Ke Kontan

Ke Kontan

Thursday, 14 November 2019

When Hope is Hard to Find..

As I write these words, I am receiving messages from my eldest in Haiti.  "this is the country that has no future, and young people like me do not really have a secure future"

At the age of nineteen I fell deeply in love with Haiti.  Haiti became home to me for many years.   It was a place where I transitioned into adult hood, where I faced challenges, made sacrifices, and took on more responsibilities than I could probably handle.  I faced corruption, violence, theft, death, disease, natural disaster... you name it.  But despite all of the challenges, I found deep beauty here.  I found beauty in the mountains, in the beaches.. but most of all in the people.  I found a country full of hope and faith and resilience.  I looked at them in awe and admired their strengths.  No matter what these people faced, no matter what obstacles were dropped in their laps, they still got up every Sunday morning put on the best clothes they owned, treaded their way through the dust, the rain, the winds, and the floods to gather together and to rejoice.  They held onto hope.  They believed that their country would rise.  Their hope became contagious.

Lately however, many have started to lose that hope/faith that they once tightly clung too.

Over the past two months a humanitarian crisis has once again unfolded.  But what's different this time is that there has been little news coverage on the severity of this crisis and what the Haitians are now facing on a day to day basis.  There's no celebs writing songs about the atrocities, no books being published, and no mass fundraisers or galas being held to aid them now.  Yet much like the earthquake, not one person in Haiti has gone unscathed from the present crisis.

Gas prices sky rocketed. It has become widely unavailable throughout the country- which for many means no electricity as they cannot run their generators.

Food prices have drastically increased which means malnutrition is on the rise and mass hunger is a problem for the majority.

Water has been harder to come by as the water trucks cannot find or afford fuel to deliver the water.

Guns designed for war are in the hands of thousands.

Neither schools nor government have functioned for the past seven weeks.  Any school that dares to open their doors, knows the price they will pay from the opposition.

Police have been protesting about their working conditions- it has created an even more lawless country than before.

The UN has pulled out.

Doctors cannot get to work.  People are dying every day from preventable deaths.  Hospitals have had to completely shut down.

Gangs have been on the rise and violence has drastically increased including the torching of vehicles, businesses, and even hospitals.

Banks and businesses are like bullseyes.  Many remain closed.

Buses are being taken hostage.

I know two people now that have been killed over the past few weeks due to violent protests or gang related instances.

Our staff are unable to travel to our facility so we have had to shut down our business program this month (and last).

Staff members have been robbed.

Women are being raped and we are having more requests for emergency shelter at our facility.

A family that we support (Tiny's family) has now been pushed out of their home due to gangs coming in and raping the women in the area and taking over their houses.  They are now terrified to return to their home that we built them and are trying to find other solutions for housing.

Yet... none of these atrocities are being reported by the international media.

Right now, the country is free reign.  They are struggling to find their voice.  Struggling to know how to implement change.

It is so easy for us to turn a blind eye "out of sight, out of mind" but people are suffering.  People are facing the most inhumane and unimaginable circumstances... yet many are stepping back instead of stepping up.  The more we remain silent, the more we encourage the oppression.

Haitians have finally found their voice.  Have finally said enough is enough.   The majority of those protesting are doing so peacefully.  They don't agree with the violence that has stemmed from it.  But many don't know any other way to create the change that needs to happen.  They are tired of being oppressed by a corrupt government.  They are tired of their living conditions.  Millions of people are taking to the streets as they want their voices heard.  After remaining silent for decades, they are rising up.  They know if they continue to remain silent, they will continue to suffer for generations to come.

For me, this becomes even more personal.  My son is Haitian- this is his country too.. this is his culture too.  We have Haitian family members that are still currently residing there and are facing these challenges seven days a week.  My kids are there- kids I have raised, kids that I love just as equally as  the child I birthed.  Our staff is there... who have become my best friends, my second family.

At this point, it is easy for us to lose hope.  It is easy for us to say that things will never get better.  But we are holding onto that little sliver that we have left and we believe they can.  We will not give up.

Today, I ask you to not close your eyes.  To not turn away.  Today, I ask you to use your voice.  Become an advocate.  If you can do anything at all- you can use the power of speech to inform and educate others.  Right now, Haiti needs our attention.  Haiti needs our support.  At Rise House we continue to purchase all goods locally- we are doing our best to support the local economy and entrepreneurs.  We are continuing to pay and support staff throughout this crisis and ensuring that they and their families have access to adequate medical care.  We are doing all that we can to continue to offer classes to children in our school program and neighbouring areas to keep these children out of the streets and in a healthy environment.  We are continuing to assist our business program participants to ensure that they are still able to run their businesses so that they are able to feed their children.  We have opened our doors for emergency shelter to women and children who are facing violence or extreme conditions at this time.

We are doing our best.  And sometimes it is REALLY hard to feel like our best is enough when the need is so great.  We too are feeling deflated.  We too are feeling helpless.  But we know that we cannot give up this fight.  We have a voice, we have resources that can save a life.  We have YOU to help us.  Please join us in this fight.  Please join us in our efforts to ensure that we can continue our work and to assist those living in inhumane conditions RISE above.

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor"

Monday, 8 July 2019

Different Lenses

It's been three years since I moved back to Canada.  Three years of the comforts of home.  Three years of consistent electricity and the flow of hot running water.  Three years of sleeping on a soft bed that always has clean sheets and fluffed pillows.  Three years of take out food and being able to indulge into whatever comfort foods I want.

But yet, I still struggle to find the comforts in this.  I still struggle to find my place.  To find my purpose.   To find meaning here.  To wrap my head around how two areas of the world can be oh so different, yet only a plane ride away.  How two places can both encompass such large parts of my heart.

I remember my first time coming home after living in the countryside of Haiti.  I remember flying into Miami and uncontrollably crying.  I had spent eight months without a proper shower.  Eight months without a toilet. Eight months peeing into Pringles cans.  Eight months without a stove, microwave, refrigerator.  Eight months without furniture to relax on.  Eight months without electricity.  And here I was, standing in this ginormous air conditioned airport with an endless amount of space, food, electricity and bathrooms (which were equipped with toilet paper).  All my brain could process at that time was "Do you know how many people we can house here? Do you know how many people we can feed?" .. I was getting excited at the thought of it.  And then reality slapped me hard in the face.   We will not be housing people here.  We will not be feeding people here.  This is an airport.  You are back in North America.  This is the land of resources.  This is the land of indulgence.  This is not the land of survival.

I remember feeling happy to be heading home, I missed my family and my friends.  I was glad to be going back to them.  But at the same time, I wasn't happy at all.  My normal had changed.  My life had been picked up and completely turned upside down.  How do you navigate your way back "home" after that? My definition of normal was the complete opposite of what my loved ones definition was.  How do I explain this to them? How do I tell them about all I've seen, all I've felt..

I found it hard to articulate the depths of my experiences.  I found it hard to articulate how I was feeling.  I struggled with peoples ignorance.  I struggled with how sheltered people were.  I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.   I remember forcing myself to smile and having to talk myself into focusing and actually engaging in conversations as my mind was constantly drifting off.  I just so badly wanted them to understand.  I so badly wanted to hold their eye lids open and make them see everything that I saw.  I wanted them to experience the same awakening that I had.  But I couldn't.

I couldn't make people understand the depths of the suffering I was exposed to on a daily basis.  I couldn't make them understand the reality of our world outside of our small community.   I couldn't make them understand how a woman fed her baby to the pigs.  I couldn't make them watch young boys be beaten with butts of automatic weapons in front of my eyes.  I couldn't make them understand that the people that I loved were dying from simple illnesses like the flu - simply because they couldn't afford water to stay hydrated or a taxi ride to the hospital.  I couldn't make them understand that child slavery is real and that it has happened to children that mean the world to me.  I couldn't make them understand the trauma.  The little boy who came to my house with burns covering his entire body because he took 5 gourdes from his mom to buy a snack at school.  Or the mother that forced her daughter to drink a bottle of bleach and she ended up in a coma.  Or the child that was left in a pit and never learned to walk because he had down syndrome.  I wanted to shake people.  I wanted to scream it in their face.  I wanted them to know... I wanted them to care...

Getting lost in that constant fight is truly exhausting. Its like running head first into a brick wall every single day. My perception had to be modified, if only to ease my own frustration. 

It’s like our eyes see differently. We are all wearing different prescription lenses. People wear glasses or contacts to see clearly. The road, their books, their Facebook messenger. 

My prescription was written when I was 18. When everything I thought I knew was altered. Someone put those glasses over my eyes and for the first time I could see clearly. My reality was changed. I can’t share my glasses with anyone, they are mine. They would make your eyes blurry, the world would be more hazy. I will never be able to make anyone see clearly with the lenses I wear.

My frustration hasn’t been for my lack of articulation or effort, it’s always been because my vision is through my glasses. The art of humanitarianism isn’t trying to force your glasses onto everyone's eyes, its finding the prescription that will fit even one person. Its that one blog post the resonates with someone, that one picture that changes someone’s perception. It's in the stories, and the fundraisers, the websites and social media likes. It’s standing in a room full of people and telling them about the atrocities I have witnessed, the trauma that I have seen endured. 

For me, the fire has been reignited lately and I once again am overflowing with this burning passion to do more, to be more.  I can't wait to get my feet on the ground again and once again be consumed by this chaos.  I am prepared for the journey ahead, and this time, with a refreshed mind and eager heart.  On July 25th I will be heading back "home" and I couldn't be more excited.

To any of my humanitarian friends out there.-- I know you feel exhausted. I know how hard you fight to enlighten people. I know how tough it is to balance between two different lifestyles, two different worlds. Having your heart ripped between multiple countries. I know the guilt, the anger, the bitterness, the grief you experience. I know that it is an uphill battle that you feel like you are never going to win. But I also know that you have the fight in you. Do not suppress it. Do not shrink yourself to fit in someone else's box. Do not dim your light. Keep burning. Keep going. Because that's why you are here. The world needs more people that don't quit. That don't walk away even when you may have all of the odds against you. The world needs more people with burning passion. People that make people feel uncomfortable, so please friends, keep being the optometrists for your cause. Keep trying to find the right prescription, that is the only way we can help the world see clearly.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Change is Ineviatable. Growth is Optional.

They say change is inevitable.  And that rings true for many aspects of life.  You learn, you grow, you have new experiences.  Each new experience (whether good or bad) helps to transform you and shape you into who you are.  Change is often scary, usually, we resist change.  However, it comes to a point where it truly is inevitable and where it allows us to become who we are meant to be.  It pushes us in new directions.  It forces us to step out of our comfort zone.  It presents us with new opportunities.

I began my journey doing humanitarian work when I was 18 years old.  I traveled to Ghana, Africa where I was a caregiver at an orphanage and taught English at a rural school.  I lived with a local host family and was exposed to extreme poverty and the harshness of our world first hand.  This experience was my awakening.  It gave me a whole new perspective on life, and a new sense of gratitude.  This trip was my transformation from teenage years to adulthood.  For the first time, I was a minority.  For the first time, I was alone in a country left to figure out how to navigate the streets, the language, and the culture.  Numerous times I found myself lost in different towns where I couldn't pronounce the names.  I ran out of money because I used it all on taxi fares to the wrong places.  I had to teach English but was given no supplies to do so. I had to learn how to teach using body language and by drawing in the dirt.  I had to learn how to problem solve very quickly.  These are just some of the smallest examples of the challenges I faced as I began this journey.  However, each challenge allowed me to grow.  To become more aware.

When I first traveled to Haiti in 2011 I went down there with this burning passion to help.  I wanted to save people.  I wanted to be soooo impactful.  I went down with the notion in my head that "these people need me" or "I can help save this country".  However, I was 19 and very naive and those ideologies quickly died as I dove deeper into the complexities of the country and realized the enormity of the task at hand.  I could not change Haiti.  As a 19 year old, that was a difficult pill to swallow.  Over the first year of working there, I worked in 7 orphanages, 2 hospitals, and 1 medical clinic.  I fell in love with the Haitian people and especially with the children.  I knew that my heart was there.

When I returned to University in 2012 I struggled with the culture shock of returning home.  It's funny because I have always experienced more culture shock coming back to Canada, then I have ever experienced going to a foreign country.  I remember sitting in my classroom of 200 people and feeling this massive pit in my stomach as I looked across the room and saw the number of open mac books on the desks.  All I could think was "if we sold all of these mac books, it would be enough to rebuild the school I was working at AND furnish it with desks, chairs, chalkboards, and the supplies those kids would need to learn".  I left that class feeling angry.  Feeling disappointed in our society.  Feeling guilty for being born into Canada and for the those I had met that unfortunately weren't so lucky in the lottery of life.

I decided that if I was going to be in Canada, I still needed to be doing something.  I began Hime For Help in February 2012.  My initial goal was to raise funds for developing countries that were suffering from natural disasters, war, famine, and disease.  I wanted to raise funds and support other organizations and projects that I had previously worked with.

Two weeks after I received Non-Profit status, I was contacted by a friend down in Haiti about a group of children that needed assistance.  He knew my heart was there.  He knew that's where I wanted to be.  These kids had no beds, no furniture, and they were needing medical attention.  I put my University studies on hold and went down there with $500 to my name.  After digging deeper and requesting files for the children in this Haitian run orphanage, I started to piece together that something was not right.  As more and more information came out, it became obvious that corruption was rampant in this institution.   A local judge came and ordered the man out, child protective services was called, and I was then left responsible for 11 children.

I found out that more than half of these children had two living parents.  We were able to successfully reunite 5 children with their families.  The remainder stayed in our care.  We lived in a small house in the country side where we had no water, electricity, furniture, and where rats, tarantulas, and cockroaches were our roommates.  I still remember having our first group of volunteers come down and they brought us a can opener and I almost cried.  We had been opening cans using a rock and knife. 

We ended up moving to Port Au Prince (the capital city) so that we would have better access to health care and education.  Our conditions improved immensely with the move.   I began speaking Creole fluently after 3 short months which also allowed me to communicate with the locals and to learn more about their country and culture. 

I made Haiti my home.  Those kids became my family.  They were my pride and joy.  They taught me so much.  My plan was to spend the rest of my life raising these beautiful children and being in Haiti with them.

My life became constant chaos.  In Haiti, there is always someone who needs help.  There is always some type of emergency.  There is always something you need to be doing.  You can burn out quickly.  But I absolutely loved it.

In my first few years in Haiti, I learned some really tough lessons and had to swallow some more of those hard pills I talked about previously.  I learned first hand about corruption, violence, theft, and manipulation.  But one of the most important lessons that I learned was about poverty, and the impacts it has on those who fall victim to it. 

I learned that yes- this country runs rampant with corruption, violence, theft, manipulation, etc.  However, a lot of these things stem from the environment they were raised in.  When you live in survival mode- you do what it takes to survive.  When you have a child screaming in pain because they are starving- you do what it takes to provide.  When you have no clothes or shoes to your name and suddenly there's an entire room filled with shoes and clothes- you take some.  Your morals are pushed aside when you are desperate. 

Many organizations began pulling out of Haiti for these reasons.  The corruption is too much.  The manipulation that they experienced from their own staff was too much.  The risks became too much.  And rightfully so.

On top of the lesson about poverty, as the years passed, I was taught another lesson.  This lesson was one of the most difficult for me.  It was the lesson about orphanages.  A lesson I did not want to accept or acknowledge for a long time.  Because truth is scary.  And not knowing what to do with that truth is even scarier.

In Haiti, there are hundreds of orphanages, often filled with hundreds of children.  However, 80% of those children are not actually orphans.  You might be thinking- why is this such a hard pill to swallow when you already experienced it when you first took over the children's home? It was a hard pill to swallow because I full heatedly wanted to believe that my experience, was a rare one.  That the corruption I experienced, wasn't true for other orphanages- especially since the majority of them are run by religious organizations.   However, once I decided that I had to look further into this "truth", I couldn't look back.  I became so morally conflicted as I had worked in numerous orphanages.  I had been that orphanage tourist taking pictures with the kids.  I had been part of the problem.

I was now caring for 15 children- and although we were not a typical orphanage- I still felt morally conflicted.  I felt like we could be making such a bigger impact then what we are making.  Although these 15 children have grown immensely in numerous ways and I know that for some- we have literally saved their life.  I still felt like I needed to be doing more.  I started wondering about how this orphanage crisis began or why it is still happening.  And once again I opened a door to a harsh reality.

The majority of children in orphanages are not orphans as stated previously.  The majority of these children are given up by their parents or abandoned at orphanage doors because they believe that an orphanage will provide their child with a better life.  An orphanage will put food in their bellies.  An orphanage will educate the child.  An orphanage will raise their child to be successful so that their child can help support their family.  Their child would become the bread winner if he/she is raised in an orphanage.  And some of these facts might be accurate.  Maybe the child would thrive better in the orphanage environment then in the environment the family was living in at that time.   However, it does not make it right. The root problem once again being poverty. 

Orphanages spend hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars caring for these children in their institutions.  But the majority of them do nothing to support the families that these children came from.  Instead of institutionalizing these children, should we not be rather investing in the families and allowing these children to grow up being raised by their parents? Should we not be assisting these parents to rise above their current circumstances and potentially rise above poverty?

For the past two years I struggled with this back and forth.  I was scared of this truth.  I didn't know what to do with it.  How could I express my concerns with those back home and with our supporters without seeming like a hypocrite? I had always promoted the support of orphanages- I had worked in numerous orphanages.  I became depressed over it.  I became ashamed of myself for not realizing this truth sooner.  I stopped wanting to do humanitarian work at one point.  I considered completely withdrawing all involvement from Haiti.  I became angry.  I stopped asking people for support for Hime For Help.  I stopped wanting to talk about it.   I got to the point where I was going to resign from my own organization.

However, that all began to change.  It began to change when I accepted this truth.  When I realized that I needed to talk about how morally conflicted I was.  The first step started with my board of directors- I didn't dive into too many details- but hinted that I really wanted to change our vision.  I wanted to implement some new projects.  But I was still lacking the confidence to fully come out and explain what I wanted to do and what I had been brainstorming over the past few years.

I met a few individuals over coffee.  I began explaining my situation and how morally conflicted I was.  I began to explain the "truth" that I had discovered and that I need to do something about this truth.  They asked some hard questions "do you really want to keep doing this work? Haven't you invested enough of your life into? Don't you want to focus on YOU for awhile?".  I decided to go home and actually dedicate a few days to really thinking those questions over.  I knew I was burnt out.  I knew that I was experiencing some compassion fatigue.  But as soon as I started thinking of walking away from those I grew to love in Haiti, those that I call family or friends, walking away from the place I called home and the culture that helped to shape me into who I am today, I couldn't.  That burning passion once again returned.  I was overcome with emotion.  I realized that I have spent those vital years (your early 20's) of when you are finding yourself, and discovering who you are, in Haiti.  It has become a part of my identity.  It is where I learned some of my most important lessons. It is where I conceived my first child.  It is where I found meaning/purpose to my life.  It is where I was smacked in the face with some harsh realities about our world.  How can I just walk away? How can I sit silent and not doing anything to work towards ending those harsh realities I now know of?

I went back to these same people explaining my decision.  I explained that I had two choices- I either walk away (and likely lose my sense of self/purpose) OR we (as an organization) change.

I wanted to focus on a new vision.  I wanted to focus on how we can keep families together and empower them to be able to provide for their children.  I wanted to focus on creating opportunities, giving people the tools they need to succeed.  I decided that I want to work towards preventing children being given up to orphanages- I want to empower these families to stay together. 

After living in Haiti I realized how many adults (and children) are not receiving the education, training, or opportunities they need to thrive in their economy.  I have met so many driven, motivated, and talented individuals in each of the developing countries I have visited, that are simply lacking the resources they need to become successful and self-sufficient. 

Rise House International was formed only a few short months after reveling the "truths" that I had learned and the vision that I wanted to work towards.  I was blessed to have a group of very supportive individuals come behind me and push me in the right direction.  They gave me the confidence to trust myself and my decision to move forward.  Even though change is scary, and even though it might push us beyond our comfort zones, we know that without change- we cannot grow.

We will begin implementing our Business/Entrepreneur Training Program in July 2019.  We are currently in the process of transitioning from a Children's Home to a Safe Haven for Women and Children.  We will also be offering classes on Health & Nutrition, Agriculture & Sustainability, and  Maternal Health & Child Birth.   We will be working towards implementing more community outreach programs. 

I want to thank all of those who have supported us over these past 7 years.  All of our donors, sponsors, volunteers, board members, children in our care, and our Haitian Staff.  We would not be where we are today without all of YOU.

I hope that as we transition into this next chapter, that you will continue to walk with us, support us, grow with us, and share our story.

Our goal for 2019 is to train and educate 100 people.  We cannot reach that goal without the support of those around us.

"Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still"

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Stuck in the Middle (with you)

As I am being lead behind a building to a group of small houses with tin roofs, I can’t help but think “man I wish I had a GoPro on so everyone back home could see this”- so they could see how people get by with so little.  As we reach our destination the young girl says “you pee there”.  She points to a small drainage pipe sticking out of the ground.  She shuts the tin door that has multiple large holes in it and leaves me to do my business.  Needless to say, I suck at the whole squatting and peeing over a hole thing.  I’m out of practice.  I’m not sure which collected more urine, my feet or the drainage pipe.  Although most would be disgusted, I couldn’t help but smile and miss this life.  

People have often asked what the hardest part of all of this is for me.  Surprisingly it’s not the constant poverty or need that I am faced with while in Haiti. The hardest part is being stuck between two very different worlds.  The world of consumerism and fast paced living and the world of survival and island time. The world where it doesn’t matter if you pee on your feet and hop in the car and the world where “Ew omg you aren’t getting in my vehicle like that”.  There’s a constant tug between the country I left, and the country I am currently living in.  Both have become an integral part of who I am, and I often find myself stuck in the middle between the two.  

In Haiti, the people that surround me are in survival mode.  The need is so great here and it doesn’t stop after you help a couple of people.  It’s never ending.  It’s always in front of you.  It’s hard for people who haven’t experienced this type of life to fully understand it or grasp it.  It’s hard coming from a country full of resources to a country where the government rarely (next to never) offers support to those in need.   There’s no programs here to offer assistance to families who are homeless or in need of food.  They can’t just simply sign up and be guaranteed enough income each month to at least feed their children.  Here, you can give and give until you have nothing left.  After selling all of my belongings and giving up university and the life I had in Canada to move to a developing country, I felt like a vagabond.  But here, you are the government program- you are looked at as the wealthy blan who is going to take away their problems.  You are the person who’s going to make their lives better.  They look at you with hope.  And sometimes that pressure can be a lot to take.  Back home, you are looked at as the annoying humanitarian that is constantly asking for more and more support from their community.  

How do you choose who to help? How do you decide when to stop? How do you go back to your home country and see the consumerism (that you yourself partake in) and still sleep at night? How do you swallow the pill that you’ve won the lottery of life while those you love in developing countries are laying down tonight with pangs of hunger in their bellies? It’s all so hard.  It’s something that you can never just shake.  I’ve had to learn to try to put it in the back of my mind.  I’ve had to learn how to try to shut it off.  I have to shut it off in order to continue to live in my developing home country.  I have to trick my brain into saying “it’s okay to consume.  It’s okay to buy all of these Christmas gifts and spend all of this money on decorations to make my home look pretty”.  And although I convince myself of these things at times... the guilt never truly escapes me.   I still sit and wonder how our worlds became so divided.  

I think back to families we have helped where the kids were literally eating mud and then I think of my own son who wants cookies every 5 minutes.  I think of how easy it is for me to just walk over to our cupboard and give him one when he’s hungry.  Or how easy it is for me to walk over to the sink and give him a glass of water when he’s thirsty.  Then I think of the mom who has to walk miles in her bare feet to a river to take a small bucket of water for her children.  I think of the bucket she has to carry back on her head and the game of risk she takes by giving her child that water not knowing what illnesses or infections may lie ahead after drinking it.  I think of my son being sick and how immediately I can take him to the hospital.  I don’t have to think it over it’s just second nature to take him in right away when his fever is over 100.  I think of how when I’m here and faced with an illness I can just jump on a plane and head home to our incredible healthcare system.   And then I think of the mother who has her dying child in her arms and decides there’s nothing she can do except watch her baby suffer.  She doesn’t have money for transportation to the hospital and she definitely doesn’t have enough money to pay for the hospital bill and continue to feed her other children.  So, she decides that her baby will have to die.  Can you imagine that? Then I think to all of the new clothes I just bought back home.  I think of how I’ve been “keeping up with the joneses” and how jealousy and greed easily come to me when I’m in Canada. I think of how much I now love the comforts of home and how I’ve become comfortable when I used to lead a life of being comfortable being uncomfortable (if that makes any sense at all).  I think of all that my Haitian friends have been through, and yet how much faith, hope, and positivity they withhold.  I look back at my friends in Canada and how negative and angry they become because someone simply cut them off or because the food they were served in a 5 star restaurant wasn’t cooked to perfection.  I look at how these trivial things can completely upset our day and how easily we lose hope and positivity.  It’s actually quite mind blowing.  

For any of you who have recently watched the Netflix special “Bird Box”.  The only thing I can think of after watching it is how it’s such a metaphor for the real world.  If you remove your blindfold off and are exposed to  the rawness and reality of our world it can consume you.  It takes your life and you cant go back from it.  You can’t un-see it.  

I recently read another Missionaries blog post about this same subject (which actually inspired me to write this) and what she said hit me right in the heart strings: 
“Those of us in the middle carry a pervasive struggle in our hearts.  You can’t really articulate it because it’s a kind of schizophrenic leap between guilt and jealousy, gratitude and shame, pitying others and pitying yourself, anger and sorrow, generosity and greed, a bleeding heart and a shocking coldness due to compassion fatigue.  It is a fight and we get tired of living in it often.  We want to enjoy moments and people and things, but it isn’t that simple anymore.  Our highs and delights are tempered, and your pains and sorrows often feel unworthy.” 

So, I remain stuck in the middle (with you- sorry I had too).  Learning to accept my two very different worlds that offer very different perspectives.  I remain stuck battling between abundance and need.  A battle that I will never win.  However, I know that I am blessed to be a part of this battle.  I am blessed with the opportunity to learn from both worlds.  To be able to step back and see life from one perspective or the other.  To have my heart in two places at once.  

Thursday, 27 December 2018

An Emotional Return

As I sit in my dimly lit room feeling exhaustion taking over me, I can’t help but reflect on not only this whirlwind of a day, but of the last seven years.  

As we began our decent into Haiti, I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotions.  First, tears filled my eyes as I whispered “home”.  A place where I found myself.  A place that encompasses a large part of one of my most important organs (yes, my heart).  I felt a sense of pride- even though I am in no way Haitian, I still feel a sense of pride for “my” second country.  My son is part Haitian.  Some of my in laws are Haitian.  And my second family (my kids and staff) are Haitian.  This country is a big part of me.  I can’t even put into words the exact feelings I felt, but I felt whole.  I felt a sense of relief that I am finally back.  The smells, the noises, the hustle and bustle of the streets, the distinct things that make Haiti, Haiti.  

As I opened my mouth to greet people, creole just came tumbling out of me.  It was like word vomit.  I haven’t spoken it in almost a year and to be honest I thought I wouldn’t be able to still speak it flutently.  “If you don’t use it, you lose it”.  However, that was not the case.  It felt so good to be speaking creole again.  To be giving high fives and saying “Sak pase” (what’s up) to all of the oh so familiar faces at the airport.  As we drove to the home, I directed the way.  There’s special markings on walls or small little shops that I recognized and how I first learnt my way of the streets in port au prince.  As we bumped down our gravel road my heart once again filled up with an indescribable joy.  Neighbours waved to me and some of the kids ran to tell other kids and to round them up to stop by our house for a visit.  As I pulled into the gates all of my babes were standing there jumping up and down yelling “Emily, Emily, emily”.   Hugging them was so fulfilling.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  

The staff and I ended up sorting gifts and it was amazing to see how many gifts each child got! Thankfully spirit airlines didn’t even charge me for my overweight baggage (I’m not sure how I managed to score that one- it never happens!) so I was able to bring pretty much every single toy that was donated!  The kids all patiently waited downstairs as we made up their little piles.  Finally once we were done, we called them upstairs on a scavenger hunt.  They were so excited and there were screams of excitement as they lifted up their gifts.  This moment made my holidays complete.  

After we finished opening gifts I decided I wanted to do something special for my older boys.  One thing I find very important for our kids, is for them to see the beauty of their country and learn the incredible history behind it.  So, 7 of us loaded into a little Jeep and headed up to the top of a mountain where we went to Furcy.  It was a long bumpy ride and some crazy mountain side roads, but it was so amazing.  We stopped for pictures every few metres and the boys enjoyed some Haitian Griot (pork) at a roadside stand.  They couldn’t believe that they were still in Haiti when we made it to the top.  They told me I took them to Canada because it was so cold up there.  There was massive trees surrounding us and beautiful views of the mountains.  It was so nice to spend quality time with these little boys that have now started turning into men.  We all ate dinner together at the top of the mountain and enjoyed each other’s company and laughter.  

Now back to reminiscing on the past seven years.  I never could have dreamt up this life.    I never could have imagined that somehow I’d end up in Haiti and it becoming such a big part of me.  Nor did I think I’d have a family here or friends that are the type that last a lifetime.  I didn’t plan for any of it, it just happened.  I felt called to be here and once I started caring for these children, I couldn’t stop.  They became one of the biggest blessings in my life.  They’ve taught me so much about life, about resiliency, about faith and hope and survival.  They taught me who I was.  They made me a mother at the young age of 19 when I had no idea what the hell I was doing.  They forced me to step out of my comfort zone and to live in conditions I never thought I could and to speak a foreign language fluently within 3 short months.  They showed me what true strength and courage was.  They taught me unconditional love.  

When I started out on this journey, I had no idea of the hardships I’d endure.  I didn’t know I’d have days where I’d stare death in the face, where I’d lose friends and have to bury children whom I loved.  I didn’t know I’d have to watch innocent people suffer or watch children almost disintegrate due to malnutrition.  I didn’t know I’d be robbed and threatened or any of the rest of it.  We can never really know what lies ahead and the obstacles we will be presented with.  We can only know that we will experience these hardships.  We can do our best to prepare our minds, bodies, and hearts for these challenges but we will never truly understand them until we are in them.  Most of all, I didn’t know that one day I’d be choosing between two families and having to split my time and heart.  And although some days it’s been almost unbearable, I am so damn thankful I get the opportunity.  Who’s lucky enough to have so many family truly I ncredible family members in so many places? Me.  And although it tears my heart strings being away from one or the other, I know that I am truly blessed.  

I know that I was given a once in a lifetime opportunity and I also know that is my responsibility to use it to its fullest; to give every last ounce of energy I have until I collapse at the end of it.  All the hardships, all the tears, all the hard work put into it will be looked back upon as the best thing I’ve ever done (it already is).   And it won’t be because I enjoyed every moment of it, or because I impacted lives, but because I gave it everything I had, even when I didn’t think I could and especially when I didn’t want too. There’s been days when I’ve been so close to just throwing in the towel.  So many times I actually told people “I’m done”.   Haiti is a very difficult country to work in, and it can take the best of you if you let it.  But it can also allow you to be your best self.  It can be the most rewarding thing in the world.  Thankfully I’ve had an incredible support network and board members who have stood behind me and picked me up time and time again when I lost my footing or lost my hope.  So to anyone out there chasing a dream and who’s tired and exhausted and feels like they have nothing else to give.  Keep going.  Keep running. If you run until you have nothing left to give, keep going anyways.  Cry and pray and work and sweat and plead until you are so drained that all you can do is hit your knees.  Come out of it proud of what you’ve done, because this experience will bless the rest of your life.  Just as it’s done mine.  I am so thankful for all of those who have continued to support me and who haven’t allowed me to call it quits.  Because if I did, I wouldn’t be spending my evening hugging and kissing these beautiful children who truly make me feel whole.  

Thank you so much to the Bartlett family for making this trip possible and to all of you that donated funds and toys to ensure that our children had a Christmas!  I thank you from the bottom of my heart 💗  

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A Little Taste of Home..

I left Haiti last December in preparation to give birth to my baby boy, Beau.  I had planned to come to Canada for his birth, stay a couple of months, and then head back "home" to Haiti.  However, after arriving in Canada, plans quickly changed.  Ryan and I started thinking of the life we wanted for our son.  We realized that if we went back to Haiti not only would we have no help/little help or anyone to ask for advice, but our son would be estranged from his family here in Canada and in the United States.  He would not get to grow up playing hockey or trick or treating at Halloween.  He would not have access to great medical care or education (at least nothing that is affordable for us at the moment).  So many things came to light and I realized just how fortunate I have been to grown up in North America.  We are surrounded by unlimited resources and so many opportunities. So my thought process was "is it fair for me to strip my child away from this? Is it fair for me to decide to bring him into a life that I chose to live, once I was old enough to make my own decisions?"  It was my choice to move to Haiti.  It was my decision to live with less and be far from my family.  It was my choice to miss birthdays, funerals, weddings, etc to live out MY calling.  But would this be my sons calling as well?

It has been the best yet toughest year of my life.  It's always hard making big decisions but now even more so than ever as I must make these big decisions for someone other than myself.  It's not as simple as just following my heart anymore.  It is no longer about me and what I want, it is about this little boy who has me completely wrapped around his finger.

However, on the other side, I also have 15 children who I love with all of my heart and who are depending on me too.  I have a country which I have called home and where I have loved and lost so many.  This is the longest I have ever been away from them.  I had planned to take trips back and forth but what I didn't realize is that breast feeding kind of makes that hard.  Plus balancing work and starting a new business. And then the thought of being away from Beau for a week is almost unbearable.  All of the little things that I would miss.   I would love to bring Beau with me, but due to the current political unrest and him being too young to receive some of the vaccinations, I also do not want to expose him to any dangerous situations or illnesses.

I feel stuck between two lives.  And my heart breaks every single day.

I miss waking up to so many little ones jumping on my bed and taking them on beach days.  I miss driving up the winding mountainous roads and the breathtaking scenery.  I miss the simplicity of life there and the focus on human contact and relationships versus materialistic items.  Although I have family and friends here, I often feel alone.  I've been struggling to try and figure out why I feel this way.  And then I realized its simple... Every where you go in Haiti, you are constantly surrounded by people. You are greeted with kisses on the cheek, someone taking your hand, someone always asking you how you are.  Your neighbours are always checking in on you, bringing you lemon juice and soup when you fall ill.  You have real conversations.  Not conversations about what things you bought when you went shopping last week.. and you don't have the materialistic items to distract you.  You talk.  You enjoy each others company.  You sit on the side of a mountain with a family that has nothing more than four mud walls around them, and you are the happiest you have ever been.  I miss it terribly.  But yet, I also miss Canada when I am there.  So what do I do?

I don't know the answer to that.  I am not sure if I ever will.  No matter what decision I make I will always be missing someone.  There is no simple solution.  Duct tape can't fix this one.  I've remained silent over the last few months... suffering quietly... trying to figure out this balance of who I used to be and who I am now and what that means for me and my family's future.  I've been feeling guilt for wanting to go to Haiti because that means leaving my son at home, and I've also been feeling guilty for being here in Canada and being away from my kids in Haiti.  I've distanced myself from fundraising and posting updates as its been too painful for me to talk about Haiti or the kids.  And the guilt from that consumes me as well.

At this moment, I've decided that although it will be extremely difficult to leave my son for an entire week, I will return to Haiti at the beginning of March to try to ease some of this burden I have been feeling.  My friend & coworker Lacey will also be joining me.  I can't wait to finally hug and squeeze all the littles that I've been missing so much.  I can't wait to laugh and to catch up with our staff members and see the progress that has been made.  It has been over a year since I have seen them.  I can only imagine how they have grown and how they've changed.  It saddens me to know that I have missed out on all of the new things our toddlers are doing and all of the challenges our teens have faced.  Skype and WhatsApp can only tell/show so much.  But I am grateful for our dedicated staff and nannies who have continued to care for our children and keep me updated day to day.  I will miss my son terribly and will likely cry every day that I am gone.. however.. it comforts me to know that he is in good hands here with his very supportive and understanding Dad, and with my family to assist him.  I know this is something I must do.   I know that my heart needs this more than ever.  Haiti has become such an integral part of who I am.  I need a little taste of "home".  I need a little taste of "me".

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Updates from Haiti!

As I sit here staring at my large screen television and my enjoying my air conditioned home, my heart can't help but feel guilt and long for my children in Haiti.  This is the longest I have ever gone without hearing their giggles and being smothered in their hugs and kisses.  It is hard.  I keep telling myself that I need to be home right now, I need to stay put, I need to think about what is best for my son and wait until he is vaccinated before visiting.. but that doesn't stop the longing.  My heart physically hurts.  There is not a minute that goes by that I don't wonder what they are doing, how they are doing, and when I will be able to see them again.

Thank goodness for smartphones and being able to communicate with staff members and my older children.  It warms my heart to get voice messages through whatsapp or to receive photos of the little ones learning new things.  Emilio has been sick lately with diarrhea but after a quick visit to the hospital and some antibiotics he is on the mend.  Norens also has not been himself lately, he is getting severe headaches and is having trouble seeing.  Norens constantly blinks.  I had taken him to an American doctor in Haiti who examined his eyes, we were told that he could see perfectly clear.  We were then referred to a neurologist who told us that Norens has a neurological problem that is causing his eyes to constantly blink.  We were told that we could send him to the US to undergo a surgical procedure to try and correct it, however, after hearing that the procedure would come with many risks and learning that his condition was actually was not harming Norens in anyway, we decided to not pursue that route.  Norens has been to the doctors again, and we are now waiting on more results.

The kids are all growing so much and getting so tall! We had friends recently visit the kids and check up on things and they were able to send me tons of photos :)

Fundraising has been tough lately.  Since March when I gave birth to my son, it has been difficult for me to keep up with social media and hosting fundraising events.  We have begun to fall behind on monthly expenses.  We are needing more child sponsors, more monthly donors, more volunteers, more help fundraising.. the list goes on.  Next month we will be opening up one of our board meetings to those who wish to learn more about Hime For Help and who have a desire to get involved with the work we do.  We would like to create a strong team to help with implementing fundraising ideas and growing our organization.  If you are interested in joining our committee please email me at to find out more!