Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Final Day by Hunter Fortuin

Today was our last day. We began with a continuation of the previous day staying up very late reflecting on our trip and packing. This lasted until a little after 1AM. We definitely were not ready to leave. 

We woke very early as well to give our luggage to Fritz's driver to bring to the airport. This occurred at about 5:50 so there were a bunch of zombie like children carrying luggage through the common area. After sleeping until 7:30 we were up once again for a very unique breakfast; ketchup and spaghetti. We ate up for a long day of travel. 

Fritz showed up around 10:00 and we all climbed in the van to go to the airport. Our ride lasted about 1.5 hours but went very fast because we played a word game called stinky pinky. After we were done playing we finally heard Fritz's backstory which was very interesting. Going between Haiti and America while having multiple businesses is quite impressive.

We got to the airport and went through multiple screens of security, much more than we have in America surprisingly. This took a couple of hours to complete and we ran into a couple of snags thanks to seashells we collected from the seashore but we made it. We finally walked across the tar mac to depart from the most amazing week of quite a few of our lives.

The plane ride lasted about 4 hours and we watched Trouble With The Curve and Wreck It Ralph with a combination of sharing stories with other passengers and seeing the sunset. We arrived in America and went through immigration and customs. As soon as we officially were accepted into America many of us flocked to Starbucks and realized how crappy American food is. Everything we ate was extremely fresh while we were in Haiti and becoming accustomed to our food back home will be difficult.

We are currently back in the states in the bus back home. We will all look back fondly at our time in Haiti and will likely return in the future. It was an extremely humbling experience and is something we will never forget. We receive so many things here that we take for granted; access to healthcare, a relatively equal spread of wealth, waste management systems, running water, electricity, and many other luxuries. Having seen how some people live it has really made me reevaluate life goals and morals. This trip has made me a better person and I can say with the utmost confidence that this holds true for everybody that went. I hope that all readers will take something from what they have read on this blog similar to what we drew from the trip. Au revoir!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

999 Trees, Unquantifiable Growth (Leah Penniman)

The leadership of the Mango Growers Association, Dancers, and Stone Artists joined us for dinner at the hotel to evaluate the project and celebrate our accomplishments. Ayiti Resurrect reiterated our commitment to return each year to facilitate a project of the community's choosing and gave them a survey to that end. The students shared their reflections and the general sentiment was that this has been an experience of a lifetime, that they are changed for the better, and intend to do more service work and stay connected to Haiti in the future. We gave a parting gift of materials to repaint and replace the flags in the memorial for those lost in the earthquake.

The day was a full work day. In the morning, we assisted KT, Olivia, and the Konbit shelter team with the earth bag house construction project. The house is made a locally sourced materials, primarily plastic rice bags and earth. We sifted the rocks and roots out of the soil and transported it in wheelbarrows to the work site. Then, we filled and stacked some demonstration earth bags and listened to the civil engineer on the project explain the mechanism of this type of construction. "Super-Adobe" as it's called, is earthquake and fireproof, inexpensive, low tech, and made without the use of wood. As Emet said, "Amazing!"

After lunch, we created a permaculture forest garden near the community center under Kiki's leadership. The concept of permaculture is to create an agriculture that mimics nature with efficient use of vertical space, perennials, and thick mulch. We planted basket vine, pineapple, mango, vetiver, and malanga (taro) and then placed a heavy vetiver mulch over the bare earth.

We gave a final push to finish the tree planting in the late afternoon. We planted fruit and ornamental trees around the community center and celebrated our grand total - 999 trees!!!!!


Many thanks to Naima Penniman, who photographed the beautiful images in these posts. 

Day 7 by Alysha Gagnon

We woke up this morning at what felt like an un-Godly hour after the previous nights' party.  We got on the tap tap and drove to Cormier.  We did a lot today, here's a list:

*Planted 120 assorted trees
*Helped build a house by sifting dirt and carrying wheelbarrows
*Planted a fruit forest
*Ate amazing food as usual
We returned back to the hotel after bittersweet Au revoir (see you later because it was not goodbye because goodbye is forever and we will be back!)
We saw the beautiful full moon rise over the mountains on our way to the hotel.
When we got to the hotel we freshened up a bit and had dinner with the community leaders with thanks and basic suggestions for the next project all around.  We also had cake which was made by Fritz's wife and was still warm inside. AMAZING!
 All in all it's been a great trip, a wonderful experience for us all and we can't wait for the next time!

Day 6 by Hunter Fortuin

Day 6 - Hunter Fortuin

Today we started earlier than any day this past week. We woke up bright and early at 5:45 to get ready for Haitian church. We went and it was very interesting, despite the fact none of us understood the Creole being spoken for the sermon. There was lots of soulful singing too!

After church we went back to the hotel and had crepes with bananas. Most of us were pretty tired so we went back to sleep for an hour so we had enough sleep to plant trees later. We woke to our new friends, McEvans, Mackenzie, and Katie leaving to go back home.

Once the tap-tap showed off we departed for Cormier again. When we got there we threw the seed bombs we made earlier in the week up in the mountains. We found that this was more easy said than done as balls of dirt like to roll back down steep slopes. When all of the bombs were thrown, we went to go see what's called the "glass house". It's called this because the walls are made of glass bottles and cement to allow light in.

We then traveled to the memorial down the road to pay respects to all the people that passed during the earthquake. Not only did we pay respects, but we also planted decorative trees along the pathway to the center. 

Finally, lunch was here. The food in Haiti has been my personal favorite. We had chicken and other Haitian staple food that we shared with the dancers that were about to give us a lesson in their art. After lunch we did just that, learn to dance. There was multiple drummers and a singer accompanied by dancers. It was certainly an interesting experience. 

After dancing it was time to plant trees. Periodically throughout the trip a few of us have bee playing with the local children. We've played games like hopscotch, miss Mary Mack, slaps, and more while we were waiting for the compost for the trees I introduced the children to a whole new type of game; a video game. We were taking pictures on my phone together and they were fascinated by the touch screen. Swiping through home screens on my Android was like magic for them, seeing their joy was amazing. Once I opened up Temple Run 2, a game on my phone, I had near every child in town crowding to see my tiny screen. It was a surreal experience.

At the end of the day we got word that we had planted over 800 trees so far, exceeding our goal by more than 300 trees. We climbed in the tap-tap and were given a goodbye by many many children all waving goodbye beaming at the time they has with us today. 

We returned to a exhibition put on by local artists showcasing their work which was beautiful.  Normally this is where the post would end but tonight was very special. As we were all close to going to bed, Frits showed up and pulled us to the bed of his truck to go see Ra-Ra music. This was an AMAZING experience as there were thousands upon thousands of people playing music and dancing. It was the biggest party I have ever seen in my entire life. It was truly amazing. After we had had enough we rode home though the beautiful night to get sleep for the day that lays ahead of us. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Living On (Leah Penniman)

The first delegation of Ayiti Resurrect took place on the 1 year anniversary of the devastating quake where Cormiers, Leogane was at the epicenter. There were so many dead that proper funerals could not take place. So, the delegation led the construction of a memorial monument with the names of all those lost, adorned with the Haitian and Pan-African flags. Sunday, we visited that memorial to plant ornamental trees and pay our respects to those lives cut short. We sang Haitian and diaspora songs as we worked, the local children joining in for the familiar national anthem in Creole.

The day was bookmarked by spiritual experiences. Our group was invited as guests of Frtiz and Yveline to the 6 AM service at the Leogane Catholic Church. While the students understood almost none of what the pastor was saying, they had the common language of song, communion, collection plate, and the "peace be with you" handshake and understood the essential meaning. The church building was destroyed in the 2010 quake and since then, hundreds of congregants gather under tents for services. No one appears to be dissuaded by this; every seat was filled and standing room sparse. The service was international, European, standardized, and tame.

In contrast the essence of Haitian Ra Ra is exuberant, loud, untamed, and quintessentially African. Fritz is a Big Chief in Leogane, so we trusted him to lead us into the crowds of 1000's gathered to dance, celebrate the birthday of their village brass bands, eat, drink, and celebrate through the night. Lantern-lit dirt roads between sugar cane fields welcomed the band leader with his whip, cracking the air to pave the way for the musicians. Bands gathered from villages all around the celebrate the birthday of the host band. Haiti's popular Model d'Ayiti was present and roused the crowds, people dancing so close almost as if one body. Fritz made the students stay in the truck (wisely) but I got to be swallowed by the crowd for a few moments and could understand how the energy of the procession allowed its members to dance through the night, for nights on end without feeling the weariness.


In Cormier, we walked into the hills to try out the "seed bombs" we made on Friday. As they were pioneered on flat ground, we imagine the original visionaries had no idea just how steep the landscape is in Haiti. A student threw a seed ball up the slope and the seed ball returned. It took several tries before we acquiesced to placing the seed balls one at a time. We planted vetiver, mango, avocado, and tamarind on the most severe of the slopes with the goal of preventing future erosion.

The community tree planting was extremely efficient today. We planted a total of 200 trees (150 kapab and 50 mango) in under 2 hours. By now, everyone has a defined role - tree counters, compost distributors, waterers, planters, directors, etc. Today will be our last day of planting and we have already far exceeding our goal of 500 trees. We will continue and do as many as we can. We have learned so many lessons together with the Mango Growers leadership about how to refine future projects - such as establishing a long-term maintenance team, training the leaders, and gathering the correct quantities of tools and materials.

We also had a dance class today with Natscia's dance group and her drummers. Naima, Troy, Alysha, Lizzie, Hunter and I were especially tearing it up, barefoot on the packed earth, shoulders jirating. The drummers called out the Papa Legba song and the dancers responded, smiling, and stepping in time to the sonorous drums. Joyful!

The children of Cormier and the students of TVHS have become fast and inseparable friends. Games included itsy bitsy spider, Ms. Mary Mack, and skip-to-my-lou. It will be a difficult goodbye.


Tomorrow we depart. The students are praying for snow storm to delay our flight.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

For Joy and Beauty (Leah Penniman)

At 3:30 AM Neshima and I woke to the sounds of jubilant brass instruments and joyful shouts. She said, "I wish I was at that party." So, we threw on some clothes and went to the hotel gate to watch the procession. Dancing, singing, candles on trays balanced on woman's heads, big band melodies, street filled! I assume the street party was related to the religious season, as this is a primarily Catholic country, but will ask someone when the sun comes up.

Yesterday was a day of rest and exploration for the group. Only Kiki and I had the energy for the 6 AM mountain run. (We got lost and were about to follow the stream to the familiar river when a kind farmer with a cow and calf located the trail for us.) For the others, the day began with breakfast and went on to waiting. Yes, waiting, This is Haiti. So each day I tell the students the plan with times and tell them that we will not be following that plan and to be relaxed about it. After waiting, we piled into the van for our Jacmel adventure. We stopped on the way so each person could get a straw hat, handmade and for the equivalent of US $1.80. Then, the van traversed the steep and windy mountain roads to the Southern Coast. The vistas from those heights are absolutely stunning and even a panoramic shot cheapens the magnificence. It is the vastness that defines the beauty.

Out first stop was the Basin Bleu waterfall. The hike was short but rugged, involving a 15 foot sheer descent with a rope at one point. Parents, fear not. Our expert and dedicated guides held hands, supported backs, and were as attentive to safety as anyone could be. There were shouts of delight upon arriving at the powerful falls. Students jumped from rocks into the water and even our youngest, Emet, managed the swim from the shore to the cavern behind the falls. Hunter may never forgive me for forbidding the students to do any cliff jumping. However, we watched the guides and our Haitian friends make the daring leap from the stones above the falls to the seemingly bottomless blue pool below.

After a brief time of warming and drying in the sun, we walked back to the van. A snack of breadfruit and sauce awaited in the back of Fritz's pickup truck. Students purchased souvenirs and we descended the rough road to Jacmel public beach. This route involved the deepest river crossing we had made to date, and Fritz, always the joker, stopped in the middle pretending to be stuck and told us all to get out and push. Ha ha.

By now the afternoon was fading, so the beach sun was gentle to us. The students did some shallow wave jumping. We ate fish, lobster, and conch. A few of us engaged some of the local boys in contests of gymnastics and leaping, with lots of laughter and a few wipe outs. There was several children selling shells quite persistently and while students found this "annoying" we had a talk about the severity of the poverty and asked them to consider what they might do if they were hungry, parent-less. It is a blessing that they have not made the (understandable) choice that others have made in desperation - to steal or to kidnap.

Day 4 by Alysha Gagnon

Day 4 ~Alysha Gagnon

Today was a day filled with adventure and work. This morning, Hunter Fortuin, Kiki, his daughter Katie, her friend Mackenzie, and Mick Evans went for a run. We rode over to Cormier, past the burning piles of trash, which we knew more about thanks to Kiki's presentation. We arrived at the village and piled out of the car.  Kiki proceeded to leap up a 5.5 ft hill with no issue and set a fast pace for our jog.  He was mountain goat like with his ability to scale the sheer hills without slipping!  Occasionally we would stop and he would point out some land mark and introduce us to a new Haitian proverb.  A really memorable one is "Deyi mon gen mon" which means "behind mountains, there are more mountains." That is so true! We thought we got to the top, but there was a taller mountain just around the corner.  This was not an easy run, but the view was worth the effort, Hunter was able to get a couple panoramic picture to share at some point.

The 6 of us returned to the hotel with enough time for a quick wash and breakfast of various potato like tubers  and sauce before loading into the tap tap to head to the school.  The ride was an experience as always! Especially at the end, we went up a hill that was probably a 75 degree angle.  It was insane! We then met our tree planting partners for the day and started the trek to their houses to plant the trees.  Though we had a very strong language barrier between most of us, we were able to get along fine and had a great time.  At the end of the hike back up the hill to the school we took pictures and exchanged contact information.

We went to the planting fields and planted another 100 or so trees we the farmers, braving fire ants and slippery slopes to do so. There were only a couple wipeouts and everybody is fine.  We headed back to the hotel with the waning day light and ate a fabulous meal of conch, fish and plantains, followed by dessert, some flavor of ice cream that I could not identify.  We broke off to talk and have fun.  Aft lots of laughter and deep philosophical contemplation we retired to our rooms... My roommate Lizzie and I got to bed at about 1am! Not the smartest decision as we needed to get up this morning! 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bigonet School

Yesterday we visited the school to give each student a plant. We first saw a class dancing and singing. Then, we were paired with a student; we walked to their house to plant the tree with them. At the end of our visit we exchanged numbers, addresses, and emails.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Zamni Mwe (Leah Penniman)

"Zamni mwe" means "my friend" in Haitian Creole. The axis of our day was an exchange of trees and friendship with the students at the Bigonet school. My mother headed there in advance of us, and ended up serving as substitute English teacher for the morning. The director said it was if she had been there all year, the students easily responding to her instruction and natural grace in the classroom. We arrived with crates containing 250 seedlings just before school let out at noon. My son, Emet distributed gifts of notebooks, pencils, and other school supplies to his age mates. We watched the students sing and dance. Then, each of the 12 young people in our delegation (8 TVHS students, 2 of my children, and the daughter and friend of our co-facilitator) were paired with 12 age mates from the school. Each pair of friends then walked to the home of the local child to plant a tree together. The students were astounded at how far and across such difficult terrain the students walk to get to school - be it in the rainy season or under the beating sun. Just one such walk for our American students rendered them almost unable to plant trees later in the afternoon. The pairs exchanged addresses and then together handed out the remaining trees - 1 to each of the Bigonet school children. Fritz gave them instruction in caring for the tree, telling them that each tree would bear their name.

Earlier in the morning, we continued with our vetiver dam project to stop the erosion in the gully. We also had a "seed bomb" workshop with Lakol. We learned to create fist sized balls using a mixture of equal parts soil, clay, and earth with several seeds. The balls are laid to dry in the sun and can be thrown into the barren mountainsides where they will take root in the rainy season. This is an inexpensive and efficient way to green a landscape, pioneered in urban communities with vacant lots in need of flowers and beauty.

The tree planting continued with success today. After a late and delicious lunch we gathered with the community to plant another 100+ trees (exact count forthcoming), including avocado, papaya, mango, lemon, agape, and kapab. We divided into two teams, one focused on creating shade on the ridge path with a line of trees on either side. The other team went to various farms and inter-planted fruit trees with the crops of peanuts and cassava. The students were tired and several had to sit out some of the work period. I encouraged them to think about making goals around fitness and health. In this community, women of 70 and 80 years were carrying water and compost up and down the steep slopes, with no break and no sign of weariness. They are strong. We can all be strong too! That said, tomorrow is a break. We will visit the waterfall of Basin Bleu and the sands of Jacmel. Back to work on Sunday and Monday! In addition to the planting, we will spend at least 1/2 day helping to build a house in the community with Konbit Shelter.

Haiti Day 3 by the Students (Will scribes)

Day 3 in Haiti: Thursday February 21st

Tired from the day before, much of delegation woke up to another beautiful day around 7:30 to have breakfast at 8:00. Today we had fruit, omelets and toast. After breakfast, we spent little time waiting and going on our way back to Cormier.

Our plan was to start off the day with stone carving workshops and Venever planting. Half of the students started with the carving workshop and the others started with planting Venever in the ravine we had seen the day before, and cycled. Students had time to carve, sand and polish their own hand made stone hearts. 

After the workshops, we took a long hike through a long river with beautiful scenery to a nearby village, Bigone, to do a stone stacking workshop. Alysha, the star stone-stacking master of our group has more to say on the workshop.

Stone stacking! ~Alysha G
After we walked through the river with its amazing scenery we arrived at a set up of various stacked stones.  Our instructor Reginald was placing one final stone. He proceeded to tell us how to go about making these amazing artworks. He described feeling the points of the stones and putting ourselves into it.  He described the patience and love required to make the structure stable.  Later, Niamia compared the stone stacking to our interactions with other humans.  It was an amazing new skill to learn and I can't wait to show everyone at home!

After our second workshop, we made our way back to Cormier. We ate lunch and waited until 3:00 to start our first session of tree planting.

All of the delegation agrees that it was an amazing experience. The opportunity to work side by side to work with the farmers and the children from the local community in planting the trees was amazing, and everyone had much fun. 

After working for a long while planting trees, we wound down with heading back to the place where we had lunch to relax, play hopscotch and a play a game played by the locals where you wear a blindfold and try to find a bottle on the ground by striking the ground with a stick, and the delegates had a lot of fun.

We returned to the hotel and ate dinner. Tonight we were served spaghetti and meatballs, which were met with praise. 

After dinner, we were given a presentation by Kiki, a member of our team who is a translator and has worked on projects in Haiti for a long time. He gave the delegation a presentation on the problems of trash collection in Haiti, and specifically Port-Au-Prince. He mentioned key ideas like; needing more education regarding the harms of trash, the negative effects of burning trash, the effects the trash has had on the conditions of life in Port-Au-Prince, and how all of this just is not limited to Haiti, but rather a problem the world faces. The students enjoyed the presentation and had gotten into a long conversation on how we continue further on the solution Kiki had thought of.

Tomorrow will be another day of visiting a local school and planting more trees. But until then, goodnight readers.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

"In Community" (Leah Penniman)

On the tap tap ride home today, the students were sharing their collective realization that while the Haitian people are poor in material wealth, they are rich in spiritual wealth and rich in community. We planted well over 150, possibly 200 trees this afternoon in only two hours. The community worked together as one body, under Wislerson's (our local coordinator) expert management. Several men used pick axes to carve holes out of the hillside, others transported compost from wheelbarrow to bucket to holes, the students and children mostly planted the trees and moved them from nursery to work site, and women carried water and quenched the young seedlings. Some will receive stipends, other buttons ("I planted a tree in Haiti" re-purposed), but most "nothing." People work together because they work together and because they respect the leadership of APMKL, the Mango Grower's Association. My students witnessed this as stark contrast to life in the US, and wondered how to take this lesson of "community" back home.

We had a beautiful balance of work and art today. In the morning, students sat beneath a tree near the community center learning to carve river stone hearts with Claremont. While some carved, others continued our vetiver project, creating 4 additional dams in the ravine. Kiki hired Lakol and other local young men to assist in digging the trenches, well actually, to take over. We foreigners were able to dig the trenches but at great personal sacrifice yielding a mediocre quality product. Some students spent more time tending to blisters and scratches than actually digging. We were, however, quite successful at planting the vetiver in those deep, loose trenches. Thank you Lakol.

We then walked the long path to Bigonet, crossing the river several times. Despite our attempts to help each other across with hands and makeshift stepping stone bridges, most ended up with wet feet. I reminded the students to look up from their feet at times and take in the incredible landscape that is Ayiti - land of mountains - sun kissed, severely sloped, terraced, water cut, beautiful dark earth adorned with green. Grace said it best, "What is this life?!"

In Bigonet, we learned the art of stone balancing with Reginald. He explained that patience and love are the ingredients needed to work with nature to create art. As the Haitian proverb states, "With patience, one can even find the breast of an ant." Neshima and Alysha were particularly skilled at balancing, making towers 8 stones high.

The in between times were magic too - learning to eat a fresh mango, playing games with new young Cormier friends, helping a devastated Emet repair the lashed stone-on-stick wand he had carved earlier in the day. We exchanged hop scotch for the Haitian version of pin the tail on the donkey, where a blindfolded young one attempts to hit a bottle with a stick while others dash out of the way. It was a cacophony of danger and hilarity!

My heart grew a bit today, in loving confidence about the possibility of making a positive difference in my beloved Cormier.

Haiti Day 2 by Alysha and Hunter

Day 2 In Haiti: Wednesday, February 20th

Today we woke up to a beautiful Haitian day around 7:30. We were well rested and ready for what lay ahead. Around 8:00 breakfast was served, which was absolutely delicious. It was a Haitian version of grits accompanied with an assortment of fruits. We sat after breakfast and waited for our tap-tap, a bus of sorts. We waited, and waited, and waited. The tap-tap showed up about an hour late, but we boarded the back excited none the less.

We began our 20 minute journey on the back of the tap-tap to the farm, stopping to get tools mid-way. We traversed an actual road today, but soon found ourselves driving down an empty riverbed on the way to our destination. Upon arriving we were greeted by smiling farmers and a soapstone carver with a small amount of his carvings on a table. Two of us climbed on a near-tree with Emett, Leah Penniman's son as we waited to start our tour. We climbed down and started shortly after.

Our first stop on our tour was a ravine that showcased the water erosion situation in the area.  We then walked a little ways to a steeper erosion gulf after traversing a goat path (cross it off the bucket list!) We then went to see a 7 year old 'mango forest.' It was quite beautiful.  We went back toward the village to see the nursery. We are all pretty tired right now while writing this so we're going to sum up the rest of the day in bullet points.

* We went to a few nurseries for various plants.
* We also saw the toilet project that was implemented last year from TVHS.
* We hung out in the community center with a few locals for a couple hours and kept Emett entertained for the duration.
* We went to a house in the village and had a very good lunch that consisted of chicken, platano, spicy salad, and chips. We also got to try two new kinds of soda.
* After lunch we got to try coconut water followed by the pulp on the inside. A first for most of us!
* We then went to plant Venever, a super plant. (I apologize if I spelled that wrong, it's late and I'm ready for bed. We've got a long day tomorrow.)
* Again, more food! We all had the chance to try sugar cane. This was absolutely delicious and I used up about a foot and a half of it. Definitely something I wish I had back home.
* After planting and sugar cane these we went to a community meeting to plan out the rest of the week in further detail. This consisted of farmers from the area that wanted Mango Trees planted on their land.
* As nightfall came we loaded into the tap-tap once again for our journey home.
* We were given the same thing for dinner as we had for lunch, it was delicious all over again.

Tomorrow we are going to have a long day! Until then, goodnight readers.

-Hunter Fortuin and Alysha Gagnon

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Don't Mess with Grace!

Mr. McCagg, this is your first warning...

Vetiver Loves Soil (Leah Penniman)

The students got their hands dirty for the first time today. We spent the morning touring the community of Cormier and learning about the severe soil erosion caused by deforestation. We traversed gullies that had been washed out when the torrential spring rains tumbled down the unprotected mountain slopes. It is hard to imagine now, as the dry season allows us to literally drive along the thirsty and dusty riverbed. We saw the work of the Mango Growers Association to conserve the soil, having planted over 30,000 trees over the past 7 years. Promising new plants include vetiver, reauzo, and moringa, all of which have medicinal, cosmetic, and food uses as well as incredible erosion control.

We planted a "dam" of 29 vetiver plants across a particularly severe gully. Vetiver forms a thick mat with its roots and slows the rushing water and mud, protecting the land below. For many students, wielding a heavy hoe against hard earth in the hot, dry air - was a first. After the work, we had a meeting with the community to explain the project and enlist helpers for the next several days. The students sang the Haitian National Anthem, and while most gave an enthusiastic round of applause, one man fell off of his chair laughing. We are not sure whether he was simply surprised at our grace with his native language, or whether we were truly so horrible. Our Haitian co-facilitators have assured us that our rendition was just fine!

We are Reauzo

Today we took a walking tour of Cormier! We saw a lot of things that I'm sure someone will talk about, but the highlight of the tour for me was seeing Reauzo, pictured below. It's a grass looking plant that does amazing things. It grows wood and every time it bends or breaks it comes back stronger. The Haitians have a proverb "we are Reauzo" because the government, natural disasters, or anything else can try to break them but they will go through it and come out stronger.

Haiti Day 1 by Hunter Fortuin

Day 1 In Haiti: Tuesday, February 19th

Today was a long day. We started out bright and early, I left my house at around 3:15. I got to the school around 3:45 and the limo/bus came shortly after. This bus was giant! The way I think of this thing is the supreme luxury before what we were about to witness. We departed on this bus and made extremely fast time down to Newark. We arrived around 6:20 and the sun was just starting to peak above the horizon.

We went through the standard US TSA procedure (Mrs. Penniman getting a "random" search due to her headpiece) and found our way to the gate. Once we settled in a few of us poked around the airport and found a very nice little diner. The last meal before departure: sausage, bacon, french toast, eggs, and pancakes. Thanks to the woman who went out of her way for my whipped cream! After breakfast we waited patiently at the gate for the flight to depart while watching the  Penniman sisters do various gymnastics. Their 7 year old joined in shortly after and showed all of the delegates up.

Something that we have been practicing for some time we practiced once more at the terminal. This something was the Haitian National Anthem. When we sang it, all of the Haitians that were present gave us a very nice applause.

Once we got on the plane and settled in I looked up to see our own Leah Penniman holding a small child. This was definitely not hers as her kids are 7 and 10. Little did I know that she had quickly befriended the lady next to her who was mother to this baby. In due time we were on our way to Haiti.

Hours later we were looking over the Caribbean at beautiful blue waters. The sights from the plane were amazing and we were finally getting close. The excitement was at max levels for all of us. As we finally saw land for Haiti we began to take pictures, a lot of them. There were lots of mountains but there was one particular feature that was prominent; erosion. There was almost no green to be seen but there was a lot of bare land. As we neared the airport I began to see what I had only seen on TV before. I began to see small sheet metal villages that were unfathomable to our living standards.

Upon landing we departed from the plane onto the the tarmac and made our way inside. Once we entered the doors, we were greeted with a live band playing VERY appropriate music to the feeling that we all had being in a new country. Next stop: a very hot, very packed, very long car ride.

We began our journey in the 5 speed van (which added intensity to the already bumpy roads). (Okay, for real, these roads can't even be considered roads. I'd deem them poorly maintained offroading trails.) We first journeyed to get the hotel owners children from school. We traversed the trails and were given our first exposure to Haitian driving. The first rule about Haitian driving, there are absolutely no rules EXCEPT for don't crash, which after stopping by the heavily guarded (armed-guards) school where we parked at the "Thou Shall Not Park Here" sign, we broke. Looking behind us, Kiki (our guide), had put one of his front tires in a bottomless pit.

To our surprise, no tow truck was called. Instead, 3-5 passerby's proceeded to lift the car and move it a few feet out of the hole. Todo, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. Now that that was behind us, it was time to travel the supposedly 45 minute car ride, that took 2 hours worth of harrowing near misses and extremely terrifying road hazards, to Leogane. Seeing many children without shoes, and pharmacies that were no more than a small box, we experienced real eye openers. If I've taken one message from today, however cliche it may be, it's to not take for granted what you have.

After dosing off a couple times in the car due to the mix of heat and sleep deprivation we were finally at the hotel. Once we stepped inside we realized that this hotel was an extremely close reminder to home. It was beautiful and nothing like what we had witnessed over the past hours. We settled in and thought that the excitement for the day was over for the most part. We were wrong.

Upon leaving my room to get a bottled water, Mrs. Leah Penniman seemed extremely shaken. She continued to explain that her, and her 7 year old son Emmet, had just witnessed a woman getting hit by a car right outside the hotel. Our guide, Kiki, brought the woman to the closest hospital. We waited his return and set dinner up while this was going on.

Once he got back, reassuring us that the woman was in-fact alright, we dug in. We had rice, black beans, chicken, eggplant, potato-salad, and other delicious things for dinner. Our dessert was an amazing grapefruit smoothie drink. That isn't exactly what it was but it is the best way that I can explain the heavenly nectar that was consumed.

Shortly after we met Jimmy, the main planner for the tree planting arrived and we met with all of the people we would be working with over the next week.

This brought a conclusion to our travel filled, exciting day getting to Haiti.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Delegation Departs Tuesday!

Our small group of Tech Valley High School students and community partners are departing in 2 days to work with farmers in the Cormier, Leogane on a fruit tree reforestation intiative.

After the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, pre-existing problems of poverty and environmental devastation were further amplified. The rural community of Cormier, Leogone was at the epicenter of this natural disaster and many of its residents continue to struggle to regain control of their lives, attain basic subsistence, and to heal the emotional wounds inflicted from so much loss.

Last year, Tech Valley High School joined with Ayiti Resurrect, a grassroots collective of healers and educators from the Caribbean and African Diaspora, to work in solidarity with the people of Cormier in rebuilding their lives. Responding to the request of farmers in the community, TVHS students designed a composting sanitation training and sent their teacher on the delegation to implement the training. This work coincided with a myriad of offerings from the intercontinental membership of Ayiti Resurrect, from a mental wellness clinic to arts as healing workshops. The compost training was so successful, that Cormier’s farming association asked us to return to collaborate on a fruit tree
reforestation initiative.
Haiti picture 2During 2012 TVHS students colalborated with our partners in Haiti to design a reforestation project that included development of the optimal planting strategies, forest mapping, and business planning to ensure that the fruit crop results in livelihood enhancement for the farmers as well as soil conservation and ecological wellness for the land. The strategies are grounded in the needs, ideas, and visions of Haitians and based on successful reforestation projects in Haiti that were sustainable over the long term and benefited all community members, including the landless.

    This week, a small volunteer delegation of students and their teacher will travel to Haiti to plant trees side by side with the farmers of Cormier and to co-facilitate the forestry training. The delegates were selected based on their commitment to be citizens of the global community and to walk with humility and respect in working with our Haitian neighbors. Student delegates will take on culture and language training to prepare to be guests abroad.