January 2019 Trip Report
January 2019 Visit is the Best Ever!
Our visits to Haiti just keep getting better and better. After an outstanding visit in 2017, the 2019 version surpassed, even if only because more people got to experience Haiti. The following is Steve Skripak's trip report. It cannot do justice to all the good things that were experienced on this visit....
In the early morning hours of January 5, fourteen people, who mostly had not met or barely knew each other, embarked on a journey that would not only unite them but also forge friendships and provide experiences that will undoubtedly prove to be life changing.
Sadly, before the trip could even begin, our member Amber Chase contracted pneumonia and had to withdraw. We hope she will be able to join us next year. She nevertheless played an important role in the composition of the group.
Coming from northern Virginia by way of Richmond airport were Virginia Tech students Genna Coan and Lauren Buellesbach – ironically it was Amber who recruited them to the group. It was the first visit to Haiti for both of these young women.
From Fredericksburg came the mother and son team of Debbie and Lyle Kindig. Debbie’s objective was to introduce Lyle to Haiti, with this being her ninth visit to the country. For Lyle, a senior at Virginia Tech, it was his first visit to the country.
Pulaski, Virginia sent two of its own in Peter Huber, a retired county administrator, and Emma-Kate Greene, a senior at Radford High School. It was also their first visit, and Pete’s participation on the trip greatly reduced any anxiety felt by Emma-Kate’s parents.
Coming for the second time was Steve Bodtke from Blacksburg. He enjoyed his first experience in Haiti so much that he brought his lovely wife Mikie and her two daughters Lili and Belle. Lili is a junior at Blacksburg High while Belle is a seventh grader at Blacksburg Middle School.
Joining the group were Kathline Langenfeld and Lexi Rubin, Virginia Tech students who met through Young Life, and Diane Naff, a veteran school teacher from Blacksburg whose membership in the group would prove to be indispensable. Rounding out the team was six-time Haiti veteran Steve Skripak, the theoretical group leader.
The ten coming from Blacksburg caravanned to Greensboro airport to save on airfare, which required a 4:15am departure from Blue Ridge Church. At the airport, Diane quickly established herself as “Mom”, and we all know that Moms are the quickest thinkers. Diane’s Delta credit card allowed us to check seven bags free, leaving funds to allow us to do other things useful for the school.
The full group connected in Atlanta and made some quick introductions before boarding a thankfully uneventful flight to Port au Prince. Then the chaos of a Haitian arrival began! Uniformed agents began grabbing bags, insisting we would only get through customs with their help. Surrendering to the inevitable, we exited the airport down $44 in tips and cart rental fees. We did clear customs without incident, and then stepped out into the bright Haitian sunshine. We were quickly marked as a money-making opportunity by men hanging around outside the airport who also wanted to help with our bags. By then, though, our hosts had arrived with plenty of help. Unfortunately being told in three languages that we did not want help and would not pay them did not dissuade these guys from keeping a hand on the cart like a kid would do in a supermarket. They walked away angry with only a $2 tip to split between them, given mostly just to avoid further incident.
Three vehicles caravanned to Cange where we settled into our rooms and were soon treated to one of the many excellent Haitian dinners we would enjoy. The group continued to get acquainted with each other and our new hosts. Our first big experience was on Sunday, a two-hour-plus church service with almost no English spoken. Of course, group prayer and praise music can be appreciated without understanding words. Late in the service, Steve S was called on to give a message in French. It has been said “never let them see you sweat”, but the nerves and heat made this impossible for Steve. Also, right before leaving Virginia, he had used Google Translate to provide an English translation for the team. He should have proofread it. “Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a day” somehow became “Teach a man to sin….”. Needless to say, there was some explaining needed after the service!
During the rest of the week, the group would split up for the day, with part of the team going to the fish farm to build a storage depot while the others went to Ecole Philadelphia to do crafts, English lessons, Bible stories, and other activities with the children. The “slime-making” activity brought by Lili and Belle proved to be one of the most popular!
There were just too many great things that happened on this visit to go into detail about every one, so this report will just hit some of the many highlights.
One huge success was Diane and the younger women organizing and delivering the crafts. Children left with a variety of fun objects like jellyfish and stained glass crosses which used tissue paper in place of the glass. Diane’s experience as a school teacher was just so vital to all of this working out so well. Our translator Camesuze Neptune was also a big blessing to us in being able to communicate with the students and by just being our friend.
Another big success was getting the Douglas Day computer lab fully operational. Prior to the visit, the school had only been able to use some of the capabilities of the laptops because a key launch file had been either deleted or not loaded on to the original computers. Fortunately the file was on all of the five new computers we brought with us, and by copying it to the other computers, we gained access to more than a thousand books in Creole and the entire Kahn Academy platform. The older students started coming into the lab on their breaks to use Wikipedia to search for things that are interesting to them, and during one break, we found Claude, one of the instructors, watching a Kahn Academy video about the mathematics of energy. As the faculty explore these new capabilities, use of the lab is likely to increase exponentially.
The depot construction was another key success, although not without challenges. Our block vendor did not deliver on time, and that caused us to get behind. It also resulted in some changes to work assignments, since there was not enough to do on the farm for everyone who had planned to work there. When the block finally was delivered, though, the team pulled together to move it from the delivery point to where it was needed, a distance of about 100 yards. The women easily matched the strength and determination of the men. Most impressive was 90-pound Mikie carrying cinder blocks on both shoulders. They probably weighed only slightly less than she does! About 75% of the block was laid before we left, and our Haitian brothers will finish the rest. Steve B and Boss Fanfan have developed such a tight working relationship that should they work together again, they will probably be able to build a building without even using words…..
Steve S was also able to meet with the pond agronomist who has been helping us plan and launch our farm effort. We should have a complete start-up plan in place by the end of January. We hope to start with half of our fourteen basins if funds allow. The basins can contain between ten and eighteen thousand fish each, so we will be putting a whole lot of fish into a desperately needy market.
Although not directly related to our group, one thing that bears mentioning is our outstanding new academic director Wilson Pierre. A young man of 28 with a beautiful one-year-old daughter, Wilson radiates enthusiasm and professionalism. He is a great addition to what is already considered the best school in the Bayas area.
Our last evening was spent singing praise songs in both Creole and English. It started with one young man of about 8 with a pink child-sized guitar coming to sing a few songs for us. He is the nephew of our hosts Pradel and Emmanier, and the cousin of our host Davidson. Really the word “host” is too impersonal – they are really our brothers in Christ. Pradel then did a song for us, and things kind of built spontaneously from there, with no one really wanting the experience to end. At times, things got so emotional that tears flowed freely. While our time together had to end for this visit, just about everyone in the group has expressed a strong desire to come back.
Although this report is already long, your writer Steve S feels like he is leaving out 99% of the good things that happened on this trip. The group was cohesive, enthusiastic, and productive. It was trip that was richly blessed by the Lord. We only look forward to more opportunities to serve that are as rewarding and fulfilling as this one.
Visit photos can be found on the In Pictures tab.....if you open the top one, you can scroll through larger images of the entire batch!
Farm Investment to Fund School for Future
Farm Investment to Fund School for Future
A few months ago, the administrators of our school began to develop a plan that would make the school self-supporting in five years’ time, since a donor-based funding model may be difficult to sustain in the long run. After evaluating a number of ideas, the school has made an offer to purchase a 3.18 acre plot of land already equipped with 13 basins for fish farming and with room to expand into other forms of agriculture as time and funds allow.
While the business plan is still being finalized, the financial projections indicate that farm profits will support the full financial needs of the school within two years, including both the teacher salaries and an annual construction project for the build-out of our physical space.
The upfront costs of this undertaking are daunting by comparison to what we have accomplished in the past. We will need at least $40,000 to become operational as a fish farm, which includes $22,000 for the land and survey, as well as other startup expenses. At the time of the offer to purchase, we have $13,000 available, so we have a long way to go, but we do have an offer to match the first $10,000 donated to support this project. Please consult our progress trak graphs to keep up with the latest on funding this effort.
Once operational, the farm will not only provide funds to support the school, but it will also feed people in an area of the country where no one can take his or her next meal for granted. This farm is truly the future for our school, and we would welcome your partnership in making it possible.
Solar Now Powers Computer Lab
Solar Now Powers Computer Lab!
Thanks to three Virginia Rotary Clubs Blacksburg, Montgomery County, and Christiansburg-Blacksburg, our computer lab is now solar-powered! When the computer lab project was first identified as a need, power to the school was more or less reliable, but by the time the lab was ready for operation, the reliability was no longer there. In order to ensure that the children could continue to learn despite frequent power interruptions, a better solution was needed. One resource Haiti has in abundance is sunshine, making solar the logical choice to solve this problem. A collaborative effort across three clubs from the same area of the state ensured that this need would be met. Rotary has also be instrumental in providing books to our school on multiple occasions. Our sincere thanks to the members of all three organizations for their faithful support of education in Haiti.
Hazel Creek Baptist Fundraiser
Hazel Creek Baptist Raises over $800 for Ecole Philadelphia
Led by the BMW, for Baptist Middle Women, the members of Hazel Creek Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, Georgia made a big impact on Ecole Philadelphia, one penny at a time. Using mason jars to collect change and small bills over a six-week period, the church raised $861.27 to support the teacher salary fund at our school. On Sunday September 24, EP fundraiser Steve Skripak was invited to speak and accept the donation by Jenny Thacker, a long-time member and family friend. Pastor Trent Smith then led a prayer for the funds to make a positive difference in Haiti, and the women posed for a picture with their jars.
When the funds were delivered to the bank, the tellers were wide-eyed as they debated who would get the chance to run the change machine. The pennies alone filled two bank bags completely! Through this generous donation, Hazel Creek Baptist has made possible the education of four Haitian children this year. Our sincere thanks to the BMW, Pastor Smith, Jenny, and all the members of Hazel Creek!