the EC

Back to School Fun

Jenn and I see the employees almost every day of the year. But it's on this one special day that we see them at their happiest, together with the people that bring them the most joy-- their families. 

Monday September 15th was our employee appreciation/back-to-school PaRtY! 

According to the polls, which in this case are the looks on the employee's faces as they enjoy an evening with their children and spouses, the school party was a grand success.

Jenn and the staff spent many hours preparing for the big day. First they decided on a date and a menu. Then Jenn hired someone to make 8 large, aluminum baking trays of Gratine (a cheesy baked macaroni) and one giant bowl of pikliz. We called in another cook from the village to make rice, plaintains, and fried chicken. Dadou made a budget and Erode went to town to do the shopping. They delegated certain cleaning tasks and hired a few women from the village to make decorations. We knew that if our party loving Dads had anything to do with it, and they did, then the education building and the property were going to look nothing short of magnificent come evening. 

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The plan was to cook some of the food at our apartment and then pick it up and bring it back to the land at the end of the work day. Baked macaroni is a special party dish, made even more special by the fact that our own Second Mile cooks didn’t have to labor over it. But, when Jenn arrived home to help the 3 women who were already cooking there, she discovered that we were fresh out of propane and short on time. Luckily, there were a few accommodating neighbors floating around our “apartment complex” and we were afforded the opportunity to finish the meal in two different apartments with a combination of 2 stoves, 4 burners, and a patio grill.

Despite that small set-back the food was delicious and there was plenty for everyone. 

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But clearly the food is not the main event. 

The party was for our employees, 2/3 of them parents, to celebrate the fact that their children are growing, learning, and going to school this year thanks to the generous donations of many of you, but also thanks to their commitment to this organization and the tremendous effort they put forth so that their children have opportunities to flourish. 

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The party was also for the students. Last year was our first full operational year. We spoke with the staff and they agreed to take their employee bonuses in September as it would make  tuition and school costs so much more manageable. Much like this year, we also gave some additional scholarships to make sure that no child was left behind. Because of the additional support each of the employees were able to enroll all of their school-aged children in school.  At the beginning of this year we learned that every single child had advanced to the next grade. Dadou’s daughter was even accelerated from pre-K to first grade! If you didn’t read the blog post that explained why that is SUCH A BIG DEAL, you might not quite understand the rationale behind our yearly push to raise funds for education. Go back and read it, if you'd like.  

The party was also for you. For those of you who donated towards our employee bonuses (a 13th paycheck for every employee) and student sponsorships (additional funds for school fees) Thank You! Again this year, after receiving their bonuses every employee returned with receipts to show Dadou and Jenn that they’d chosen to spend their bonus money on school fees, uniforms, and/or books. This qualified everyone with kids to receive additional scholarship money. In the end $150 was spent towards each child’s education. Raising $150 x 51 was no small goal but you gave generously and the school fees were funded in a matter of weeks. In Haiti less than 50% of children are able to complete primary school as Haiti does not have a free-to-all public school system. We can confidently say that there are 51 children who are on a path to complete not just primary school but secondary school as well and perhaps even university! They will undoubtedly go on to do great things. 

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And that's something to celebrate. 

The employees started the event with a passionate time of prayer, worship, and thanksgiving! Over and over I heard one employee or another thank God for this “grand occasion!” I couldn’t help but notice the contrast. Every year around August I start to see articles and posts on Social Media. Parents are Hallelujah-thankful that summer is coming to an end when they will be able to work more, sleep more, entertain [their children] less, and get their houses back in order. Parents are looking forward to less headaches related to fighting children and complaints of boredom and praising Jesus at the site of the big yellow school bus and the notion of free supervised child-care also known as early education. No one ever seems to mention being thankful that their children get to go to school. I guess it's just a given. 

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These moms and Dads on the other hand were thanking God for what is truly a privilege in Haiti: healthy children, able to attend school. 

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After prayer, singing, and a special solo by one of the dads, the parents served their children food and drink. Everyone ate and we wrapped things up with an animated photo shoot. These people have been working with us long enough to know that when we bring out the camera we’re after BIG smiles, with teeth and laughter. It was sweet to watch grown men attempt to pass on these foreigner-friendly values to their kids--- careful not to drop their own toothy grin while giving instructions. Most of the time it worked. :) 

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Then the kids (and the adults) got tired and the sun went down and the party was over.

We were reminded that the gift of education is not something to take for granted. Once again, a big thank you to everyone that donated towards school sponsorship! You can always pray for these students and their teachers this year and keep your eyes open for next year's school post. 

Things Just got a little more "legit"

We had a team last week! That's quite rare around here but we really enjoyed this team and we are so thankful all the hard work they put into making the facility more usable. They worked marvelously with the Second Mile employees in a way that gave them ownership of some of the projects (see the deck project below).

The project wish list we set before the team could have seemed terribly daunting, but they completed the tasks with ease and efficiency. Serious, efficiency.

Most mind blowing was the way they tackled the chair project. We borrowed a model chair (desk) from another organization and wanted 20 chairs built to suite. So, in the most sensical of ways they started cutting wood. They sliced and diced 1 x 4s until they had 20 sets of the various chair components. 

The pieces were varnished and assembled.

Loudjina's dad worked with the team all week

I think it's fair to assume that the Ferguson's and Jason enjoyed getting to know Loudjina's dad, Jimmy. He worked at the site for two weeks to earn the money the family would need to go to Port au Prince to meet with a team of neurosurgeons. Jimmy and his mother-in-law left for Loudjina's surgery consult the same day that our team left to head back to the States. I'm sure many of you are wondering what happened.

Based on the January assessment of Loudjina's condition the surgeons had ruled out the possibility of placing a shunt, yet there was still talk of an alternative surgery. Sadly, when the family showed up to the hospital on Friday the surgeons deemed that her pressure sores posed too great a risk that the surgical site would become rapidly infected. We had suspected that... There's always the tendency to gear ourselves up for the bad news, even when at our core we hope for a miracle.

heading to the bus station

At this point, we are at peace. We were able to help the family make three trips to Port where they met with US based neurosurgeons. At least they had a chance. Between those trips they spent a combined total of 10 weeks at our site during which we loved them and stood beside them through some of the scariest,  happiest, and most painful of moments.

Deep down I struggle with how unfair it is for Loudjina to have lived her life like this. Such a cumbersome existence. And her parents... and grandparents, aunts and uncles and the friends that have loved her... it's not fair for them that she won't live as long as she should.

It shouldn't be like this.. but it is.

Acceptance brings peace. And I find comfort in my belief that God, who is love, loves Loudjina in-quantifiably more than myself or Jenn, or her parents, or the surgeons that devote their lives to kids like Loudjina, ever could. That's the silver lining. The other silver lining is that Loudjina has a ridiculously cool wheelchair. On the Wednesday before they left for Port-au-Prince, our friends at Haiti Hospital Appeal called. They wanted to make sure Loudjina didn't miss out on this amazing opportunity.

We quickly loaded up the family in the truck and Jenn took them over to the hospital where Loudjina was fitted with a custom wheelchair, courtesy of Canada Healing Hands. This group worked tirelessly to create the perfect chair for what must have amounted to hundreds of kids in and around Cap Haitien. What a special moment it was for Loudjina and family, and all of the children who were able to benefit.

The next day Loudjina took a spin in her new chair. Can you imagine?

Meanwhile, the team continued working. By this time they were finishing up the tiling project. The two rooms adjacent to the education center have been unused to date but will soon become an office and a sewing room. The tile will help keep the rooms clean and bright.

With a little coaching, Joslin and Verdieu were able to tile one of the two rooms on their own. 

Joslin and Verdieu got an "intro to tiling" during Jason's last trip. Last January, Jason and the guys tiled the space we've cleverly dubbed "the upstairs apartment." It's a second story building where some of our employees sleep. It also has a bathroom, a kitchen, and an area that doubles as Jenn's office. It's also where we make enriched milk. And it's been home to many a spontaneous staff meeting. Thanks to the team, this space has a lovely new chalkboard, made possible by plywood and chalkboard paint.

After the tiling and the chairs, the team built four picnic tables and four table/desks. They also made several more chalkboards. Now the education building is ready for action! 

Well, I suppose we still have some cleaning to do. We will have to move some of these picnic benches out under the mango tree. Then we will line up the desks to give that traditional classroom feel. 

Why are we so excited about chairs and tables?! Well, the education building has given us an opportunity to host community events, although without any benches, we always had to hall out the beds to use for seating. Also, the moms come to the education center for their business classes and some of their health classes and it is used by staff when they want to meet for prayer and worship. The garden employees have always taken their lunch here. Now they will have a wider range of seating choices and an actual place to rest! They will still come into this space for special training seminars, only now they won't have to sprawl out to take notes!

before the new desks

20 desks! 

Ama, is arguably the most excited about these improvements. He gets to teach a literacy class to the moms! As a former school professor, his heart for teaching is one of our favorite things about him. He values education and he loves to learn.

When we spoke with him about the possibility of teaching some basic reading and writing skills he jumped on it. Jenn broached the subject with him and that very same day, after a long 8-hours in the gardens he went home, changed into some "teacher clothes" and headed over to officially enroll the moms in his class. It was very, very official. He made two lists, one with the names of women who could read and write and the other with those who can't. Then he submitted a written request to Jenn. Notebooks, please. 

The last and final project, was a deck that was built with the intention to get some of the cooking up off the ground. It's just the beginning but we are very pleased to see how easily the deck came together.  We plan to add a palm-branch canopy (similar to the one on our chicken coop) which will ensure that every one eats even during the rare, mid-afternoon rain storm. 

Using clorox bottles to make cement posts

Using clorox bottles to make cement posts

a quick lesson on making things level

current cooking area

current cooking area

Between the desk-chairs, and the wheelchairs, I'd say we had a great week. Thanks again team!