june 2014 visit.

Published June 2014.

joy. peace. hope.

I am just 22 days out from taking an incredible group of friends to Haiti…many for their first time.  We have plans to listen, to see, and learn…to provide day camp for our schoolkids…to converse with our adult English students…to consider the addition of a fourth classroom…to encourage our staff.  We will show up.

As final details are being completed, my thoughts wander between excitement, worry, and anticipation. This is a place that means so much to me…and to share that with my pals is just a bit overwhelming at times. My sis and her family will be joining in this adventure too…bringing their Haitian sons to their birth country, for their first return trip. I am thrilled to be experiencing this with them.

While the things on my to-do list include planning lessons, coordinating details with staff on site, researching the best sites to visit…the reality of locals has changed recently with the outbreak of the chikungunya virus.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haitian health authorities will distribute pain medication to clinics around the country amid a surge in suspected cases of a mosquito-borne virus that is new to the region, a government official said Friday.

More than 5,500 suspected cases of the chikungunya virus have been reported in Haiti, up from 1,500 cases a week earlier, Public Health Minister Florence Guillaume said.

There is no vaccine for chikungunya and the primary treatment is pain medication for the high fever and arthritis-like ache in the joints that are symptoms of the illness.  The illness is rarely fatal though there have been deaths associated with chikungunya among people who are elderly or who have an underlying medical condition.

As reported by the Canadian Press on Global News.

We will take precautions, wearing our insect repellent, sleeping under mosquito nets at night, and bringing plenty of acetaminophen.  We will pray.  And we will remember that we are visitors.  Our students and their families live with this risk day in and day out, with minimal resources for easing their pain – intermittent electricity, limited water supply, lack of funds for purchasing pain meds. Join me in praying the truth of Romans 15:13, that our God fills the hearts in Haiti with joy and peace and hope, as they battle yet another crisis.

school kids.

Field trips, class parties, graduations…another school year is coming to an end.  My cousin’s wife (also a teacher) has been posting a daily countdown of the days remaining.  Some have finished, some classes end tomorrow (shout out to my Woodbury pals!) and those of us in SPPS will be continuing on through Monday.

I think about our students in Haiti, taking final exams, hoping and praying to pass to the next grade level…thankful for the noon meal…grateful for the opportunity to attend class.  We have 47 adorable littles, attending class in the heat, at risk for the chikungunya virus. In just 10 days, I will be boarding a plane with some of my dearest family and friends to visit these kiddos!  We will run day camp in the morning and visit other sites and non-profits in the afternoon.  My heart is full just thinking about this journey.

Take a look at these sweet faces…and keep them in your thoughts and prayers!

student sponsors.

Not quite a year ago, the decision was made to keep the school in Haiti running…to raise financial support with fundraising events (5K, Crafts Direct Charity, a fun Wine and Cheese event, Apparent Project bracelets, Furniture Showcase sales) AND student sponsorships.  These dollars raised through the generosity of others pay for salaries, rent, textbooks, uniforms, propane, food, water…and other miscellaneous expenses that arise when supporting a primary school.  It has been a journey.  We have been blessed.

I peruse the sponsorship list and see family members [my parents, my sis, my daughter, a cousin], friends [from church, from college, from high school], co-workers [shout out to my Saint Paul Public School pals!]…and friends of friends.  I am humbled.  When we set out on this journey, we knew it would take a village…and I LOVE my village people! (Not the Y-M-C-A kind…but my people, hand-in-hand, in my little corner of the world!)

We asked sponsors to send a little message and photo to include in gift bags for the students.  There will be BIG excitement to share these treasures next week.

One of those letter/pic packs arrived in my mail today from an old high school pal of mine.  He and his fam wrote letters and drew pictures and sent photos to share with their student Eliakym. As I read the notes, tears fell…just thinking about this family in central Minnesota, loving this little boy on the island nation of Haiti…praying for him faithfully.  He gets to attend classes…in a uniform…with his textbooks…because of them.  God is good. Thank you Fasen family!

A week from today, I will be packing up these letters and hopping on a flight.  It is not too late if you want to send along a note or a photo…or a bottle of Tylenol (fevers are running rampant!)  Message me or leave a comment and I will get in contact with you.

Thank you dear village!

 

chimichanga…chick-fil-a…chikungunya.

Boarding our flight shortly…just want to share a snippet into the thinking of one of our travelers.  My niece Avalon has a chronic illness called Cystic Fibrosis, so when news of the chikungunya virus came to our attention, there was a bit of a frenzy in the decision-making around travelers at risk. Avalon being one of our main concerns. She will be traveling with her family – sharing in the adventure of reuniting her brothers to their birth country. She really did not want to miss this.

A phone call was made to a pulmonologist at the University of Minnesota who responded like this…

I have reviewed her file, researched the virus, and feel that you should not keep your daughter in a bubble.  This virus should not compromise her CF.  No worries. Safe travels.

So she will travel.  She will use precautions – Deet Insect Repellent, mosquito nets at night, insect repellent bracelet… She even considered bug zappers… Chances are pretty good that some of us will get the virus [fever, rash, intense joint pain.]  We are aware.  We are prepared.  It would be a big blessing to keep the virus away from this sweet girlie.

all the right people, in all the right places.

This team of family and friends here with me in Haiti are simply amazing. Let me think of all the adjectives to describe them, because I did freshen up on my grammar today, sitting in English class with the boys (reviewed simple past tense verbs this afternoon!) So, back to those adjectives. These travelers are patient, flexible, generous, compassionate, hard-working, humorous, creative, sporty, friendly, resourceful, kind… Yada, yada, yada. It is clear that each person here is right where God intended them to be! We have awesome teens connecting with kids, language barrier and all…we have crafters, entertainers, sporty spices and builders. Over 40 students traveled from station to station … wood was cut and mounted to add a classroom on the roof…our guitarist lead the school kids in song-and then worship for our team on the guest house rooftop patio…speeches were given to a crowd of 75+ English Institute students. Boys were introduced to new siblings…and another met with his birth family, having left Haiti over four years ago. The itinerary has changed multiple times…even since our arrival…but that is good. We are walking and trusting and seeing what God has for us tomorrow.

 

writers, actors, stylists, builders, and snackers.

Just letting the pics speak for themselves again today…writing sponsor letters, playing charades, styling hair, building the classroom, and an afternoon break at Epi’Dor.

 

emotions.

With a full schedule and a guest house full of people, I have not had opportunities to share many of my thoughts. Truth be told…my emotions feel intensified x100 this week. The gratitude I have and the deep tug on my heart strings is almost too difficult to explain.

These friends I have here in Haiti become like family…I LOVE these four boys…and care so deeply for the students, knowing them by name and longing to know their hopes and dreams.

Today we set up a table and the students met with an interpreter and one of our team to share letters, photos and small gifts from our sponsors. In return, they shared little bits of themselves in a reply letter. In the moment it was chaos….but in reflection it was quite extraordinary. These kiddos are something special….they expressed words of thanks…and “I love yous”…they shared glimpses into their lives of hide and seek, doing chores, eating mangos…promises were made to work hard and succeed. Yep, I was a bit emotional.

And the singing! Songs of praise, the national anthem, a very special solo by sweet Jefte. Again emotions.

We toured the Apparent Project and were awed by the vision and leadership displayed. The creative entrepreneurship that is allowing mothers and fathers the opportunities to earn a living and raise their children. Umm hmm. Tears.

Heart to heart conversations about life changing things…hugs and gentle pats on the back….worship on the patio with twinkle lights in the dark. Nothing quite like it.

And the joy. Laughter. Watching the interactions and relationships evolve. Impressed by the energy and positivity of this group of my fav people-living and learning together. Proud to be part of something that matters.

the spectacular spektak.

What a day.  Not really sure that I can even begin to articulate all that I saw and experienced today.  Our school hosted it’s first ever Spektak: (defintion) “a visually striking performance or display.”

Students arrived in their Sunday best.  Teachers had planned and prepared a fab program…waaaayyyy better than we could have ever imagined!  Decorations were hung…chairs were set out.  There was singing and dancing, skits and games….followed with refreshments.  The space was overflowing with complete JOY.  Kids were standing taller, parents were beeming, teachers knew that they had done well.  There were speeches once again, and words of thanks expressed.  We Americans left hot, exhausted and filled to the brim with pride.

Allow me to show you a glimpse into the events of the day.

thoughts from my sis.

My sister is stepping in today as a Guest Blogger, sharing her thoughts on our recent trip to Haiti.

Feel the love.

Flying into Port au Prince I had so many thoughts spinning through my head, but the heaviest on my heart and mind were my boys. How would this be for them as they took their first trip back to the country of their birth? (Eli having no memories, since he was so little when he came home, and JP having so many, since he lived there until he was 12.) As we landed at the airport, all the anxieties I had disappeared and I was just covered in peace. It was a peace that only could come from God. I felt at home and was so grateful that the boys were able to experience this huge part of who they are with their parents and sisters with them. I also was so grateful for the little village of people that we were traveling with. I could tell God had woven us all together to experience this trip together. The fact that our dear friends the Georges were there by our side in this country that means so much to us was priceless.  They were there when we began the process to adopt each of them,  prayed for them as we waited, and have  loved our boys unconditionally from the moment they met them. Also in our group of travelers were my sister’s dearest friends and their kiddos, who I have respected and adored…two of the families were excited to soon introduce their kids to their brothers who they would soon see!  Also in our group, was my precious niece Breelynn, who has such a heart for this country! Seeing her with her cousins in that airport, I was just so grateful that the week ahead they could all share together.  Leading our group was my sister who has truly become part Haitian, as her work with the school and teachers have brought her to Haiti numerous times to do the work that God has called her to do. She joked that she was tour guide/activities director (picture Julie from Love Boat) but not only did she keep us organized and everything flowing beautifully- she was the glue that held us all together. She was the heart and soul, the friend, the child advocate, the face of Kozefò, the communicator, the resource for the staff there, the spiritual guide, but most importantly to the boys and I she was an auntie. I believe her heart for this country started with a love for my boys. The way she has honored them by being a light in their country is something that we can never even begin to thank her for.  As we first all gathered at the airport ready for our adventure, I had no idea all that we would experience and how our hearts would swell. This trip has changed me in incredible ways, but mostly my heart as a mom.  Seeing the orphanage for the for the first time with JP and Eli by my side was priceless. Telling Eli all the stories that I remember of him there and hearing JP tell his stories of all his memories was precious.  They both loved being there among the kids and both seemed so joyful to experience this. JP was off right away-connecting with Rock-Papa Rico, chatting with the boys, talking to the cooks and Miss Nahomie, and checking out every nook and cranny. I was able to walk the neighborhood with JP and it gave me a glimmer of his life before I met him. We even spotted on a wood plank underneath one of the beds that JP had left his mark on years before, as JP was written over and over again in pen. I think seeing this space filled with classrooms and children in uniforms gave both of the boys such pride that there is life and hope and light in a place that they once called home.

Sadly, we don’t have any information about Eli’s birth family and I worried how my sweet Eli’s heart would be when we went to meet JP’s birth family. JP was so nervous and wasn’t sure that he wanted to go. He wasn’t sure what he would say and was worried about his Creole. He was able to process a lot of his feelings with Breelynn and really wanted her to come with us as we loaded up the van to see them. It was a long, hot, bumpy drive, but soon there was the vision of Guerline in her pink floral dress standing in the middle of the cavern covered road with a JP sized smile across her face. She jumped in the van, covered my cheeks with kisses and sat on my lap as we headed towards her home. We all piled out and hugs were given and the vision of her embracing JP warmed my heart. It was such an odd feeling. As JP’s mom, I just yearned for her to embrace him, to show him love and to prove to him that he is valued and loved by her. There is a respect and love that Guerline and I have for one another that is unexplainable.  We both know that JP is exactly where he needs to be, and we both want him to live the life that God intended for him.  Evelore was quiet and sweet, but  so excited to see her brother. Then little Fritz came out. He is 3 and JP had never met his half brother. He was quiet and shy, but JP surely made connections with him. JP seemed so happy, but yet nervous and not knowing what to do. He was heart broken that his oldest brother Junior was not able to be there. It is Junior that he had the most memories and closest bond. JP gave all the gifts out that we brought for them and we all looked through some pictures and then all of a sudden…Junior showed up!  It was pure JOY on JP’s face as he held his brother so tightly. Tears flowed and our hearts were full!  It was truly a reunion like no other and man do they look alike!  JP’s nervousness was gone and the rest of the visit was filled with fun and laughter and lots of love! As excited as I was for JP to be reunited with his brother, I worried about my sweet Eli as he was looking on and soaking it all in.  Eli adores JP and looks up to him and JP is the only brother he knows!  How would our little Woodchuck feel about it all? As all of this was going on, our witty little Eli was singing God Bless America and marching in a circle saluting. Oh that dude can bring JOY everywhere he goes.:)  There was a moment when Guerline took JP down the road to meet people in their neighborhood that I started to panic a little bit and think she better bring my boy back!   But, she was just a proud mama wanting to share him with all around. They came back and JP looked at me and said, ” Mom are you ready to go?” He was ready, he was grateful, he was happy.  A few days later, Guerline came back to the guesthouse to see JP before he left. She took 3 tap taps to come and see him. I have to say I was emotionally drained and not ready to have time with her, but was grateful that she took time to see JP. We sat and talked through some hard questions. It was very healing and yet so hard. She talked about how JP would hide in the mango tree, so that he wouldn’t have to go to the school, she talked about him causing trouble as a little dude, and when I asked her what she wanted to know about his life here she said she didn’t have any questions. That hit Scott so hard emotionally. I told JP to tell his mom how wonderful he was doing in school, how he plays soccer, basketball, and track. How involved he is in his church and how important his faith is to him. JP just shook his head no.   No matter how old you are or what your family situation is all you want is your parents approval and pride. Scott and I couldn’t be more proud of who JP has become and for the person he is!  What a privilege it is to be his parents!  Guerline told us at one point that night, “God knew JP’s destiny,” and she is “so happy that we are his family.” Hearing those words from her were a gift. God knew JP was supposed to be a Schlecht, and I am so incredibly proud to be his mom!

Nine years ago, as I walked up the steps of the airplane with Eli in my arms, bringing him home, I never would have imagined that his adoption would bring about a chain of “God-led moments” that brought JP home; Vaniesa and Sebee home; a school and feeding program started; my sister would be known as Madame Sara and she would know every student’s name, as well as their stories; a well-known English Institute would be created there; Stanley and Davensly would be coming home to Woodbury and Oakdale; friends and family would be sponsoring students to go to school there; we would witness a Spektak that was filled with songs, skits, speeches, dances, and creativity; that parents would come to celebrate their students; and that this group of people that I would travel to Haiti with would become family to me!

reflections: Kozefò Team Trip 2014.

It is just a little over a month ago that we traveled as a team to Port au Prince…and yet it already seems like a lifetime ago. So much was shared in such a short time – with the full range of emotions flooding our minds.  At the time, it was difficult to share many details, as we were simply living in the moment, savoring each interaction with each other and with the students and staff. Upon returning home, life picks up right where it left off…work demands, family needs…laundry, dishes and well…just life! So now, as I pause and reflect back, it is clear that God is orchestrating this entire adventure.  This was my 7th trip and with each one, I learn how little I know…my eyes are opened to something new each time.  I never really know what will be up next…and yet I wait…and I trust.

Here is what I do currently know.

All 46 current students are sponsored.

Generous donors are stepping up to provide daily meals and plenty of water for all of the students.

The rent of our building has been covered for the next 6 months.

The staff we have in place are amazing – God-loving, caring, passionate, creative individuals that keep things running.

Textbooks and uniforms are being ordered.

A classroom on the rooftop will allow us to open the door to 15-20 more students in the fall.

Another young student has joined us on-site full time, given circumstances that were keeping him from his full potential.

The Apparent Project and Heartline Ministries are organizations doing great things in Haiti and we will continue to support and promote their work.  (Haitian-made jewelry will be available for sale at the 5K…and the Heartline Guesthouse provided an awesome safe haven for us each night during our stay!)

Kozefò Board Members, family and friends are sharing their time and talents to keep this school operating.

I am completely humbled by it all. Take a peek into our adventures on this video (thanks to Graphic Design Intern Laura!) Consider joining us at the annual 5K happening August 9th! [Free t-shirts included if you sign up today!]  Contact me if you would be interested in sponsoring one of our new students – updates coming in September.  Thank you ALL for your continued support and encouragement.

Posted on June 11, 2017 and filed under June 2014 Visit.