West Tennessee Haiti Partnership

Not enough time

One of the realities of working in Haiti is the need to adapt or adjust your plans to the circumstances. Yesterday we planned to have clinic for the remaining children who had not yet been seen by the nurses, and to read the TB skin tests on the folks who had them placed on Monday and Tuesday. After lunch, the CBU Nurses planned a demonstration on proper tooth brushing (using giant teeth models made from plaster of paris in an egg crate- with yarn for dental floss!). Then we would hear the Bell choir perform for us and Mackenson would play his guitar. After that we were prepared to throw a carnival for all the children, having stuffed plastic easter eggs with mardi gras beads and cut clown faces out of cardboard the night before.
An overly ambitious agenda, we realized in retrospect. First of all, the kids were not in school today, which meant that we couldn’t read many of the TB skin tests we had placed. However, Jean Robert had arranged for the kindergarten class to come back, with all their parents, and there were 40 precious children in their uniforms, ages about 3-7, lined up on benches waiting to see us when we arrived. We managed to close up clinic about 12:30, despite several adults continuing to straggle in, asking to see the doctor. Each trip we have to turn people away on the last day, or else we would never leave. I feel bad about this, but as I said it is one of the realities of working in Haiti.

We did manage to have the tooth brushing demonstration despite a delayed start and several interruptions. Linda, the CBU nurse in charge of this activity, deserves a medal for patience and persistence. This demonstration was for the resident students who live at St Vincent’s, about 60-70 kids in age range from 5-22+. The prize for having your teeth swabbed with fluoride was getting in line to get a new pair of flip flops. Dr Trzynka (“Magic Sue” has been her nickname from me this week) fitted each child, with two flip flops or only one, pink sparkles for girls and hopefully big black flip flops for the older boys. Although the boys don’t seem to care what color they get as much as the girls do!

The Bell Choir performed for us in the music room, which has only one door and no windows. No electricity yesterday, which means no light in the room. So 18 Americans, and about 30 Haitian children crowded into this room around the rectangular tables where the choir had their bells. And began to sweat. Even the Haitians were sweating, which means it was really hot! Vickie danced with one child, Barbara and Yolanda wept and I held hands with Frenel and Jean Marc, while the choir played Oh Susanna, followed by a piece by Haydn, and then Geraldo played guitar and Mackenson led the crowd in a song about “thanking the Lord for all He has done for us”. As we all slowly melted.

Released from the oven, we split up into two groups. Sherye led the girls into a room for bra fitting, having brought a couple dozen bras from the states. This has been a very popular activity on previous trips! The boys played with Memphis Grizzlies basketballs brought by Vickie and Ashley. It was like any other basketball free for all, except that on closer look you realize one boy has only one leg and another has no fingers on his right hand.

Others of us gathered up our supplies, including the carnival items that didn’t get used. Sigh. Suddenly it was 4:00 and time to go . Not enough time. I was the last one on the bus because when it was time to leave I didn’t see Frenel, and I was not walking through that gate without saying goodbye. One of the other students went to find him for me. As I gave him a hug, I told him to study hard, keep learning his math, history, science, and geography, and that I would see him in November.

On the bus, Barbara and I agreed that the children we saw today , from the choir, to the boys playing basketball, to Clauricianne using her sewing machine (did I mention she has no hands, only one finger on her left “stub”) are proud of their talent and their country, they have their whole lives ahead of them. They are not ashamed of their handicaps. In a country where handicapped children are left to starve or forced to beg in the streets, St Vincent’s gives their students an education and a chance to use their skills to make their lives and other’s lives better.

And there is plenty of time for that.

Susan Nelson
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