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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting Back Into The Swing Of Haiti

Read talking about life in Haiti

It has been just over a week since I arrived back into Haiti, and it has been wonderful! I have to admit that I have to make some life adjustments when I come here to Haiti, especially when it comes to waiting for things to get done. This would include the 2 hour wait in line at the bank to make a deposit, the one hour wait to print off a couple of pages at the print shop, and the multiple hour wait on a daily basis in traffic. If anything, it allows me to practice being patient. I fully admit that in the United States I am the first person to ask for a manager when service isn’t up to standard, or employees are being rude to customers, or if I have to wait for over 5 minutes for a teller at Bank of America. In Haiti however, I truly have learned to be patient. You are going to get to wherever you are going eventually, and whatever services you need are going to get accomplished, it just takes a little bit longer – Lesson Learned!

Upon my return I was also struck with what has been a recurring theme in my life: the importance of relationships. All the friends and acquaintances that I first made here in Haiti have been so welcoming and warm upon my return. From SOPUDEP to Union School, everyone has truly reached out to me and told me to not hesitate to ask for help and that they are more than willing to provide assistance with the construction and implementation of the residence for street children and orphans. It is a great feeling to know that the relationships I built during my first five months are continuing to grow into lifelong friendships.

I met with Rea Dol and her husband to discuss plans for SOPUDEP. They are working hard to rebuild their school so that it can again serve over 600 students. You can keep updated about their progress on their website at

I also visited Union School where every administrator, faculty, and staff member are hard at work preparing for their September 7th opening. I am very impressed at what they have accomplished in such a short time frame. Although they will be only using the secondary building for the entire school population, they are still expecting an enrollment of 200 students. It is going to be an exciting year for them.

It has also been a great week for H.E.R.O. The land is scheduled to be placed into the H.E.R.O. name on the week of September 12th, just a few days from now. Furthermore, I have been traversing Port-au-Prince to find prices for construction materials, transportation, and a work crew. Design plans for the residence are expected to be completed this week! So make sure you keep an eye out for those! I am so excited about this project, and can’t wait for the opening day! Thank you for your continued support, encouragement, and contributions, they are truly appreciated.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Becoming Educated in Ghana

A young 10 year old Ghanaian boy darts through traffic, carefully balancing a basket of dried fish on his head, contorting his hands and face to gain the attention of the passengers in each passing car. As the sun settles on the dry, red, ground of Sogakope, the boy returns to a barren shack he calls home, to an aunt who, disappointed by the boy’s failure to sell an appropriate amount of fish, refuses to feed him dinner. His stomach rumbling, a single tear gingerly winds down his smooth cheek. The boy wishes for a different life, different circumstances: a chance to become educated. Meet Louis.

I first met Louis in Akatsi, a rural city in Ghana, West Africa. He was 14 years old then and living with his abusive cousin, while also managing the life of his 8 year old brother Gershon. They were living in a two-room dirt floor dilapidated concrete structure, with both parents absent. I spent a day in the life of Louis at one point, which began at 5:30 AM with a half-mile trek to the nearest well, where he proceeded to drop a bucket down to fetch water, only to watch half of its contents drain out from the quarter size hole in the bottom. This wasn’t what struck me about Louis’ life, however. What caught my attention was his morning dedication to studying his notes from class, his rapt attention during my English courses at his middle school, and his continual thirst for knowledge, arriving immediately after school at our volunteer premises to engage in conversation with the volunteers, to sop up every word, every grain of knowledge.

Louis’ story is no different than hundreds of thousands of youth across our world, that because of the circumstances they are born into, do not have access to education, health care, or even basic food supplies. Louis’ story is one of success, however, a testament to the power of education and to what happens when a young boy decides that in order to become successful in this world, and to rise out of poverty, one must become educated.

I spent the entire past week with Louis, his father, his mother, his brother Gershon, and his younger sister. He has overcome such great obstacles in his life including being kicked out of secondary school for lack of school fees, going without food for several days in a row, and living in conditions not suitable for any human being. Despite these struggles, and because of his commitment to education, he recently graduated from a 3 year Polytechnic program in Marketing, having been the Marketing President in his final year, charged with overseeing the 3,000 plus student body. Now, as a 23 year old that has never seen a washing machine, and only tried pizza for the first time last week, he has aspirations of earning his Bachelor Degree in Marketing and travelling abroad to earn his Masters.

Louis attributes his success in life to one sole factor, the pursuit of education. It has given him opportunities to speak impeccable English, dabble in French, lead thousands of students, and earn a National Diploma in a very challenging field. The 10 year old boy that sold fish is now a 23 year old success story for all of Ghana. I say to you Louis, Well Done!
Me and Louis at the Kwame Nkrumah Museum

Me and Louis at a soccer match in Accra
Me, Louis' Brother Gershon, and his father Fred

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Remembering Fiji, Heading To Ghana, Project Haiti

Niu, father to Kama, at Kama's burial site

I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to travel the world.  In this year alone I have survived an earthquake in Haiti, returned to Fiji to attend the funeral of my friend's 15 year old son, and tomorrow I am leaving for Accra, Ghana for a reunion with a young man I met 10 years ago; a Ghanaian that has beaten the odds and recently earned his Associates Degree in Finance and Marketing (more on the back-story in a later edition).  Each of my experiences in Haiti, Fiji, and Ghana have taught me life lessons that I could not have received by staying in the United States.  Each time I travel abroad, especially to third world countries, I am always humbled by the knowledge and life lessons that are passed down to me.  It truly is an honor.

Louis (right), his brother Gerson (middle), and his father (left) as we travel through the rural areas of Ghana

Children in a Tent City in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Education Is A Right, Not A Privilege

Well, aside from the 30 page research paper that I must complete by Tuesday, summer classes are over! This means that I have only 9 months left in my doctoral program at Vanderbilt University, a short time considering that I started this program nearly 3 years ago; it really seems like yesterday! I thank God for the opportunity that has been presented to me, and I am truly thankful for my colleagues and professors that I have met. I am blessed to be born in a country, the United States, where K-12 education is both free and compulsory. There are millions of children around the world that because of their life circumstances never even have the opportunity to enter a formal classroom. These are the children that H.E.R.O. will serve, to provide housing, education, and rehabilitation to those born into circumstances of neglect and despair. There is no doubt, however, that if we come together, we can help to shape the future of the youth in Haiti, one child at a time.

I don’t think I have ever published the following story on my blog. If I have, it is worth hearing a second time. 4 days after the earthquake, Bruno Allard (a fellow teacher giving first aid) and I came upon a field of victims of the earthquake near General Hospital (the largest public hospital in Haiti). This field was overrun with men, women, and children, most of whom did not have the physical capability to walk to the hospital. They had been dropped off after the earthquake, left to fend for themselves, often without family. To add to their misery, no doctors, nurses, or international relief organizations had come to their aid. Bruno and I decided that we had to move them from the field to the actual hospital, where they at least had a chance to be seen by a doctor. We found two rusted out, blood stained gurneys without mattresses, and one by one we began to move each person from the field to the hospital. The gurneys’ weighed beyond our individual moving capacities, and we were shortly joined by local Haitian volunteers looking for any way to help the injured. Bruno, myself, and our helpful volunteers worked for hours, painstakingly lifting each man, woman, and child onto the gurney, rolling them 200 yards to General Hospital, finding an open space to lay them down, and repeating the process many times over. I haven’t even touched upon the most depressing moment of that day.

During the moving process, Bruno and I noticed a young boy, about ten years old, that had been watching us stumble back and forth with the gurneys. During one of my returns to the field, I sat next to this boy, and asked who he was with. He wasn’t with anybody. I asked Bruno (he is fluent in French) to ask him and the other adults around who this child was with. Each one dutifully reported that the child was by himself, and he had in fact been by himself for over 24 hours, sitting in this field, scared and injured, unsure of what to do. We decided that something had to be done, so Bruno picked him up and took him to our small first aid station at the General Hospital. We gave him crackers to eat and water to drink. His story was this: At 10 years old, this young boy had never been to school. On the morning of January 12th, 2010 his father and mother had finally earned enough money to enroll him for the first time ever in an elementary school. His father had taken him to register for classes, and he was all set to begin school the following day, his first time in a class full of children, his first time to learn in a formal school setting. His dreams were shattered by the earthquake. His mother, dead. His father, dead. His school, destroyed. Now here sat an orphan, a child that had never been to school, ready to attend on January 13th, and yet he now found himself with no parents, no education, no future.

Education is the vehicle for human freedom. H.E.R.O. is going to provide housing for the street children and orphans, education for those that have never attended school, and rehabilitation for those affected by years of physical, mental, and emotional abuse. We took that young boy to Nos Petit Frères et Soeurs Saint Damien Pediatric Hospital that evening. I pray for his healing.

Please join H.E.R.O. in our mission to serve the most disenfranchised youth in Haiti. We need your help to make our vision a reality; together we can make a difference.

Steven Kirby,