Wednesday, July 22, 2015


"God my exceeding joy" 
(Psalm 43.4b)

Nada te turbe
Nada te espante
Todo se pasa
Dios no se muda;
La paciencia 
Todo lo alcanza
Quien a adios tiene
Nada le falta
Solo Dios basta

(Let nothing disturb you, nothing distress you. While all things fade away. God is unchanging. Be patient, for with God in your heart, nothing is lacking. God is enough)

I'm back home again and grateful to be here safely after a long day, with about 15 hours of traveling total. 

Some gratitudes regarding home: 
Laundry machine; Clean, safe water to drink; Lack of humidity; Foggy mornings; Safety (relatively); Ability to go on a run or walk outside; Using the twalet and it flushes and you don't have to throw away tp in a different spot; Laws and systems that protect people with disabilities: No cockroaches and jumping spiders or ants in my cereal; Freedom from malaria, cholera. TB, parasites 

Haiti gratitudes:
-Chapel- each morning praising God together with people who love Him from all over the world 
-Eating meals with others every day
-Living in community (hard and good)
-Simplicity of life- 1 choice of food for each meal, limited to a suitcase of possessions 
-Great beauty in the country and work of Haitians and foreigners  
-A sharpened heart, freshly awake for things ofGods kingdom
-Daily reminders that life is a precious gift and death comes to us all, and chances to honor those who have died 
-Precious kids I met at the orphanages and in therapy sessions. I already miss them and cherish the time I had with them. 
-Faithful examples of people living each day with great purpose (to bring the hope and joy of God to others, to bring quality education and health care to prevent death, disease, and disability)

Jean Vanier, a faithful man and founder of L'Arche communities for people with disabilities writes this:

"But so it is in many places and countries today with all the weak and 'useless' ones, those suffering from mental or physical handicaps, men and women who are sick and lame and blind, or suffering from leprosy- those whose very existence in some way transgresses the laws and the customs. 

They become outcasts, pushed into the lanes and byways to beg- if they are allowed to survive at all.

They are so deep a threat to the artificial security of rigidity, awakening memories of the fear and helplessness that have been pushed down into hidden areas of the unconscious, feelings to be forgotten or denied at all cost."

Vanier accurately says that we often are uncomfortable, blatantly or at a subconscious level, of people that remind us that we are not in control of our lives ultimately- be it those who have a disability, or who are isolated in nursing homes, or homeless in our communities. 

And Haiti currently has closed adoptions except for those of kids with disabilities, symbolically saying that they are not welcome or useful for their society. A woman I worked with told me that in some parts of Haiti it is considered good luck to sleep with someone with a disability, putting kids at risk. 

There are many people working for positive change here too.. A priest who takes kids in the abandoned room out for walks and visits them regularly.. A Haitian man who faithfully works with kids with disabilities in therapy.. The Sisters of Charity and Haitian volunteers offering free health clinics to Haitians (to prevent things like untreated jaundice which leads to athetoid cerebral palsy commonly in Haiti).. physiotherapists I lived and worked with who gave up a year of life to provide therapy and training to Haitian therapists 

Monday night was hard to sleep. Gun fight (so loud and close, it sounded like it was next door).. Shots fired close by my room, and then returned a little father away, and returned again.. Some shouting in the distance and another shot about 30 minutes later.. A tangible reminder that a safe night's sleep is a gift, and that elections are approaching for Haiti. I was scared, having never been that close to that kind of fighting, and used my lack of sleep to pray for peace and those in slavery to violence. 

So many goodbyes the next morning, and I sat next to my new favorite plane buddy- a 7 year old boy whose parents are missionaries. He told me all about his excitement to see his grandma and go to summer camp, his friend who said she was in a plane that landed on clouds, and Haitian knip trees in Haiti (they look like limes and you have to suck on them to get to the nut shell in the middle which can be cracked open to eat)

We were delayed for an hour by jet that was stuck on the one available runway, since its landing gear malfunctioned. And then Miami sported a thunderstorm right over the airport, putting us into a holding pattern for another long while.

So I missed my next flight, and was helpfully re-routed to San Jose by a friendly flight attendant, Maria, who sang "do you know the way to San Jose" as she helped me. And then there was a lot of running through the airport after the long security line to make the new connecting flight just in time. But all turned out well and I am thanking God for the people I met, for all that I learned, and for my time in Haiti this last month. 

Peace to you all,

Some of people I got to work with during my time:

Adeline, my new OT friend from France 

Emmanuel, the wonderful Haitian therapist I worked with every day, who patiently guessed at all my attempts at creole and pantomiming 

My housemates and colleagues; Colin  from Ireland, Annette from Sweeden/Ireland, and Camille from France 

Marilud, our sweet and spunky cook

The therapy center in Tebarre 

Friday, July 10, 2015


1. Breakfast 
We haven't been to the super market in a few days and need to buddy up when we go, so today for me breakfast was yogurt that went a bit sour and some cereal with tiny ants all abuzz within, which hungrily crawled in overnight... Mmm protein for me! (And not to worry, you really can't taste tiny ants within a bowl of cereal). 

Looking down at my feet while preparing said cereal, a spider the size of my hand with a large egg sack on its belly was crawling quickly towards my right foot. Definitely time to move, since it's poisonous and can jump, and soon after a kind caretaker squashed said spider so it would not have any chance to let its hundred little ones move in with us.

We have barbed wire on our outer fence and four levels of locks within our apartment, since thievery is the real deal here... A lock on our room doors, a gate for each level of the apartment that we share, a gate to the outer yard, and a final gate out to the street. Upon examining the barbed wire on the outer fence this morning, I noticed its attached with small pieces of wire that could easily be removed with a pair of scissors. All that said, I give each day and our protection to God. I appreciate that we lock up and when we are around town we are as careful as can be, but I also know and trust that my life is ultimately in His hands. 

Driving to Tebarre 
The drive each morning from Petionville to Tebarre, a subsection of Port Au Prince, is becoming more familiar. We hop in a van coming down from the mountains at the Kenscoff orphanage, and pass about a hundred kids and young adults out running and stretching at the local park (they have summer break now). We weave through people and motos (motorcycle taxis) at the market, shoppers with heavy baskets of fruit on their head, and smoking piles of trash. As we leave Petionville, we have a glimpse of a brightly colored hillside, all in bright pastels.

The Pastel Houses
A local hotel, in an act of false benevolence, paid for the houses to be painted in bright colors to make a beautiful view for their guests. The paint job stopped on the hillside when the hotel's view of the houses stops, and the closer you get, the more you realize that the homes are poorly built, sometimes four stories tall, and only look good from a distance... It reminds me of the whitewashed walls of religion, and how God looks at our heart, not just how well we look to others... And how we can put on a show for those at a distance to our lives to see and admire, without tackling our inner instabilities in our foundation or places that are broken within ourselves, with God's help. 

We wind up through the hills and pass by many stone frames of houses, incomplete indefinitely... People many times start a building and then lack funds to finish them... A man walks down the street leading two large cows and a large car honks and speeds past our slower van, just quickly enough to avoid the oncoming traffic. UN cars drive by, and a visibly guarded UN gas truck and its retinue pulls into their compound. The U.S. Embassy is also visible with its long line of Haitians waiting outside for a turn to apply for a visa to the U.S. 

Sometimes we pull into St. Damien's pediatric hospital for mass. Mass is a sweaty but beautiful experience. I appreciate how Father Enzo and Father Rick honor those who have died at the hospital, hold funerals for families, and honor the deceased who have been left around Tebarre for the fathers to find. We usually sit in a stone chapel with geckos chirping above us on the stained glass windows, and a few large and small coffins in the middle of the floor as a sharp reminder of death and life that is still fresh for me. This can leave a somber tone for mass, especially when families join and openly mourn for those who have died. We sing in Latin, Italian, English, and Creole and watch the fathers swing their incense over the bodies, which are covered by body bags, with beautiful cloths draped over the coffins till the end of mass. They are each carried outside to a flatbed truck and the fathers and a few others drive away with the bodies, singing and praying for them as they go. 

I am encouraged by the faith of the fathers and their work with the hospitals and the poor in Haiti. Most recently, we heard Father Rick talk about how challenging true forgiveness is- he has seen people who he helped raise steal from his organization and even shoot a man on his staff, and he is learning what Jesus means when he asks us to love our enemies and forgive those who have wronged us- something that is not a simple, surface act, but that takes the power of God in our lives to accomplish.

The Abandoned Children's Room
Immediately next to the chapel is a window of the abandoned children's room. When I visited the other day, there were 13 kids there attended by two women. I am still heart broken to think about these precious ones. Some have been left for dead or abandoned by their families due to having a disability or injury that they could not afford. Others are there because their parents or caregiving parent are in critical condition or unable to care for them... You have to pray as you enter that room, to see the kids and realize they have no one, each one in their own bed, lighting up when they see you coming to see them. An older boy with autism grabbed my hand and didn't want to let go. A beautiful little baby with some gross motor difficulties was reaching for her toes. Others were in more serious conditions and recovering from injuries such as burns or wounds. Here in Haiti, I hear that adoptions are closed, except for kids with disabilities. Can I tell you that that crosses my mind and my heart just cries out for these kids? Is it right for any child to grow up without a family? I think about people I know who have taken foster kids or adopted, and see it as such a beautiful thing to invite into your family someone who was not your own flesh and blood. It's what Jesus did for each of us- died in our place so we could be included in his family, for all eternity, and given a new identity as the children on God, sharing in His inheritance... Amazing that he did so, and I am challenged to see how I personally will respond to God regarding the things that break my heart in this world. 

I've been appreciating days of therapy too. I work with kids from the special needs part of the orphanage, and kids from poor families in outpatient therapy. I've been able to pass off ideas and help program iPads, and to learn about the kids and their needs from the Haitian therapist I work with. Picture me, with a toddler's vocabulary in Creole, doing a lot of pantomiming and modeling to show what I mean. I have a lot of respect for the people and families I work with. It's hard to hear some of the differences between care for kids with disabilities at home and here (for example, a local doctor told a woman that her 6 month old has autism even though that's much to early to give a diagnosis, and we don't use a bean bin for sensory regulation like we might in the states since it wouldn't be appropriate to play with food when it's so scarce for many families). It's also encouraging to see Haitian men and women teaching and providing therapy and working on increasing their skills with the kids and adults in the clinic.

On a lighter note, I've also been grateful for learning the classic French song Frere Jaques when I was a kid (it's come in handy a few times in therapy), for all the skits I did as a camp counselor (since I have to pantomime so much), and for my keen spider awareness skills. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bougainvillea and Barbed Wire

Let all those who seek the Lord *rejoice,* today, every day. Joy is to be the keynote of our lives. He calls us then to make an act of faith every time we would naturally be pulled down to the pit of joylessness, for there is an end set to the sin and sorrow and confusion of the world as well as to our own private trials. We only see today. He whom we worship sees tomorrow. [amy carmichael]

Here in Haiti I am brought closer to some recurring themes.. Life and death, hope and despair..

I was talking to a bold woman named Sister Judy the other day. She is a force to be reckoned with, and drives her Nissan truck through the streets of Tebarre and Port au Prince in a way that I wouldn't want to mess with if I were another driver on the road.. Squeezing between an inch of clearance around other drivers, gunning it over potholes on a partially completed road, deftly using her horn.. All of this is needed to drive safely through the free for all of driving here. 

She was talking about three stages of living in Haiti: a honeymoon stage where you come with hopes high and bright eyes about the possibility of making and being a difference, then anger or frustration or despair about the conditions and systems in place that you realize you can't change, and then (if you make it and don't leave) a greater strength and humility and ability to laugh about things that can help you stay here long-term.

One common thing I see foreigners frustrated with here is what can inaccurately mask as laziness or rudeness or stupidity on the part of Haitians.. On a closer glance, it seems to more accurately be difficulty with critical thinking skills. Educationally, the school system is taught in a rote system of memorization with a good deal of copying sentences or learning ideas, but without a chance to apply the ideas to a bigger picture. For example, in therapy it can lead to a lot of repetition of the same activity without trying to apply and generalize learning to new situations, or a therapist who gets stuck when a daily treatment schedule is presented. When a patient does not show up, they may just stop working for the 45 minutes instead of knowing to work with another patient or find something practical to do at work (also with cultural differences present with many of us foreigners coming from a high efficiency, work focused society- we are not always used to resting or taking moments to slow down). 

As one who loves Jesus, I get to hope in what lasts; to have a hope that endures; to stay present and work for change here and now, even if change is not yet seen, and to look at cultural differences that may impact the way I think change needs to come.. To live a life of love (as John Piper puts it, love is an overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others).

Things I am learning: it's good for us to not have everything we need. It makes us depend on each other with our real needs and practice faith in God to ultimately meet them, and can allow us to be more generous ourselves when we live in community that supports this freedom of generosity. 

We heard fireworks last night coming from the U.S. Embassy in Tebarre, and I was reminded of great gifts and challenges that come from living in the U.S. One thing I am especially grateful for back at home is that there is relative safety- we can walk outside our houses (in many but not all places) without a second thought of getting shot or robbed or kidnapped, and go to sleep at night without a bug net without worrying about malaria. The tap water is safe to drink- no possibility of cholera or a parasite... 

Death is a more present reality here- many masses are funeral masses, with the coffin(s) and grieving family present in the room, culturally expressing grief much more openly. We hear reports of security guards getting a bullet to the head after being ambushed on the way to work.

In the midst of health work, we see kids with cancer, kids who have been orphaned or abandoned by their families, young men with HIV, kids with disabilities who are being cared for basically, but who receive little stimulation in their homes.. Left to amuse themselves.. And I am grateful for them to have a home, to have food and medical attention, and even therapy sessions each week.. Compared to being left on the streets to die, it is a big step up, but also I long for a better quality of life for these kids as well.  

Yesterday, Sister Judy drove my brother and I to meet up with the Missionaries of Charity, some beautiful, patient, loving nuns. The drive with the nuns was full of their prayers and singing, and we managed to avoid close accidents and squeeze our van down a completely packed marketplace in City Soliel with a large truck coming the other way.. Women carrying large bags of rice on their heads, a man running out of the way with his wheelbarrow as he was getting stuck between our van and the truck, the smell of burning trash coming from lightly smoking piles lining the sides of the road.. 

And then for about 6 hours of sweaty medical work, meeting the basic health care needs of people who can't access public health, which costs money. The nuns do this three times a week, and there were several hundred people coming through the doors on this day.. One section was a wound care clinic- treating burns, cleaning out wounds.. The other main section was a health check up center with medication dispensed as needed.. People with little of every medical malady you could imagine walked through the doors and it was noisy with crying and as hot as you can imagine, but I saw great beauty in the work that the nuns and volunteers are doing; their love and patience and faithfulness in this hard work is inspiring. They attempt to teach as they care for individuals' health needs (about wound care, how to prevent HIV, etc.); they caught a man stealing and had to talk with him about it; a Haitian doctor and healthcare volunteer give up their Saturday mornings to work with the sisters; we started the medical work with prayer and engaged in practical love for the people who came.. 

When I drive to Tebarre each morning to do therapy sessions with kids, we pass by beautiful bougainvillea flowers, growing over barbed wire and sharp glass fences. What I have learned so far about haiti is there is this stark contrast between very sharp, broken pieces of society and also great beauty and hope here- like the locals taking action to work with kids with disabilities and provide free health care to those who need it. 

Today in the midst of whatever you face in your life and things that you may feel powerless to change, may you be full of the enduring hope and love and strength found in God. 

Some photos from the kids: