2 weeks ago today on October 11, I headed off on American Airlines for 2 weeks in Haiti, on assignment for cmmb.org.
CMMB is a global, faith based health organization helping women and children lead healthier lives.
We flew into Port Au Prince and stayed one night at the Marriot which was a beautiful luxury hotel.
The next day, October 12, we headed to the Daughters of Charity in Cite Soleil where there were about 150 mothers with their young babies who come every day for heath care services and about another 50 women who come daily for pre natal care. Cite Soleil has about 400,000 residents and it is one of the poorest and most dangerous places in the Western Hemisphere and one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere. They also have a school on site for the kids and they were adorable. CMMB provides medicine to the women here that is donated by pharmaceutical companies. There is no sewer system here so most of the kids suffer from worms. Recently, the facility was broken into and the thieves robbed the place and beat the Nuns.
So many of the kids really grabbed my heart. 4 year old Dayana was just the cutest little thing and this little boy kept wanting to dance with me. I am not a dancer but I did my best and he had a constant smile.
Tuesday October 13-we left Port Au Prince for a 4 hour plus ride to Cote de fer. I remember asking if we would be stopping along the way to use the bathroom to be told “there is no where to stop along the way.” That comment was correct-there was NOTHING. Some of the roads weren’t even pathed. Cote de Fer has the Caribbean on one side and a LARGE mountain on the other. Approx 40,000 people live here-with 6000 in the “town” part and the other 34,000 live on what I will call “on the hill.” This hill is not small..it is MASSIVE and spread out over A LOT of area with awful terrain. I have NEVER experienced heat like this is my life and started to question “what am I doing? I can’t wait to go home.” CMMB helps families in Cote de fer and their Community Health Workers make the daily trek up the mountain to help out families up there. They supply the families with nutrition and help teach them a trade so they can start their own business to support their familes. Such trades include making bread to sell in the market, giving them goats that can be used for food or to breed and they can sell the off spring to raise money and a new program where they supply families with rabbits for the same purpose. There has been a 3 year drought (no rain) so it is dusty, dry and beyond sad. There are no cars, no electricity, no bathrooms, no running water, no corner store. It is not uncommon for a woman to walk her child 2.5 hours to school. Walk back the 2.5 hours to take care of chores, and then walk the 2.5 hours to get her child and walk home for another 2.5 hours. This is 10 hours of walking a day. I had a hard time with some of the hills. I live on a hill in NYC and my friends here me complain about it-these people would laugh if they saw my “hill” which is paved.
The homes were 2 rooms at best and if they had one bed, they were fortunate. Some houses were the homes to 10 people. The floors were cement, they didn’t have doors (maybe a sheet). I found it very sad but the people had love in their eyes. They love their families and their community.
We stayed at the Coby Resort right on the Caribbean and when we returned that night-the room was over 100 degrees. The air conditioning didn’t work. I almost felt guilty complaining but it was brutal. After 2 room changes, we finally settled in.
Wednesday October 14-Today is my 14th Wedding Anniversary and my wonderful husband and I spoke via Whatsapp early.
We were picked up and brought to the nearby office of CMMB where we saw the moringa trees that would be given out to familes on the hill. We went by and saw the construction of the new hospital being built-the Bishop Joseph Sullivan Hospital.
We met a pregnant 24 year old woman who was grateful for the education CMMB is providing her with. We went up and down the hill today in an amazing Toyota vehicle that our driver “Frank” handled like a pro visiting families that CMMB helps. Along the way we passed women and kids going to school (the kids are all dressed in uniforms with their hair in bows) and each kid we passed had a huge smile. We also saw people with their donkeys carrying the goods they bought at the market (Wednesday is market day in Cote de Fer) and lots of goats along the way. We even saw a street sign and it made us all laugh.
I brought some candy over with me but wish I had known how bad Cote de fer is-I would have bought over rice or something more substansial. The hotel packed us a sandwich for lunch and I was not hungry so I asked if we could give them our sandwiches. I was thrilled when Cindy, our CMMB leader said “that would be great.” The look on the face of the women and the children enjoying a sandwich was so heartwarming. I think it may have been their best meal in along time.
After over 10 hours on the hill today, we headed back “home” to our hotel.
Thursday October 15. We met a woman who has a table garden that CMMB supplied her. A table garden needs less water to survive and since there is a severe drought in Cote de Fer, it is the best way to provide food faster. We went to a MUSO meeting. A MUSO is for the 20 women who have completed the CMMB Mother’s Club program and are now part of a micro loan program so they can start up their own small business. One women has a tiny “convenience” store where she sells items out of a large basket. Another woman sells her bread. Today, I had my first coconut water and it was delicious.
Friday October 16-up early for another 10 hour day and a lot of it was being bumped around in the Toyota as we made our way up and down the hill, and over some treacherous area. We passed an area with a river but it wasn’t a river like we are used to as it had very little water. We saw a woman washing laundry, a man washing his pig and another filling a container. We headed to a Mother’s Club meeting and I was already drenched with sweat. Their leader was a woman who obviously loved what she was doing and the women loved coming to these get togethers and learning and sharing. We were going to go to the home of one of the women and we were told she “doesn’t live far” from where the meeting place is. She got in the back of the Toyota and it took 9 minutes to drive her to her house. A 9 minute DRIVE and this is what she walks-and you know it takes WAY MORE than 9 minutes to walk it. Oh and did I mention the HEAT? Her house was small and 11 people lived there. We went to the home of another CMMB Mother’s Club participants who has 9 children and a small house and this ended our time in Cote de Fer. Before leaving, we had a delicious, authentic Haitian meal that was made for us at the CMMB office. As I left, I said “I will never come back to Cote de fer again.” I kept saying BUH BYE. Later, you will read how I have changed my mind.
Saturday October 17- 5 hour drive back to Port Au Prince and back at the Marriot
Sunday October 18-“Frank” picked us up and we started our 5 hour drive to Cap Haitien on the North Coast of Haiti. We went thru LOTS of small towns with beautiful scenery. Sunday in Haiti is Church and laundry day-laundry is done in the river, and they hang their laundry all over for it to dry. We stopped and bought rice along the way. We passed by LOTS of vehicles that are open trucks called “tap taps”-taxi’s! All over Haiti, you see thousands of motorcycles and it isn’t uncommon to see 3, 4 and even 5 people on a motorcyle. These are taxi’s as well.My favorite comment on one of my photos of 4 people on a motorcycle was “carpooling.”
Cap Haitien has a totally different feel than Cote de fer. It is Haiti’s second largest town, and felt very alive. Part of it is a slum but there is so much more available than in Cote de fer. Haiti doesn’t have a garbage disposal so there is garbage everywhere.
Monday October 19-We went to a hospital (Serepta) which was built by a Priest. We met Nurse randy Moore from Atlanta who travels to Haiti several times a year to help out. From there we went to Divine Mercy which is a Mobile clinic. There were so many people waiting and the heat was overwhelming. The pharmacy was out of the back of a van. CMMB works with both these hospitals supplying medicine for anything from arthritis to malaria, typhoid and diabetes.
Tuesday October 20-2 small private hospitals with waiting rooms that were packed with people. Unlike NYC where you would hear people talking and most likely complaining..the people all sat quietly waiting for their turn. One of the hospitals was in a very rural area and we had to cross a river to get there. I was a little nervous asking Frank “can we make it?” Frank is amazing-he can do anything with this Toyota! We did have to make sure we left before the tide came in raising the river, and we did.
Father Geordani is the founder of Hospital St. Bertin in Petit Bourg de Port-Margot. When he walked in, the 150 people all stood up and clapped and shouted-they love him. It was an arrival fit for a rock star and well deserved.
There is a school on the grounds of the hospital and all the kids came up to the truck with smiles, wanting to high five us. At this point, I had a Poloroid camera from CMMB and it was great to take a photo and see the faces on the kids (and some adults) as they saw the image appear. I am pretty sure they have never seen something like this before. Then I showed them the photo on the back of my camera and THE SMILES!!!
Wednesday October 21-we visited a few more hospitals, most very primitive and one more modern. All were packed. No one complained. CMMB is doing wonderful, amazing things helping out so many people who desperately need help.
So many life changes happened to me in the 2 weeks I was away. After my 2nd day in Cote de fer. I was wanting to go home, questioning if I could do this-emotionally, physically, photographically. It has been 19.5 years since I have done any serious documentary photography, and serious connecting with people on this level. I realized I have a way to connect with people and I know they feel comfortable with me, even when we can’t communicate verbally. I have my first real life Haitian Friend, Maelle Magliore as well as Dianne Francois, both with CMMB in Haiti. When I got back to Port Au Prince, my college sorority sister Kathy Schuler Nogueira (who left Haiti the day before I arrived) and I were Facebook chatting and she asked me how I was doing. I told her I was crying uncontrollably and I couldn’t stop thinking of the people “on the hill” in Cote de fer. I have now been home for a few days and I still can’t stop thinking about them. They have nothing…nothing but family and love but no air conditioning, no bathroom, no water, no electricity, no car, some live in a tent with 10 other people. Even my friends here who are worried over their finances have it 100x better than even the best family in Cote de Fer. I know I WILL be back there someday-and hopefully not to long in the distant future and I know what I can do to try and help them more. My friends have heard me complain about the money we give to other countries and they have heard me complain saying we need to take care of our own. Well..my thoughts about this have changed too. People here have the ability to always find electricity, a bathroom, water..even those who are homeless have the option of going someplace for a bathroom and water. A person with no job has an option of finding a job at a McDonalds, WalMart, etc The people on the hill have NO option.
Every person who wrote to me who has been to Haiti before has said how much they love it and the people and love going back. I now feel part of that family-I get it. I feel the same way.
What was another part of this past 2 weeks that was so special? Spending it with my sister in law, Diane Hoey, who was the journalist and how this all came about for me. She asked if I could give her a quick lesson in photography and I jokingly said “I can go shoot.” She passed on my website, and a few emails later CMMB gave me the job. Diane has been married to my brother Craig for 25 years next month and we never spent time together and it was great.
Haiti….you all are forever in my heart. The people “on the hill” in Cote de Fer…I can’t stop thinking of you all. Thank you to the wonderful women who opened their homes to me and my camera.
the waiting room-Daughters of Charity in Cite Soleilmy little dancing partner
4 year old Dayana-Daughters of Charity in Cite SoleilCote de Fer-"The Hill"
Marche Cabut section of Cote de Fer-Rose Laure Joseph-20-baby-Sadaika Joseph, 7 months in their house
Sainticile Nortilus, 28,5 year old-Rouzelene,3 year old-Guerdina,18 Month-Chaverline in front of their home-the hills of Cote de Fer
Left to right: Ogenie Dieujuste, 26 and her 3 children in Cote de Fer.
Nancy Monvil and her 9 month old son, Myson, in her home in Cote de Fer, Haiti.
She shares her house with 10 other people and she has a table top garden from CMMB that helps feed her family. She has a table top garden because it takes less water and the plants grow faster.
the Mother's Club of CMMB in Cote de Fer
Jameson Joseph, 2, plays by the tent he shares with his mother, Juslene Joseph who is 6 months pregnant, and sister in Cote de Fer, Haiti. He is eating bread that was made by a woman who received a micro loan from CMMB's MUSO program. The MUSO program is for graduates of the Mother's Club participants-a 16 week program that educates the woman on healthcare, nutrition, sanitation and other important topics to improve their lives.
Ainese Mondesir and her daughter Rachel, 11 months, at the Mother's Club in Cote de Fer, Haiti. Her mother made the matching outfitsdoing laundry, and hanging it out to dry in Cote de Fer
Gina Petion, and son Jamesley in Cote de Fer
the Chervil family-Cote de Fer
Nancy Monvil and her 9 month old son, Myson, in Cote de Ferour driver, "Frank" a street sign up on "the hill" market day on the hill
Lisda Alexandre and her new born baby girl who was born 2.5 hours before this photo was taken at Hospital Sarepta-Cap Haitien
the emergency room at Hospital Sarepta-Cap Haitien
the maternity room at Hospital Sarepta-Cap Haitien
the waiting room at Hospital Sarepta-Cap Haitien
Father Geordani at Hospital St. Bertin in Petit Bourg de Port-Margot. He is the founder of this hospital
waiting room Hospital St. Bertin in Petit Bourg de Port-Margotheading to school, Port Au Prince
Cap Haitien, Haiti. They have no garbage disposal service so there is garbage all over
Sans-Soucis Palace-Milot, HaitiSunrise in Cap Haitien, Haiti