Ke Kontan

Ke Kontan

Monday, 30 June 2014


Considering life as a humanitarian, it seems as though it is just composed of a series of contradictions.

On one hand, it is the least freedom that I’ve ever had. I live in a sort of a fishbowl. I am constantly surrounded by my kids (which I love), I have no privacy at all, people are always aware of what I’m doing, and I need to hold myself to better standards of propriety than at any other time in my life.

But at the same time, it is also the most freedom I've ever had. I can choose to work on whichever projects I decide to do, have time to stop and write a song, do whichever activities I wish to do with the kids and can go do them at whichever time I decide to. I can be a nurse, teacher, caregiver, handywoman- you name it- all at the same time.

Living here is such an isolating experience. It can be very lonely. I’m away from friends and family and the people that most would say, know me best. It’s hard to stay in touch through lack of free time, limited technology and high cost.

But I also have a new set of friends and family, composed of my beautiful children, staff, and other expats undergoing the same experiences and of people within the community that make me feel like I’m truly at home.

I've learned a new language and can speak it fluently.

But it’s also making me feel like my ability to speak good educated English is rapidly declining. I have to think about the concept of contradiction for a solid minute before I came up with the word.

This is the poorest I’ve ever been.

But compared to most here I'm still considered really rich.

I hate the corruption and how the government functions.

Yet I have to work with them and remain on their "good side".

I am so competent… I have skills and knowledge that people here don’t…just basic things we are taught even in elementary school impress the people here, but back home it would just be normal.

Yet at the same time, I feel totally incompetent. Particularly when I am trying to cook Haitian food or doing some of the things that are second nature to people here.. The list could go on and on and on.

In one way I’m totally independent. I live on my own with a bunch of children I am fully responsible for. But I am also fully dependent upon those around me– for help, for motivation, for friendship, for work and to just keep me sane.

This is the most time that I have ever spent working (literally 24/7)…being here means that I am always on the job, either in literally being at the house all day every day with my kids or doing projects in other villages. I have to keep in mind my role in the community and make sure that I present myself in a good light, both for the success of my work and for the sake of representing Canada and other "blans".

On the other side, this is also the least time that I spend working. Because to me, most of the time this doesn't feel like work.

A part of me is bitter and I have been burnt out feeling like Haiti has literally broken me in two.

But I also know it is the only thing that keeps me together most days. "It can break your heart into a million pieces, yet still be the reason it beats".

When I was getting ready to leave, some people told me that I was doing a great thing and sacrificing so much. There are definitely things that I gave up to came here and wish that I hadn’t had to.

But at the same time, this is one of the most selfish things that I have ever done. I’m doing this because I wanted to. While I’m (oh dear lord I hope) helping people in my community and giving a future to my children, I’m also helping myself. My work here has helped me to decide exactly what makes me happy and makes me feel whole. I left friends and family behind, demanding that they will still be there for me while I’m gone and when I get back. Really, more selfish than selfless.

I hate the idea of orphanages. I am frustrated that they exist. I am angry at parents for being so willing to give up their children.

Yet I'm running a children's home just for that. The circumstances that lead some parents to abandon their children is sometimes beyond the parents control. Rape, disease, extreme poverty, etc. I have witnessed some of the horrific things these parents have been faced with or what the mothers have gone through. I try my best to understand.

What I’m doing here is not “real life” AKA "what I am supposed to be doing" (according to some people). I was talking with a friend who has a full-time job in the US—in their book, that's "the real life situation". I’m so far removed from all of the things so staple to real Canadian/American 20-something life.

But this is maybe more real than my life could ever have been if I had stayed in Canada. I have delivered babies, stitched wounds, held babies dying of malnutrition and disease, brought babies back to health including some of my kids here, I've jumped off the top of waterfalls, went scuba diving, went paragliding (unfortunately that one didn't end as planned when the parachute didn't open), witnessed the evils mother nature has to offer, experienced many types of religion, dealt with corruption, violence, and crime, lived without basic "necessities", I have felt what it means to literally worry about how you would eat or provide food for your children the next day. Realities of simply living life are more present in my eyes—trying to figure out where water comes from so that there is enough to drink or wash laundry by hand. Learning how to conserve everything. Grinding peanuts to make peanut butter…maybe more real than the instant, plastic wrapped life that I could be living in Canada.

Maybe it’s all about balancing these contrasts, or maybe they aren’t even all that large. One way or another, life here continues to surprise me—sometimes by the foreign and sometimes by how very regular it is.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Oh, the Things I've Learned ...

So, I'm back. I am back living in the small Caribbean Island that most of us didn't even know existed until the earthquake. I am back running around like a chicken with it's head cut off. The madness never ever ends. And aside from my life being terribly entertaining here in good ole Haiti, it’s also quite exhausting most of the time. I have only been back for a few days but the stress and sleepless nights didn't take any time to set in. Chikungunya is kicking butts and taking names in our household. I am the only one who has not gotten it yet (knock on wood). Tyson is laying on the floor next to me with a snotty nose and fever, a new member of our household, Shellson (1yr old) who is the brother of Jodline and Jodnise is sitting with our volunteer Lauren and chugging down a pedishare shake (he is severely malnourished and full of worms), and baby Emilio is fast asleep on my lap making little cooing noises. Our house is absolutely bonkers. This virus has every kid sick with a fever and the crying is never ending. I feel so bad for my babies as I can see the pain they are feeling just by looking at them. They are not themselves. Sometimes it is easy to forget another world exists when I am living out my daily routine here in Haiti. I am fully absorbed into this life of beans and rice, bartering in markets, sweltering in the heat, and running back and forth between fighting or crying children. I have adapted to the third-world difficulties that adorn my lifestyle. However, Every now and then a hint of nostalgia for my pre Haiti life hits me like a blinding light and I think to myself "Emily what the heck are you doing here".

There are moments here in Haiti when I have really wanted to give up and purchase the next plane ticket back home. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a fictional book with a plot that is only fun to read about but not live. They might be great reads, but would you really want to face the crazy stories that they boast? And then there are moments like today when I am able to center my mind and body as I watch my kids dance around to music. I am able to focus on the positives, and remind myself that little by little, I might be making a difference for these kids and the most rewarding thing of all of this, is watching them transform into lively, bubbly, and healthy children. Sometimes all it takes is the hug from one of my kids, an email from a stranger, or a random act of kindness from someone to set my path straight again.

Tyson turned two this month. It is so hard to believe how much he has grown. Time really did fly by. He went from being a tiny little 3 week old baby who was very sick and who slept on my chest to a crazy, fearless, and handsome little boy who still loves sleeping in my arms. He has changed in so many ways but I am so happy that he is still a mama's boy. He has come so far. It is ironic that I named him "Tyson".. Because he sure is a little fighter.

Our four new kids are settling in great. Sabrina is four years old and full of attitude but loves to dance. Lunda is 3 years old and has the most contagious personality and has the cutest giggle, she loves to play "mommy" with the younger ones. Jeanly is 9 years old and you can tell he is so happy to be here, he is literally bouncing off walls and soaking up any affection he can get. He asked me the other day if he can "stay here forever" and when I bought him a new mattress for his bed he told me he has never had his own bed before. Baby Emilio is already starting to grow. His favourite place to sleep is on my chest and he loves digging his face into my neck. I was trying really hard not to get attached to him... I think it's too late for that.

Today we are taking six of our boys to my friend Jason's house for a pool party. The boys first time in a pool (other than Don and Wendel) was two weeks ago. My friend Tim from England offered them swimming lessons and we ate pizzas and drank some cold ice tea. They had the time of their lives. It is so fulfilling to watch them laugh and burst with excitement. It makes all the hardships worth it. This is why I am here. This is what I do what I do.

I keep thinking back to how this all began. Running a children's home was never in my plans. I never dreamed of caring for 14 children and taking on that responsibility at such a young age. If you would have told me my life would be like this four years ago.. I would have said "ya right" or "no way" and I probably would have ran in the other direction. I always wanted to help people and I always dreamed of having an organization where I could travel to do that. However, I never imagined this. Never. It's not a path I chose, I think it more or less chose me. When this journey began we were living in a tiny house in the country side with no running water, electricity, furniture, tires off of big trucks were flying into our yard where our kids play soccer, and I had only $500 in our bank account. We were constantly sick and our living conditions were horrid. For fun, I shot tarantulas and cockroaches with a BB gun or played catch with mangos. But despite all of that, we were still extremely happy. I learned to live with less. I learned to appreciate things and I noticed how much I had truly taken for granted. I learned that that lifestyle is actually when I feel whole as it forces you to do extreme soul searching and you begin to learn things about yourself that you never knew before. I learned so many things in that first year of living with less such as:

Clothing is only dirty if it smells and/or there are notable stains. Wearing clothing 3 days in a row is perfectly acceptable & strategic.

Vendors at the market automatically double the price for a white woman.

Using a machete is a fabulous arm workout.

Pick your moto driver based on their shoes. Closed toed and tidy say “hey, I am responsible and I don’t drive through big mud holes”.

Ants will eat through Tupperware.

Pimples look like mosquito bites to children… no kids, mosquitos didn’t attack my face, its’ your lovely humidity that’s doing this.

Letters are the sincerest form of communication.

Air-conditioning was the greatest invention in the history of the world.

So was the Ice Cube.

Also the toilet.

Cockroaches are immune to bug spray, insecticide, vinegar, bleach, and every home-remedy you can think of.

I love rain.

And then I hate rain.

If your food does not contain four cups of oil and five cubes of Maggie, then it isn’t edible.
Children will do absolutely anything for candy.

Placing your left hand behind your back while you bend down to sweep releases pressure and allows for a more effective stroke with the broom.

Celine Dion is a God here. Her heart will go on and on and on and on throughout the whole day and night, at max volume, and with no sympathy for anyone trying to sleep.

Palm wine is literally alcohol tapped straight from a tree.

Never drink the water.

Unless you want to be severely dehydrated and loose five pounds.

When a meeting is scheduled for 1 o’clock, it will start at 4 o’clock.

Moto exhaust pipes are on the right, so climb onto the moto from the left… unless you want an ugly calf burn like me.

And don’t hold onto the moto driver. It’s weird. And he will enjoy it too much and brag to all of his friends.

Candles are super fun and convenient for blackouts… romantic dinner for one?

Always bring toilet paper, a headlamp, and hand-sanitizer wherever you go.

Goats are not as cute as they seem at the petting zoo.

Ladies, if you plan to use tampons you had better bring a whack load because you will not find them here. And don't be surprised that when you throw out your bathroom garbage into the burn pile, people will find the applicators and play with them. No matter how many times you tell them not too.

Smile when you want to cry, and pray even if you don’t think anyone is listening.

We are much stronger and braver than we think we are. So much more resilient than we could ever imagine.

I say this a lot, but I truly mean it, we could not be here without such a great support system back home. We are so grateful for those whose partner with us through their ongoing support, encouragement, and finances. Back in Canada I have been working multiple jobs to try and continue to support the kids and to also pay my own bills and debts and it's been difficult to balance both but every time I think the money has run out and I start worrying how we will put food on the table that week, something, or better yet, SOMEONE always seems to come through for us. As I write this, I sit in a beautiful house we rent, we have rice in storage closet, the kids are eating cornflakes and milk, and they are growing stronger and healthier with each day that passes. I have been blessed abundantly. With everyone's help we are able to provide food, shelter, clothing, and all basic necessities to these children.. and most of all.. lots of love and affection that they are in desperate need, and so deserving of.

Right now our current "big" needs are:
- New battery for our generator ($150 US)
-Two new windows (kids broke playing soccer)
- Three fans (one for each of the kids rooms) ($60 US each)
- Crib or bassinet for baby ($100 US)
- Vehicle ($6,000 US)
- Rent for house for Sept 28 ($10,000 US)

If anyone wishes to learn more or to donate you can do so by visiting our website or email me at

Much love to everyone back home !!!