Sunday, January 17, 2010

St. Joseph Home for Boys and Port au Prince, Haiti

Little did I know when I left Haiti less than 4 weeks ago that this place that I had come to love so much
would become thisIn 1985, Michael Geilenfeld, a former Brother with Mother Teresa's order, with $1000 in his pocket, established a home for 5 orphans in Port au Prince. Less than a quarter century later, it had grown tremendously. The St Joseph's Home for Boys family now included Trinity House and Wings of Hope as well as an arts center, an outreach school in conjunction with Trinity House and the Resurrection Dance Theater. Michael's dream came crashing down on January 12th when the earthquake hit Haiti.
A graduate of the the St Joe's program and now it's director, Bill Nathan was in the chapel on the 6th floor, preparing for evening chapel when the quake began. He was able to jump to the rooftop of a nearby building, but sustained serious injuries. The boys were mostly outdoors and all escaped without serious injuries. Bill was flown to a hospital in Fort Lauderdale yesterday which I understand was documented on television, though I have yet to see it.

Rather than continue my blog posting in chronological order, I have decided to jump ahead and show you some of my impressions of Port au Prince. We were able to spend 3 days in one of the guest rooms at St Joe's. Below, Michael got up early on our last morning there to prepare our breakfast and see us off. We had to leave for the airport at 6:15 AM.
This was the sitting area outside our room. The stairs led to a stage area for the dance theater, then up to the chapel, then up to the rooftop garden sitting areas with a fantastic view of the city.
Many of the guest rooms had been furnished by former guests. They were all beautiful and unique. Though there was no running water and sporadic electricity, St Joe's was rated as THE best place to stay in Haiti by several travel guides.
From the St Joe's Facebook page dated December 26th:

With the 25th anniversary of St. Joseph's coming up in January, we are remodeling and updating the home. There are lots of new colors on the walls, new furniture, new rooms and lots of surprises.

Now it looks like this:
This is where we ate most of our meals:

Art was displayed throughout the building, much of it done by the boys in the arts program. We were fortunate to attend one of their church services on the Sunday morning that we were there. The boys did the whole service. Bill Nathan is in the center, playing the drum.

There was also chapel most mornings and evenings.Views of the city from the rooftop garden

The clouds building foretold the rain we had that afternoon and evening. They collected the rainwater to use for washing and flushing
Sunday afternoon, the Resurrection Dance Theater performed for us as well as some of the kids from Wings - a home for mentally and physically challenged children who had been orphaned or abandoned.
The dance skit below portrayed the life on the streets of Didi, one of the boys.
These are all of the boys who performed for us that day, joined by Steve - in the blue shirt - one of the residents of Wings.
Steve is joined by Pierre, another Wings kid, in the dance finale
joined by ALL the guests! What a wonderful celebration!
On Monday, we went up to Wings, which is about an hour drive from St Joe's, farther up in the hills. I am not sure which portions of Wings were damaged in the quake. The photo below is looking toward the guest rooms and day areas.
This is where the previous photo was taken from
Some of the kids at Wings.
The kids at Wings were giving out treats to the children of the neighborhood the day we were there. From a Facebook post:

The highlight of today was not decorating the tree at Wings, although that was great and I'll post photos later. The highlight of the day was the Wings kids setting up a table at the front of the house and giving cookies they made and toys to the kids of the neighborhood. It was wonderful! Bravo to KC and the Wings education staff for teaching the Wings kids that the gift is in the giving.

This little Wings guy was enjoying his sucker!
My heart is heavy as I think of them trying to make some sense out of what has happened. With St Joe's uninhabitable, the boys have moved to the only stable portion of the Wings facility which means there are around 65 living in a very small space. They are very lucky that they are all together, of course.

What follows is a brief tour of Port au Prince. We were able to accompany some other guests at St Joe's on a shopping trip, of sorts, to an artists coop and to the metalworking district. I was only able to take photos of the city from the window of the van, usually while we were moving. One really can't say, "stop a minute so I can take a picture"!!

Market area street scene..........
This is what we would think of as a homeless camp. Some tarps strung up from trees provides shelter from the hot sun. Most cooking is done outdoors using charcoal or wood fires. Very common sight in the city. These people most likely were unhurt in the quake.Retail establishments
More market area. It seemed as though market was every day, somewhere, although there may have been specific areas set up on certain days for larger markets.
As you can see, people spend a lot of time outside. It was lucky that the quake happened just before 5:00, it was still light out and most people were not in their homes.
We visited the metal working area where there are more than 60 artisans selling their creations. They took old oil drums, removed the ends and flatened them out. They then cut them into shapes and hammered designs into them. This man supports his family with his trade.This boy is hammering a design into a piece.
Some of the homes we saw on the hillside on our way to the Wings facility, which is located near Fermathe.
Laundry day - is every day! Imagine doing your laundry this way! Cold water, scrubbing hard, line drying. Yet, everyone I saw was clean.
More homes - these are more upper middle class. Few homes like these. The really upper class homes were enclosed by walls topped with razorwire. My understanding of the rich in Port au Prince - is not very good. I didn't meet any, don't know of any, just heard of them.
Nuff said.
That's it for today. If anyone has questions, I would be happy to address them from what I know. I will be returning when I can - right now, non essential, non medical, and non trained in disaster relief people are not needed - or allowed. Understandable! When allowed, I will be there to help, I hope.

NOTE- the "after" photos are from St Joseph's facebook or the site. If you wish to donate to the rebuilding of the home and Michael's successful program, the Hearts With Haiti site has a secure donation area.

BREAKING NEWS: From the St Joe's facebook post:

GREAT NEWS!!! A structural engineer from CA showed up at SJ today. The art center where they are now living is perfectly fine and totally solid! The three floors of SJ we are going in and out of are structurally sound enough for us to do that safely. PRAISE GOD!!!

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