lost to them and to the world. We are not seeing clearly.

Thirdly, we are all broken. All of us, probably none so much as those of us overachievers in the First World. Even those cute, little boys in the picture at the top, who all went on to become successful men. But as Jean Vanier would point out, they are having fun.

Because I've been so inspired by him, I'll give the last words to Jean Vanier: "The heart of L'Arche is to say to people, 'I'm glad you exist.'"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When the Government Makes Problems Worse

John wrote a great post at his blog, Dying in Haiti, an interview with Bob Moliere, an activist in Haiti.

Moliere says, "I ask you to tell the international community not to donate money and goods to government of Haiti. What goes in the right hand of the government quickly goes in the left hand and eventually makes its way back to the United States. . . . Haiti really has no government. There is no one to defend the poor. . . . When we (poor Haitians) need help, the Haitian government won't help. The people in Goniaves know this. International money did not reach the people in Gonaives after the flooding."

This reminds me of the argument that economist Dambisa Moyo made in her book Dead Aid that I wrote about here. Bob Moliere is making the same argument from the perspective of someone who is working with poor people.

Whenever we've talked with poor people in Haiti, they've outright laughed at the idea of the government helping them.

Haiti reminds me of a line in Bruce Springsteen's song, Born in the USA.

"You end up like a dog that's been beat too much 'til you spend half your life just covering up."

The historical and present day horrendously bad treatment that Haiti has received from the international community is part of the country's problem. But now Haiti's internal dysfunction is an equally big problem. Government corruption and incompetence are big parts of this dysfunction.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Home Away From Home

John is off for Haiti today. Because of the fruit-basket-upset nature of our lives, he's never quite sure he's going to go until the night before he is scheduled to depart. There's always a lot to coordinate here and in Haiti. He's pretty much got packing down to a science; the indispensibles are: two cell phones, computer, camera and attachments, batteries, headlight, passport, scrubs, and lots of medicines. John always has to make at least one run to a pharmacy to get meds for our Haitian patients. We are also grateful to the many people who donate medicines, including the Heading Avenue Sisters.

It's a relatively short trip this time, but John will get a lot done, like he always does. His plans include: working in the clinic at the Daughters of Charity's place in Cite Soleil; examining a child who has Down Syndrome and a heart problem which can accompany this syndrome; delivering medicines and other supplies to our patients and their families; examining new and old Haitian Hearts patients, bringing Frandy a TOEFL book and a surprise; attending the funeral of Father Gerry Jean-Juste at the cathedral in Port-au-Prince and also his burial in Cavaillon. Of course, the unplanned activities take up a lot of time too

When he left this morning, John wasn't sure where he would be staying during his trip. Some guesthouses and hotels are full, a good sign for the country. But he will manage, in this place that lays claim to a big part of his heart.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Difficulty of Arranging Things in Haiti

Sometimes in Haiti, you can work so hard trying to make something happen, something that shouldn't be that difficult to arrange and then it doesn't happen.

I'll quit being so vague. On John's last trip to Haiti, he identified three new heart patients. He then learned that there was to be a team of medical professionals, including a pediatric heart surgeon, from Florida going to Port-au-Prince the first week of June. He asked the team if they would examine these three new patients, and they said yes.

The good news is that we think two of the children made it to the hospital where the team had set up shop and were seen.

But we know for certain that one patient did not. And this was after dozens of e-mails and many phone calls setting up the appointment. When things fail in Haiti, there is usually more than one reason why. It can be a combination of techonological failure, language barriers, transportation problems, illness, human error, and the chaos of life in a developing country. Tasks that we take for granted here or that are simple to perform are far more difficult in a place like Haiti where every day life is hard.

We are disappointed that this patient wasn't able to be seen. But we haven't given up and we will think of new ways to bring her to the attention of those who maybe able to help her.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Our Friend Frandy

Frandy is a young man in Haiti who, in extremely difficulty circumstances, is working to better himself. How many languages can you speak? Me, growing up middle class in the United States with two graduate degrees, can speak one and a half. Frandy, a young man who has not had many advantages, is at four. He is working hard to master English, in all its complexities.
Frandy came to the United States a couple of years ago for medical care. He is very grateful to the Ebel family in St. Louis who hosted him and has composed the following letter of thanks:
Host families The roles of the host families of Haitian Hearts mission is very great, and needed to be saying aloud. The Ebels are very wonderful people, and it’s the same for the other host families across different states where the Haitian Hearts patients often settle to receive medical care in USA.
You save many lives when you provide your houses to the Haitians who can’t even afford to get $ 2 U.S per day for their daily food. I am up there to thanks you for all, and those lines below go to you.
Thanks for saving lives and helping on other ways. CONGRATULATIONS!!!
Homes are usually given by you.
Often there to share you culture with the guests
Satisfactory occurs toward your encouragement
Times for care and hospitality
Feelings to drive the patients through the admirable steps
A strong effort to save lives of people that you have never made any experience with before
My memory always reminds me how you paid your attention over me
It is radically appreciated
Love surrounds your houses
Imagine the way you provide your assistance, then you will see its impacts on everyone of us.
Explain us most of the important things about USA
Saving lives is very dear and significant; therefore thank you for saving mine
Thank you Frandy for being an inspiration to us!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Stuffed and Starved

Have you ever had the experience where you've learned something new and then, seemingly suddenly, you see references to this new topic all over the place? That's happened to me with the book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. I bought the book a couple of weeks ago from an independent book store, You Know You Love A Book, in Peoria Heights.

This isn't a book review, because I haven't even had time to crack the cover, though I am looking forward to reading it. But today on the Corbett list that I subscribe to was this link to the Brooklyn Food Conference, where Jean-Baptiste Bazaelais spoke on the program, Seeds for Haiti.

And also a speaker at this conference? Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved. You can read more about his book at his blog.

We are surrounded, inundated by food in the United States. Meanwhile, my husband John is haunted by the image of a little boy Jimy and his father, who were so very obviously hungry, if not starving, in Haiti. "The father didn't ask for anything," said John. "He had so much dignity."

We have learned that since John has returned from Haiti, Jimy has had two fainting spells. You know, when you don't get enough to eat, this happens. We have decided to adopt this family in Haiti and send them money for food.

This action doesn't address the systemic problems that Raj Patel writes about, but it will make a difference to Jimy and his family.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

And Another Heart Patient

This is five-year-old Jimi, a patient John came upon during his most recent trip to Haiti. Jimi has a Ventricle Septal Defect, VSD, which is a hole between the two lower chambers, or ventricles, of the heart. A VSD is a congenital heart defect, or, in other words, a heart problem a child is born with.

Jimi has had an echocardiogram in Port-au-Prince, which has been reviewed by an American pediatric cardiac surgeon. The good news for Jimi is that he may not need surgery; some VSD's don't pose much risk to a child's health. Jimi will hopefully be examined by the medical team from Florida and this prognosis will be confirmed.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A New Heart Patient

When John was in Haiti for three weeks in May, he worked, like he always does, at clinics and hospitals, seeing patients who have a host of problems. In the course of his work, he comes across children with heart abnormalities.
Modjina, pictured above, is seven years old. She has mitral regurgitation and is in heart failure. She recently had an echocardiogram in Port-au-Prince. Hopefully, during the first week of June, she will be examined by a team of doctors from Florida.
John gave her mother medicines for Modjina: enalapril (to lower her blood pressure), furosemide (to get rid of excess fluid), lanoxin (to strengthen the pumping power of her heart), and penicillin (to ensure that she doesn't get rheumatic fever, which could have caused her heart damage to begin with). These medicines will buy us some time, but she likely needs surgery.
So if anyone out there knows of any hospitals that might be willing to accept Modjina, please let me know with an e-mail.
Thanks for reading.