Blog post written by Dorene Palermo.
What a day this has been! After a normal start, we found out due to a slight misunderstanding, instead of our patient goal for the day going DOWN (half of the team was going to Terra Noire after lunch to visit students), it remained the same as yesterday: 130! The lines of people waiting for us seemed longer than ever when we arrived. (Some had been there since 4am!) Yikes!
The beauty of this wonderful team of people is that they don’t waste any time on things they really can’t do anything about and instead get on with what they can do! We had our morning prayer and hit the road running right at 8 o’clock.
Lunchtime came and we shared all the lunch fixings with our translators and driver and let them take as much as they wanted when we finished. All the extra food disappeared in no time. At 12:30pm sharp, the “first timers” Ben, Marge, Helen, and Richard, along with Jules and I, hopped in the van to Terra Noire. The driver took us through the back streets and we got to see the actual neighborhood served by the school and church at Terra Noire. It is not a pretty sight. One of the key roles TN (not Tennessee – Terre Noire) has is making clean water available to these neighbors. Each family can obtain up to 5 gallons of clean water a day. TN has its own water purifying system, and the water kiosk is right inside the front gate. School begins at 6:30 so these gates open very early. People can get water all day long.
As we turned into the gate, one of us exclaimed excitedly, “There goes one of our dresses!” As you looked out the window, tiny preschoolers were running beside the building with the little yellow “size” tags showing on their dresses. (The little dresses were on over their school uniforms!)
We pulled into the courtyard and as we got out of the van, our translator directed us first to the Gift Shop upstairs in one of the buildings. There we found an assortment of Haiti gifts to purchase, including the awesome Haitian coffee and vanilla. While the guys looked around as though they were in a museum, we ladies could not resist buying just a little more stuff. As a matter of fact, we picked up a few things we will put in the One World Market sale next week, so stop by our Haiti table, and see if there is something you might like. (Proceeds, of course, go to the Haiti fund for supporting our future trips.)
We then went to Nadege’s office (Nadege is Pastor Leon’s daughter and Director of TN school. This school has about 540 students from 3 years through 6th grade.) We had no idea what was about to happen. We had bags of DumDum suckers with us to give the children and we proceeded first to a 4th grade classroom.
TN school is run as only the elite schools in the US are. They, of course, have school uniforms – a different color and style for each grade level. They begin class at 6:30am so if they arrive at 6:30am they are LATE, they must be there by at least 6:20am. Their classrooms are colorful but tasteful and you can almost tell what grade they are just be peering through the ironwork into the classroom. The teacher (they have both male and female teachers) sits in the corner farthest from the door. The desks in the older classroom are the familiar wooden desks with the one curved arm that comes around to write on. In the younger rooms bright tables and tiny chairs in primary colors fill the room. The schedule for each class is impressive. God is ever present in their teaching. Everything is pursued with the highest of standards. It is a joy to behold.
As Nadege enters (remember she is the “Director”) all the students in unison repeat with great respect a short mantra (in creole) ending with “Director,” a formal greeting showing respect for her. In some rooms they stood, in others not. In some of the rooms they then said a few English words of greeting to us, also in unison. What happened next was truly amazing.
The teacher spoke to them, and each one, boys and girls, reached for their school back pack, and began to pull something out of it. Each girl in every classroom pulled out one of the dresses the people of Westminster and their friends sent with us. Each boy in every classroom, with big grins on their faces, pulled out either a bright red or bright yellow T shirt…the tee shirts we had left over from VCS this year. The children would hold their precious piece of clothing up and hope that we would take a picture of them! The little boys would hold the shirts under their chins, looking so excited!! The girls were more shy until you said something to them like “belle,” meaning pretty and then the smiles came out. Ben and Helen and Marge and Jules got busy handing out suckers, one for every child, while Richard and I took pictures.
Nadege said when they handed out the clothes to the children they started jumping up and down and dancing they were so happy. Some older girls particularly liked the reversible pillowcase dresses because they immediately realized they could “wear the dress one day, and the same dress the next day and it could be a different color!” Some of the girls liked the feel of the pillowcase dresses made from tee shirts. Most of the girls had the simple, colorful, creative pillowcase dresses and they would hold them up to their shoulders and smile for the camera, so proud of their beautiful new dress.
In one of the sixth grade classes, Nadege had them all line up to pose for a group picture holding their new clothes in front of them. First the girls were lined up in front for a picture; then she made the girls move back and the boys move up. Giggles galore ensued as the boys pushed to the front.
In one of the younger classrooms we started to exchange with the children some sign language and a phrase in English that brings a smile to your face, and joy to your heart. Westminster might want to start using it. As you touch your chest you say “I”. As you cross your arms across your chest you say “LOVE.” Then as you make a sweeping motion with your hand you point to someone, look them in the eye, and say “YOU.” Each successive word is spoken in a slightly higher, singsong pitch. It is my favorite part of Haiti.
So in the same sixth grade class, with the boys lined up in the front, they in unison said “I LOVE YOU” to us. And this time we got it on someone’s video (Ben’s, I think). It should get an OSCAR for the best video of the year. But maybe we just think that because by then we were all totally in love with these children.
So, thank you, Westminster and friends. Every child in this school got a bright new piece of clothing thanks to you and I wish you could have been here in the moment. The kindergarteners were the ones we saw running around as we came in so they were gone home, but Nadege sent me pictures of them with their new clothes too. I will be putting them and the others we took online so people can browse through them when I get back. They are priceless images.
Somewhat guiltily we headed back to the other half of the team who had been carrying a double load while we were experiencing a little bit of heaven. When we got there we found some tiring colleagues, but the teamwork had continued and miracles were taking place. Very quickly we jumped in, but today we didn’t end early. Amazingly though – a total tribute to these folks – by 4pm (the normal closing time of the clinic) the team had served EXACTLY 130 patients… who knew that could be done! And by then, we had all the rooms cleaned up, garbage emptied, inventories of the medicines, supplies, and equipment completed, and had hugged all our translators goodbye.
Just before hopping in the van to return to the hotel we had our “Group Picture” taken to go perhaps into the “Heroes Hall of Fame,” because at least for me, these folks are truly heroes.
It didn’t take long at the hotel for us to head for our cold beverage of choice and sit in the outdoor lounge and marvel that we were done with this part of our trip. At 6pm, tonight’s invited guests arrived for dinner: Arnold who is our “godfather” and makes sure everything on the trip goes smoothly (getting transportation, helping us with bookings, giving us advice, answering questions, and smiling – the most tastefully dressed man in Haiti), Nadege, and Zoe, who is on an extended assignment to Haiti Outreach Ministry teaching English in the High School. (Note: High School here is grades 7-9). Before that the students learn both Creole and French.
At 8pm the team was fading, and the guests had to get up early for work tomorrow, so after Eric’s short and sweet devotions, we wished our guests safe journey home and we scattered to our rooms. Tomorrow we begin a very different part of the trip – to learn a little more about Haiti and her people.
Until tomorrow! God is Love