“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Anyone who follows the news in Haiti is all too familiar with ominous reports of corruption, civil unrest, protests, roadblocks, kidnapping, disruption of schools and businesses, open combat between police, soldiers and gang members, gas shortages, rising prices for basic necessities, and recent estimates of nearly 4 million people in need of emergency food assistance. Words like anguish, suffering, and crisis are common. Just yesterday the U.S. State Department warned Americans not to travel to Haiti, raising the warning to Level 4 – Do Not Travel.
However, in the midst of all of this overwhelmingly negative news, we at Health for Haiti are inspired by the courage and optimism that we continue to see in our friends in Grande Saline. Next week will mark the anniversary of five years of clean safe drinking water. The smiles we see on the faces of the first class of kindergarten students are even sweeter when we realize that these are the first children at the school to have had access to clean water since their birth. We see determination on the face of seventh graders who are excited about their school computer classes. Merlande has a passion for computer science and shares her dreams of one day earning an advanced degree in computer systems. Jimmy is interested in hardware, and hopes to become a technician. He tells us that he wants to come back and work in his community because he recognizes the absence of technical computer support in rural Haiti.
Where much of the country is locked down because of volatile conditions on the streets, we are watching construction of the new dedicated sewing workshop and seeing enthusiastic students advance in their ability to make clothing, a valuable skill that can help them to earn a living in the future.
We are also seeing the impact and influence of our past education programs. Since January 2014, Health for Haiti students and staff have collaborated with the community in rural Grande Saline to improve health through education. Although unstable conditions in Haiti resulted in the disappointing but necessary cancellation of the January 2020 Health for Haiti class and trip, we are proud and excited to see that even though we could not be there this year, the community is taking their own steps to better health.
This week Dr. Gary, a Haitian doctor who has worked closely with Health for Haiti for several years, met with the community in Grande Saline to share information about how they could best protect themselves from COVID-19. Community leader and school principal, Pastor Dorcent Berlando, urged local families to attend the session. “We felt it was necessary to let the community know about the risks. We know that this community is very vulnerable in terms of sanitation and hygiene,” explained Pastor Berlando.
The church was filled to capacity with community members who learned about the importance of hand washing and how to recognize and respond to symptoms of infection. This night time meeting, lit with lights powered by Health for Haiti-installed solar panels, showed that our collaboration is initiating a real change in the community. Over the years SUNY Broome Health for Haiti students have shared high quality education with the community in Grande Saline. While in Haiti, we delivered lessons on hygiene, infectious disease, microscopy, and health.
Health for Haiti always leaves Haitian Creole versions of the lessons behind and local teachers use and share the lessons so that the entire community is better informed about how to stay healthy. In a community that already faces many challenges, high quality health and science education is unique and empowering. Pastor Berlando credits Health for Haiti with helping to transform health in the community. “Thank you because we learn so much from you. You give us a lot of motivation to be who we are today.”
Next week we will join (in spirit) our friends in Grande Saline to celebrate five years of clean drinking water, to focus on the positive, and to remain hopeful for a better future. Our friends in Haiti face so many seemingly impossible challenges with courage and optimism. We are grateful for this collaboration as we also learn a lot from them about how to best face our own challenges.