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How was Haiti?

An aerial shot of a tent city in Port-au-Prince/Tracy Simmons - CreedibleLast time I returned from Carrefour, everyone asked the same question – How was Haiti? I struggled answering that question in February, and I’m struggling to answer it again now.

The situation there is heartrending.  People are living in tents and underneath tarps or in makeshift sheet metal housing. One million people are living in tent cities, according to the Miami Herald. That’s the size of Hartford and Bridgeport combined. People are forced to eat food that’s possibly contaminated by cholera bacterium. People wash up in puddles of rain water – sometimes they have soap, sometimes they don’t. Clean drinking water is a luxury. Toilets are a luxury. Electricity is a luxury.

When it rains there, it pours. Literally.  According to the Encyclopedia of the Nations, Port-au-Prince gets 54 inches of rainfall per year. Tropical storms ravage the island regularly.

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School must go on

EBS student gives two thumbs  up/Tracy Simmons - CreedibleShe sat in a wooden chair in Jean-Ellie's office – which is a tent with a desk inside of it – and pleaded with him for more time.  She has three children attending Ecole Le Bon Samaritain, but since September has only paid $12 (U.S.) towards tuition. That's about $730 short of what she owes. Her husband died in the January earthquake and she's run out of money.

It's a story that the Milliens have heard too often this past year. Jean-Ellie patiently tells the woman that they can discuss it again in January.
He wants her children to stay at the school too, because he believes education can change the world. But money is tight for everyone, including the Milliens. They a have a staff to pay each month – cooks, teachers, maintenance. They have supplies to buy – food, bottled water, soap. But most of the EBS parents are without work now, so again and again Jean-Ellie patiently says yes, they can have more time.
"It's not easy running the school, but there's fun in it," he says as he spoons his clear, liquid medication into his morning coffee.
He has big plans for EBS. If through the Good Samaritain Rebuilding Fund at least another $200,000 can be raised, then Jean-Ellie says the school can be completely rebuilt, with a medical clinic for the community, a library and possibly a trade school for Haitians who couldn't take the academic route. And maybe the school could even extend to the ninth grade. Right now the school teaches pre-school through sixth grade. According to Haitian law, elementary school teachers are paid monthly. After that they are paid hourly, which EBS cannot afford.
After the earthquake it was impossible to resume classes right away, so the Milliens rented a nearby dance hall and opened up a medical clinic for the community. The Good Samaritain Rebuilding Fund sent five volunteer teams to the Milliens. But after a few months classes resumed and the owners of the dance hall nearly doubled the rent. The Milliens had no choice but to close the clinic. Their hope, though, is to re-open it as part of the school.
With the cholera outbreak here, Jean Ellie says the need for the clinic is crucial. The Milliens are looking for a place nearby they can rent. First they need space, then nurses, then medicine, which means bringing immediate help to cholera victims isn't possible right now.
So they keep teaching and keep hoping that more money and more helps comes their way.
"There's an old Haitian proverb that goes 'little by little, the bird puts his nest,'" Jean Ellie says, explaining that every dollar and every prayer helps. "We are working with people in crisis, so therefore anything you could give will be appreciated."
Jean Ellie, 77, and Mona, 67, have been running the school since 1997 but Jean Ellie says the future of the school is not in their hands.
"It depends on anyone who loves the world. The school is not only to benefit Carrefour or Haiti, it's something for the world. If they can get an education, and go onto a higher education, then the students of the school can go on and do something for this world," Jean Ellie says.
According to the Haitian constitution, parents are supposed to educate their children. But the government is only providing an education for 15 percent of the population. The other 85 percent have to pay for private schooling or be home schooled. Therefore, Jean Ellie explained, most students end up lacking an education.
Though money is important in keeping EBS running, Jean Ellie reminds us that Jesus didn't have any money and was able to transform the world.
"What builds a school is love," he says. "Pour out your love and money will come…We're looking for help whether it be $1, $10, $100 or thousands of dollars. But most of all it's not money it's love – a prayer for someone, for their life, for the future of the kids, for the teachers."

Blue Haiti

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Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR. Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

 

CARREFOUR — Blue used to be my favorite color. But I saw far too much of the color on Monday as my airplane descended into Port-au-Prince. The rolling, green hills of Haiti are now speckled with patches of royal blue. Blue means tent city. Blue means tarps. Blue means not enough is being done.

Eleven months ago the tarps were crisp, and bright. Now they're torn and faded. Tarps aren't meant to keep families dry from monsoon rains for an entire year. There are white tents underneath the tarps. They used to be white, anyway. Now the tents are stained brownish and yellow, like the armpit of an old t-shirt.

I shouldn't be surprised that so little has gotten done in Haiti since Jan. 12. I'm sure Rev. Jean Ellie Millien feels the same way, but he's a quiet man – except when he's behind the wheel, laying on the horn.

Millien and his wife, Mona, founded Ecole Le Bon Samaritain, an elementary school in Carrefour, nearly 14 years ago. And they're the reason for my trip back to Haiti. Though the couple have a home in Greenwich, they spend most of their time in Carrefour. Carrefour, Mona said, is where they're needed the most right now.

Jean-Ellie has been here for two weeks and Mona arrived a few days ago. They aren't returning to Connecticut until February.

I feel safe driving through Haiti's capital with Jean-Ellie. I don't know what the scene is at night, but by day the only evidence of election protests are ripped posters and banners, and maybe one or two burned structures. I gaze out the window, amazed at how little has changed since I last visited 10 months ago. Some people smile at me, kindly. Others look at me with empty eyes. Their eyes tell it all – they're tired. Tired of tents. Tired of rain. Tired of hunger pains and thirst. I can only make eye contact with them for a second, because I can feel their helplessness and it hurts. Others glare at me, annoyed that another American is here trying to save the day.

I have my pockets full of coins and toys, but I know that I can only give gifts out in secret, or else our Isuzu Rodeo will be overwhelmed with crowds. So I ignore the children coming up to our windows, and I ignore the man begging, "mama, give me something, mama. Miss Adidas," he says, reading my jacket. And I especially ignore the kissing sounds men make as we pass by. A kissing sound in Haiti is to a construction worker's whistle in the states. Cat calls.

But I am pleased at the hum of trailers and back hoes in some areas. Progress is being made…slowly. Construction here isn't like construction as we know it. No orange barrels, no caution signs, no concrete mixers. In Haiti, construction happens one post at a time, one brick at a time, one person at a time.

We finally make it to Carrefour. Except for the pink wall and colorful gate, the school isn't recognizable. The building that was barely standing in the spring has been demolished. Three small barracks and two large tents now make up the school. Tomorrow I'll get to observe classes. I'm curious how all 138 students fit into this area, but I'm glad to hear there's 138 students! This time last year Ecole Le Bon Samaritain had about 180 pupils. In February, the Milliens only knew the whereabouts of 25 of them. Jean-Ellie said some of the missing students fled to the country, others gave up on school. Others didn't make it at all.

He said that if enough money is raised the school can have a new structure and be fully operational again within three years. The Good Samaritain Rebuilding Fund, spearheaded by Old St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Bloomfield, has raised about $92,000 for the school. Jean-Ellie says the school needs about $200,000 more. The school is currently working on earning a non-profit status.

Ecole Le Bon Samaritain not only provides education to its students, it also provides food and basic healthcare.

Mona said people ask her often why she and her husband spend so much time in Carrefour (a ghetto of Port-au-Prince), when they have a home in Connecticut and family in nicer places in Haiti.

"We are doing God's work," she says, shrugging her shoulders and laughing.

She adds that people in the U.S. don't realize what they have and don't realize that people of Haiti are in survival mode.

Mona was at the school when the earthquake happened. She heard a nearby house fall and before she could register what had happened, heard screams for help. She responded and until 2 a.m. helped a neighbor dig her child out from underneath rubble. A few hours later the child died.

For the next week Mona cooked for families in the community, until she ran out of food. Jean-Ellie was in Connecticut for a medical operation when the quake happened. He got to her as soon as he could and since then the couple has gone even further out of their way to help Carrefour, providing medical care and clothing immediately after the quake. Now their focus is rebuilding the school, which they firmly believe will ultimately help fight hunger and illiteracy in Haiti. I think they're right.

Creedible to be reporting from Haiti

Ten months ago I traveled to Carrefour, Haiti to report on Ecole Le Bon Samaritain, an elementary school operated by the Millien family from Greenwich. For the next four days I’ll be there again, working on a follow-up story.

The school was founded in 1997 by Rev. Jean Ellie Millien and his wife, Mona – both Haitian Americans. Jean Ellie is a retired Episcopal priest from Stamford. They now live in Greenwich, though they travel to Haiti regularly. Through the school the Milliens have been able to provide a K-5 education and a hot meal along with basic health care and hygiene to children in Waney, a community in Carrefour,  where most children are at risk. It’s important to note that in Haiti school is not public, and only 50 percent of children are able to enroll in school.

Ecole Le Bon Samaritain did not collapse during the earthquake, but the first level was severely damaged and the second level was being held up by broken columns. Since the quake, the school has been knocked down and is being re-built. The students have been attending classes in a tent. The school had 180 students, but immediately after the earthquake they only knew the whereabouts of 25 of those students. They were also missing several teachers.

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Bringing Christmas to Carrefour

Creedible editor, Tracy Simmons, hands a toy to a child in Haiti/Rebecca Newman - Creedible

Above my desk I have a picture of a Haitian toddler playing with what looks like an old Sunkist container. This child has no shoes or pants, just underwear and white t-shirt. If you look closely at the picture, you can see flies resting on his long eyelashes. That dirt road is his home. He plays contently with the container while his mother sits in the shade, watching.

She smiles as I squat down to the child's level and try to hand him a real toy, a clean one. My pockets are full of small, plastic red firemen and I extend one to him. He looks at his mother, unsure. She takes it and hands it to him for me, and I'm glad to know that at least for now, he doesn't have to play with garbage.

I grew up as an only child and my G.I. Joes and Hot Wheels kept me company for hours. But I took them for granted. On Christmas morning new toys would be waiting under the tree for me, even though the toys I already had piled up in my bedroom were more than enough to keep me entertained. One year I got the Starship Enterprise and with the push of a button could make the aircraft sound like it was shooting lasers at enemy planets. Another year I got a hot pink bike, and complained about the color.

I never would have played with a Sunkist container, and if I had my mom would have slapped my hand and exclaimed, “That’s dirty!”

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Help us buy a water purification system for Haitian school

Haiti needs our help. They need food, money, clothing, school supplies, medicine and gobs of other everyday things that we take for granted. Perhaps what they need most, though, is water.

On Dec. 13 I’m going back to Haiti to report on Ecole Le Bon Samaritain, an elementary school that was severely damaged in the Jan. 12 earthquake. The family that runs the school lives in Greenwich. When I go back, I want to bring more than just a notepad and camera. I want to bring a water purification system.

To date, more than 700 people in Haiti have died from cholera, which is a disease transmitted by contaminated food and water. The UN has warned that 400,000 people could be infected by the disease in the next six months. According to NBC, cholera is a severe diarrheal illness transmitted through fecal contamination that is especially dangerous among children and the elderly. Those infected can become too quickly dehydrated, go into shock, and die within hours.

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Struggles for Victory: Talking Haiti

Haiti is already forgotten. The earthquake was nearly a year ago and the media only seems to remember Haiti when a hurricane floods the land, or when cholera sweeps through the tent cities. They get their headlines, and leave.

Not Creedible.

We went in February, have reported on the nation since then and, perhaps more importantly, have stayed committed to the families I met there. Ribert. Vialine. Darline. Jerry. Christopher. The Milliens.  We text. We speak on the phone. We pray for each other. I send money when I can. And thanks to Ted Harge, I get to remind Connecticut about these people tonight at 8 p.m. EST on the Struggles to Victory radio program.

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