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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Small Town Riots in Haiti

As a community, what do you do when the Mayor receives $22,500.00 dollars for community projects, but instead of using it for the community, places it in his pocket?  Well, if you are part of the community of Maniche, where, by the way, we are constructing the new H.E.R.O. Residence for Orphans, you riot! 

Last week I went on a three day trip to Maniche to examine our land and begin the process of site preparation for future construction.  Our goal is to build the perimeter wall for the land by March, allowing us to proceed with the construction of the main buildings.  Our goal is to finish the construction of the first dormitory by the end of this year, a goal that I know we can accomplish.

But, I digress.  I arrived in Maniche on a calm, Monday evening.  I was travelling with our Residence Director, Brice, the previous owner of the land, Kerby, and Brice’s brother, an individual that had worked for the Ministry of Justice in Haiti.  Tuesday morning began in earnest as we contacted a local surveyor to survey the land, and hired some individuals to dig 9 feet into the soil so that we could take a bag full of soil back to Port-au-Prince for composite testing.  This information will determine the type of structure that can be built on the land.  As the afternoon wore on we decided a trip back to Les Cayes was necessary, usually a 45 minute adventure, but we soon learned that all of the roads were blocked with rocks and burning coconut tree fronds.  We had to use a secondary route, one that took 90 minutes, to get to Les Cayes.  We eventually found what we were looking for, a topographer, but I almost had a heart attack when he wanted over $600.00 for a simple topographical map.  Our search being rendered fruitless, we began our return trip to Maniche.

Along the way we kept asking, “is the road to Maniche clear?”  Yea, yea, no problem everyone claimed.  Of course, as we near Maniche on the rocky road, one of the small bridges needed to cross a drain has been destroyed by rioters!  Thankfully, there was a large truck coming up the opposite way, also blocked, with about 30 people on board.  Everybody disembarked and started throwing large rocks into the 3 foot depression where the bridge had been, and finally, an hour later, there were enough rocks filling the depression that we were able to finally make it across.  “Yes, Yes!  Of course, the road is clear!” 

One of the highlights of the trip was my conversations with local youth in Maniche.  It was truly refreshing to hear their optimism and vision for Maniche, and their goals for turning the community into an area of success, rather than poverty.  I am glad that H.E.R.O. is building a residence for orphans in Maniche, it is not only an opportunity to help the orphans in all of Haiti, but also the community of Maniche.  Until next time!


Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 5: One Teacher's Earthquake Experience

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti.  Below you will find the writings of Ma-Luschka Colindres, a colleague and friend.  Ma-Luschka and I were part of a 6 person team of teachers that lived through the earthquake, and worked together for over 10 days to provide first-aid for the victims.  This is her story.  Day 5.

January 16th Day 5 

Should I be honest ?

I don’t think that I ever imagined that I could grow so much in such short period of time. But as I look at my state of mind from day 1 of Earthquake to day 5 I feel like a different me. Anger, despair, sadness, fear, helplessness, faith, courage, hope, joy, contentment, satisfaction, frustration, revulsion, disgust, horror are my current state of emotional rollercoaster.

I knew that I could handle gory sites to a certain limit, being a science teacher I dissect prepared specimens all the time. However never in my world did I imagine that I would ever have to see let alone care for human beings with petrified, rotten, broken, crushed, pierced, malodorous limbs. Thanks to having proactive apartment mates that are teachers just like me, fifteen minutes after the Earthquake happened we geared up and left the apartment to really never return. That first night we picked up supplies at the Red Cross (which luckily was our neighbor) and we headed out to assist. Well in the dark in open field through corridors, ravines, we treated hundreds of wounded without having time to bat an eye. We did not have any doctors with us and we did not stop until an entire soccer field was helped and we moved on to another disaster area on foot. 

I could not even start describing the cases nor the amount of people that were homeless and just sleeping on the ground. Gender, age made no difference all were wounded.

My anger began when I saw so many cars drive by and not offer any help to the wounded, even official government cars, police cars, UN cars, OI cars. Having lived through various earthquakes from California, I knew that this was above a 6.0 and that all of damage must have happened. I can’t even count on my fingers the amount of schools that collapsed with students inside. People were just running everywhere trying to save children, trying to save family members crushed inside. As I am writing you on day 5, I now recognize without a doubt the smell of rottening human flesh, which has become part of my daily breathing regimen that a face mask cannot annihilate.

Since I have not had internet access for 5 days, I am still asking myself how honest I should be because it is crude, it is inhumane, it is disgusting, it is revolting. 

I am barely getting any sleep as the AyiTeam what we call ourselves has not stopped giving first aid. We have now become expert at cleaning wounds, shaving head to prepare them for suture, deep cleaning wounds to prevent infections, we know longer shriek at the site children with cracked skulls, legs with tibias sticking out, feet with gangrene that obviously will not make it. Nakedness no longer phases us who cares about vanity, propriety when you are laying on the ground wondering if you are going to survive, flies all over your wounds and no doctors in site. In the AyiTeam composed of Steve English Teacher, Meaghan the 5th grade teacher, Bruno the Social Studies teacher, Michelle the 3rd grade teacher, Sabrina the Kinder Teacher and me the Science Teacher, we learned that when several people put their heads together you can make an organization open their doors to the wounded, you can take risks and doors will open for you, if you are proactive people will follow you. Everyone thinks that we are doctors, but the irony of it all, it that we wondered if the majority of the doctors crumbled under the rubble because it was not until day 4 that we started seeing a few more doctors despite the state of emergency. We did see many foreign reporters since day 2 but no foreign doctors. Our guess was that reporters can fly faster than doctors. But it was not until day 5 after Earthquake that we actually saw dozens of doctors. Some of you may not realize this but at the hospitals people are outside laying on the ground with no access to bathroom nor water. This is the case at the General Hospital and two other hospitals that I visited. When you drive across the city ( by the way I may have lost my car because it was sent for service at the AutoPlaza and it no longer exists) any open field contains hundreds of people under makeshift tents, sheets. For those of you that know Haiti, the National Palace, DGI, ONA, Caribbean Market, Sacre Coeur Church (where I had my first communion, confirmation and marriage), College Canape Vert, Palais de Justice, Canado, Nursing school, Haitian American Institute just to name a few are completely destroyed. The building that I just named are only a few that come to mind as I spend my entire days now giving first Aid at the General hospital. We had camped our station near a wall that had some shade only to discover that the dead bodies are brought in huge trucks to be picked up by a bulldozer and dumped into piles to be later burned. By the way it is a common occurrence now for people to just dump dead bodies in the street corners piled up on each other, with rigid blown up limbs. This a daily site and smell. I do need to remind you all that we are on day five. There has not been any food distribution yet. What does that mean, the people are sick, hungry, tired, body odor is infesting the entire city whether you are alive or dead. Riots and looting can break out at any time.

I think it is time for me to go to sleep as I am fortunate to have the stars as my cover. The AyiTeam has been sleeping outside on the grass or on the cement in a circular fashion with our heads connected. It really is no bother to us when we have had to resort to finding a bucket to collect water from our pool to bathe. We have no electricity and we are afraid to turn on the gas stove. We have been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. The AyiTeam has been eating together, working together, sharing basically everything. We thank God for being alive but we do hope that people don’t turn their backs on Haiti because the country needs to be reconstructed from ground zero up.

Every single Haitian has lost someone near or far. Things will not get better until we all work together. We are all affected, and I apologize if I ranted off but this is my first time communicating to the rest of the world and it is an odd feeling after five days of complete disconnect and living as though this were a war zone.

To be continued.

P.S. One of my best friends that lives in Petion Ville, lost her aunt, her uncle, her nephew of 11 years and her cousin. Thus far we lost one teacher at Union School.This is a common occurrence in many families. However my biggest concern now are for the orphans. There is no emergency plan until this date that I know of for the children that have no family members left. Please get involved and participate. The Red Cross has really been helping.

Friday, January 6, 2012

H.E.R.O. Orphans Outperform Their Peers

The system of education in Haiti truly boggles my mind.  I will try my best, in a biased way I must admit, to explain the method of operation of the system here.  The true purpose of this blog, however, is to celebrate the academic achievement of the children in the H.E.R.O. House.  After completing their first trimester exams and receiving the results, all I can say is that I am truly proud of their accomplishments!  After all of their effort, they surely reaped the rewards.

For this conversation I am going to specifically discuss grades 1-6.  At the end of grade 6 all students in Haiti are required to take the 6th grade government exam.  Students are not promoted to the next grade unless they pass this exam.  They do have the opportunity to repeat 6th grade as many times as they want to, but most often if students do not pass the 6th grade exam after 2 attempts, then their schooling ends.  As a result of the earthquake and political instability the school year has been shortened from 4 quarters to 3 trimesters.  The school year this year started one month late, in October, instead of September and will end in June.

For the majority of the schools in Haiti, the method of instruction is through rote memorization.  The teacher stands at the front of a class filled with rows of students sitting on wooden benches, and provides information about a given topic.  The students either then copy the information into their notebooks, recite the information, or complete a simple task related to the information on the board.  At the end of each the day students are given Homework and Lessons.  Homework is exactly as we know it in the U.S., but then students are also required to memorize daily Lessons ranging in a variety of topics.  The passages range from a few sentences to a few paragraphs in length, and the students must be able to recite the passage perfectly the following day.

Each day the students arrive in class, the majority of teachers ask them to recite the lessons from the previous day.  Homework is often not checked.  Each student has a standardized lesson book where they are provided with a grade out of 10.  For example, 8/10, 4/10.  The length of the passage or the subject matter has no relevance to the base number of 10.  Even for homework, if there are 12 questions, it is out of 10, if there are 14 questions, it is out of 10, if there are 5 problems, is out of 10.  Don’t ask me to explain it, it just is.

All of the homework and lessons have no actual bearing on a student’s final grade for each trimester (or quarter).  At the end of each trimester each class is provided with an exam for each subject.  In order for a student to take the exam they must pay a fee, usually about $2.50, that goes towards making copies of the tests for each student.  If you don’t pay the fee, you don’t take the exam, you don’t get a trimester grade, and this limits your ability to pass to the next grade.  I was saddened to talk to many parents during December that could not afford this fee for their children to take the exams.  It is a truly unfortunate situation.

Each class takes approximately 6-10 exams during a one-week period, and each exam is scored either out of 10 or out of 20, again, with no relation to how many questions might actually be on the exam.  All of the scores are added together, divided by the number of exams, and what results is a grade between 0-10, out of 10.  In elementary school, 6 is considered passing, and 7 or above is considered to be a quality academic performance.  I don’t agree with this, 8-9 sounds much better to me, but alas, it is the system here.  Finally, the score is then compared with all of the others in the class and each child is given a ranking based upon their results.

And while we might not agree with the ranking system, our kids did fantastic!  Robenson earned the second highest grades in his class with a score of 7.69 and Valencia earned 3rd place with 7.05 out of 10.  They are both in third grade and have about 20-25 students in their class.  Dayanna earned a score of 8.09/10 on her exams and placed 2nd in her class while Franky impressively received 7.05/10 and placed 4th. Franky and Dayanna are both in second grade, and they have about 20 students in their class.  We are all so proud of their academic performance!

The unfortunate reality, however, is that even being at the top of your class in a private school in Haiti doesn’t quite equate to having true academic knowledge when compared to curriculums across the world.  We know that we have more work to do, and that being able to read and recite information is not the highest level of human intelligence.  At H.E.R.O. we will continue to provide our children with a variety of educational opportunities apart from the traditional schooling they receive here in Haiti.  As a result, we hope that they are able to reach a level of academic knowledge that will serve them well in this ever changing world.  They have proven they are fully capable of learning; it’s now time to provide them with the content.  Let’s do this!


Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

H.E.R.O. Orphans Go Back Home

One of my personal goals this year is to use more sensationalistic headlines for my blogs to attract more readers.  So, if this is the first time that you have read my blog as a direct result of the headline, then, hooray for me!  It worked!  And since you are already here, take a moment to read about the H.E.R.O. orphans and how they spent the first few days of January.

At H.E.R.O. we recognize the importance of maintaining positive relationships with any surviving relatives of the children in our care.  While our children have all lost both their mother and father, they still have extended families that simply do not have the means to care for them.  As the children begin to age out of our program, between the ages of 18-21, we want to make sure that H.E.R.O. is not the only entity that provides them with continual support during their adult lives.  It is important that our children maintain relationships with their families as well, so that they are able to receive additional support as they progress through their lives.

On the morning of December 31st, our Residence Director and I dropped off the children to their respective families in various suburbs of Port-au-Prince.  I was truly humbled as each child selected most of the gifts that had been given to them during Christmas, and took them home to give to younger cousins or friends that had most likely received nothing during the holiday season.   Our kids realize how blessed they are to have such a rare opportunity at life success, that they willingly give away their prized possessions to others in need.  I was truly impressed.

After four days and three nights with their families the children returned to the H.E.R.O. House.  They recounted stories of eating Soup Joumou (Pumpkin Soup), lighting fireworks, and being able to spend quality time with their aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I could tell that they had enjoyed their family time, but were also happy to be back.  Our plan for next year is to allow them to stay for an entire week, to allow more time for them to bond with their families.  Until then, we will continue to work to provide the housing, education, and rehabilitation the children in our care deserve.


Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D