Friday, July 27, 2012

HAITI - Info and St. Vincent's School for the Handicapped & Orphaned

St. Vincent's is an Episcopal orphanage and home for the disabled and handicapped in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It is both a residential and a day school with a good medical clinic. They host between 200 and 300 children and residents range in age from five to 61. It was founded in 1945 by the sisters of the order of St. Margaret, an Episcopal order. The school is now under the Episcopal diocese of Haiti. There are caregivers on site and food, medical needs, and living quarters are provided, but the center is greatly underfunded. While they receive visitors throughout the year and members are selected for Camp Jake (of The Red Thread Promise), it is all they can do to provide for basic needs. They have medical, educational, and prosthetic programs at the school. Father Sedoni is connected to St. Vincent's, though he has a church of his own where he is rector.
The Episcopal Church in Haiti is large and had a presence at the 2012 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Diocese of Haiti is the Anglican communion diocese which is actually the entire country of Haiti. Holy Trinity Cathedral, located in Port-au-Prince has been destroyed six times, including in the most recent earthquake of 2010.
The current Bishop is The Right Rev. Jean-Zache Duracin.
Episcopal Relief and Development Foundation has more information on programs in Haiti and around the world.

While visiting St. Vincent's as a Camp Jake counselor this July 2012, we spent some time with our amazing campers (who showed us around), took some photographs of the facility, and also heard a wonderful men's choir practicing. Here is a YouTube link to a video of a portion of their rehearsal. 

This is the men's dormitory room:

This is the women's dormitory room:

Main hallway

Lovely doing laundry for the girls while talking to Diumenne

Here is a classroom. Small, but clean and organized.:

Here is another classroom upstairs

There is a good medical clinic there with several rooms, including one with exercise machine.

All in all, St. Vincent's Episcopal School is a haven in a broken city. It gives hope and resources to so many along with education and care. If you are Haiti, make a plan to stop by this place and greet the residents here or in another school or orphanage. 

You can also find St. Vincent's on Facebook at: 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Haiti: Final Days of Camp Jake

So, the final days of the camp were definitely the best days because the kids were opening up, getting to know us well and we, the counselors, were getting to know their likes and dislikes as well as develop both a routine of activities and continue new fun surprises for them. Wednesday and Thursday included The Lion King film in French which proved to be a big hit, a massive art project of painting the masks that Kelly Andrews had done of each camper, spa time with DeeDee, Shawn, Jake, Tom, Ana, Laura, Casey (and more?), some valuable pool & beach swimming time, super fun face painting (by counselors and also letting the kids paint our faces and arms!), and nail painting time.

The Spa time for our campers is such a neat idea. Aveda donated materials, chapstick, calming & energizing massage oils etc. to the camp. Each camper was brought in for some relaxing music, a foot massage, some massage therapy if needed with Jake, a facial, and a generally relazing and special time for all. Some of them were so relaxed that they cried and some actually fell asleep. It was a treat, something that they will remember for a long time. Each camper was taught that taking care of oneself is important, instructed on how to care for their skin, and given some Aveda lip balm to take home.

In the last couple of days, there were some awesome music times as well. Once, we were so hot from playing around the bar and pool area that we decided to take music down to the beach where we had gone the previous day. So, we lugged instruments, led our blind campers, wheeled chairs down there and set up in a circle. Not five minutes had passed before it started to sprinkle and then.........DELUGE! It POURED rain on us as we scrambled to make sure that each camper was not getting wet.....but they were getting wet as the circular veranda area didn't have that much cover to reach enough beyond the chairs. Laughing, we all got into the very center of the veranda and tried to sing ("Singin' in the Rain"). Then, what I can only assume was a microburst of rain literally fell out of the sky sideways and drenched us even more and began to pick up lounge chairs and toss them about. It made me think "I wonder if this is what a tornado feels like", Ha!
Here is a picture of us in the rain, singing....

I realize I've mostly written about daily camp activities and that's fine, but one thing that I also wanted to write about last week was the campers "coming alive"

One thing that struck me from the very beginning is that this Camp Jake experience is a hallmark of our young campers’ lives. They range in age from 5 to 61. About a third are blind, a third are deaf, and there are many in wheelchairs. There were initial big smiles as they descended from the buses, but it took a day or so to see some of them truly opening up and letting their personalities out. They were so much fun!! They are a vibrant and sparkling group. I have trouble with any country or government that feels anyone with any disability is a “waste of life” or "untouchable". Our campers were AMAZING. I loved to see how they help each other and look out for each other. I also loved seeing them become more open with us during the week, teasing us, or speaking out in group activities. I learned that the average life expectancy in Haiti is 56 so Jimmy, our blind 61-year old accordionist in the group is almost an anomaly. I'm not sure how a school can afford to keep everyone that comes their way, but I'm gratefuI the orphanage is there and didn't turn people like him away. I also found that many of those in Haiti who have any education at all only have up to about 5th grade. Many of the campers are super smart, but they lack the broad spectrum of educational challenges and opportunities to which they should be exposed. They shut down for many reasons. I imagine that they spend a lot of time to themselves or in small groups and this camp is the social lottery of a lifetime. I know there is a choir at their school and thank goodness because that will help those folks to gain a needed sense of community and interaction. St. Vincent's is lucky because they do have lots of visitors during the year and some folks to help them out. 
I noticed that my three blind girls, Jesula, Rosaline, and Rosana basically sat to themselves at first - until they were engaged by me or another camper or counselor. When they spoke, they spoke softly. It was through music that they usually became outgoing, especially when it reached a certain height and attracted them by including some choral music. They also opened up enough to try swimming even though they were very scared of it. I saw one of them go in the pool by herself on the final full day! Little Oxilus (left) engaged others in sign language, smiled, giggled, and acted like a normal five-year-old boy. This was incredible because the counselors who had seen him before said that he did not engage at all the last time they saw him.
I saw several other kids literally coming alive here when one of the counselors spoke to them or picked them up and swirled them into the air. Little Diyana in her wheelchair STOOD UP at one point during one of the crazy music jam sessions and she was wiggling a little dance. We all went nuts. Tonight, Sonya held little Auguste in her arms and he stood up out of his chair and smiled and just hugged her back super strongly and stroked her face and arms. What is his future? Who knows what this will be? It’s hard knowing that he may go back into his silent self when we leave. Some of the campers have been in the pool and ocean for the very first time, have painted for the first time, and have developed friends for the first time.  Some have had physical therapy that they've needed for ages and have been given tools and ideas to continue on their own. It’s weird to say you see any sort of progress in three days, but I think it is possible. Even some progress with us is heartwarming to see. As a result of their new experiences, I have been changed as well.

Haiti: Sunday/Monday

This post was intended for Sat and Sun but the Internet has been out since then b/c of lots of storms! It is, in fact, the raint season here! I must post it without pictures or video b/c it takes half an evening to email myself pictures etc. will update soon with both.

It’s POURING rain right now. Thank goodness! It is now at least 20-30 degrees cooler. I knew it was going to be a heavy and early rain this afternoon (instead of evening) due to the hotter than Hades temps during the first portion of the day. Sure enough, the clouds blew up in about 40 minutes from the Eastern mountains (singing hymn “From the Eastern Mtns”), met the warm sea air and 15 min from that the torrential rains began. It’s actually been raining for over an hour. It settled down a bit from the loud cracks of thunder, but has since picked back up with the rain. I LOVE these storms. Beautiful lightning over the sea and cool winds to make you sway into a rain-accompanied coma
J I used to play in the pre-hurricane storms on Kiawah Island when we lived there and I don’t mind being drenched with sheets of rain here since I’m already drenched with sweat anyway. Since we are all on break, I thought I’d write about the adventures from yesterday and today.

Sunday, after our counselor meeting, downing some strong coffee, getting everyone ready, and breakfast, we had a service in the Salle Karay room at the resort.  Gregory, one of our translators was to preach and I was to lead the liturgical portion of the service and add some music. I knew my iBCP iPhone app would one day come in handy! Also, I’m glad I brought the Episcopal Hymnal, just in case. It was a short service, but many of the campers had been asking on Saturday and at breakfast on Sunday whether or not we were going to have church so we decided it would be appropriate. After all, they are from St. Vincent’s Episcopal School for the Handicapped and Orphaned and asking about services. Before the service, we did some music….jamming time. We started inthe lobby and paraded down towards a bungalow. Claves, the cajon drum, shaker eggs, boomwhackers, and some great singing. Mackenson, one of the caregivers, plays guitar and knows a wealth of songs. After I led them in Louez le Seigneur, he got them started on some Haitian praise songs and they went nuts with joy!
For the service, I opened with a welcome and prayer and then a morning collect. Then, I moved on to a song and asked Andrew to lead us in Amazing Grace with his guitar. Most of them knew the melody. It’si nteresting that if you don’t pause to give specific directions, they will start immediately with singing and later started right away with the Lord’s prayer. We had to remind them to wait a moment. Next, we said the creed responsively and with translation. I had selected various lines from the Prayers of the People Rite II and then made up several lines about being thankful for the beautiful sunshine, for friends, for this camp time together, for those who aren’t feeling well and for those who had gone on before.
[aside] Let me say a few words about folks not feeling well. We have several campers who have gotten upset stomachs because they simply are not used to eating from a buffet line and once they discovered how much they could have, decided to eat three plates of food before we could warn them to slow down! They are not used to plentiful plates and I guess they feel like they had better eat all they can. Their school takes good care of them, but by no means do they have the resources to provide anything near what this hotel can do, nor the extras like popcorn, so much fruit juice, or cookies. They’re kids though and I feel like they should enjoy these things while they can, within reason of not getting tummyaches.
Back to the service - To end my portion of the service, we said Lord’s prayer - everyone in their own language and we finished all together. Gregory, one of the counselors/translators, preached using some references from Genesis, Ephesians, and Romans. To sum up (and paraphrase) - He spoke of the Loas and God existing on the Earth together and then there could only be one with breath so along came Adam, made in God’s image. Even though he was in God’s image, all deformities, deafness, and weaknesses came from Adam and not from God. Then he spoke of how Jesus was sent. He spoke of believing in God and Jesus (but not the Trinity). He used several references and did a good job speaking. His words were translated into English by Jonas and into ASL by Laura who is one of the most excellent signers I’ve ever seen. She’s very facially animated, super friendly and fun.  After Gregory finished, I closed with “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God” #711 which they really liked because it’s easy and you can sing it in a canon. After the service, we had music time until it was film time.
For lunch on Sunday, the wonderful hotel staff arranged for our whole group to eat lunch on the beach under a GIANT tree. It was fabulous and I think the kids really liked it (except for the fire ants at the end –they were getting on the bread and anything that had fallen on the ground under the tables!)
Next, it was swim time and my girls did not want to go into the ocean so we all talked upstairs for a while. Hre is a picture of them in their FABULOUS t-shirts! :-)
After break time and dinner, the kids finished the movie and we all went to bed.
I woke up to the sound of footsteps outside the door. I raised the slats slightly and saw three men with machetes chopping tree branches and some weeds…seemingly at random. The area is quite overgrown so I wasn’t sure why they were diligently chopping in odd spots……They went away after a while. Today was long, but I thought it went well! After our sweltering breakfast, we broke into groups andmusic ended up on the beach until noon. It was about 16 campers with Andrew, me, and Casey. Here is a pic of Casey working with Diyana on how to hold and play a Cabasa.
After explaining to them in French that we were going to demonstrate things and take turns, Andrew began by showing them each instrument: cabasa, claves, triangle, etc. and how to play it in two ways. They did it and then passed each instrument to the next person. The structured time was mixed with free “jamming” time.  He did a fabulous job of it all and Casey helped pass the instruments out and engage each person.
After lunch, it POURED rain for a good long while. The internet went out and the water system backed up so several folks had brown or pink-ish water in sinks & showers. My girls made it to their room just in time for the downpour. Later, we watched a film: The Smurfs in French. It wasn’t the old animated smurfs I had seen before. The kids enjoyed it though and after this, I played checkers with JoJo, an amazing artist with no arms or legs. He beat me terribly and then we went to dinner. After dinner, it was music time. Casey and Andrew did another amazing job with everything. I got my three blind campers tosing their beautiful chorale and it was a hit. Here are a few links to short video examples of their singing that I uploaded to YouTube:

Jesula, Rosaline, and Rosana singing:

It was hard to make everyone ready to listen to some slow, soft, a cappella choral music. Not only was it hard to quiet the other campers who didn’t understand what was happening, it was hard to get the three shy girls to sing when everyone seemed in such a hurry. Finally, they began and it was well worth the wait. It was this experience though, that solidified the fact that I am a fish completely out of water with most non-Classical, popular tunes. I barely know the words to tons of songs and even though I may love them, I seem to always need sheet music with me that also includes the words. I wish I had brought a book of praise songs because that is what this group of campers really sinks their teeth into. There was a time when I could not stomach the vast majority of 80’s praise songs. Now, I see their value and I like some of them. I know a few by heart (not many) and luckily, we are a great music team so my singing part is only a portion of things. We made music until about 10 p.m. and sang them to their door with a "Goodnight Song" that Casey made up. Everyone went to bed laughing!
Other news today: A new counselor joined us today. His name is Howard, aka "Panda" and he is a photographer for the Physicians for Peace organization and will be taking photographs of the camp this week. Another mission group (from Indianapolis) arrived today and will be staying here at the Kaliko Bay area. They are working on finishing touches to new buildings that their church helped build, including a hospital.
Another great day with some great people. J

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Haiti: Day Four - Ocean Swimming & More!

Today, we got our campers up early and served them breakfast. Each counselor takes time with certain campers and then we all check and see what they need in terms of eating help, drinks, dessert etc. Most of the kids have their friend groups and tend to stick together. It s amazing to watch how some of them help each other and which kids act like parents to the others. I'm not sure if I mentioned this in the first blog post, but they are all from St. Vincent's School for Handicapped Children on the other side of Port au Prince and I think many of them are orphans - either by happenstance or by parental neglect. Next, we split up into groups. Some moved to the pool area where a group was beginning to play some music, my group went to the beach and batted around a GIGANTIC red ball. It’s huge and they all loved it. For the blind campers, it was fun to get into a circle and call each other’s name out so they’d have a head’s up for the big ball. Their smiles are priceless!
Then, some of us went to another area on the beach where there was a basketball court. Laura and Casey played basketball with a few children in wheelchairs while Jesula, Mackenson, Roseline and I sang songs with the guitar and Casey came to help play. They knew some Episcopal hymns and then we listened to them singing some Haitian praise songs and gospel. It was beautiful! One of the songs was “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” made into a gospel song. Next, a bunch of us ended up by the pool area and did music for two more hours. The cajon drum box got lots of play and there was an older gentleman with an accordion who has a great ear and would pick up anything Casey played on the guitar. There was some wonderful art going on upstairs, some folks were playing UNO and Dominos, and down at the beach a small group was chilling out by the sea. Since it was extremely hot and everyone became super exhausted after a while, we all went down to the water’s edge to sit under the shade of a tree. Very nice time together.
At lunch, Sonya went around to each table and gave an Episcopal blessing in sign language and speech. After lunch was a little down time and I actually slept for 30 minutes. Around 3:30, we got all of the campers out of their rooms again and down to the shore. It was time for swimming in the ocean. As for me, I used to live at the beach and had different years where I’d be all about ocean swimming and then some years were filled with stepping on horseshoe crabs, baby hammerhead sharks, and slimy things. (Once, I had gotten up enough courage to slip off the raft I was using and just before I did this, I noticed a GIANT jellyfish bobbling over towards me. Aaaaagh!) So, today I was a little afraid, but since I was leading two blind girls into the pool and everyone else was also getting in, I decided to suck it up and get in. I stayed in for about 25 minutes with them and we did have fun. Then, I saw a small white jellyfish and decided I was done. The girls wanted to sit in the surf and said they were ok so I checked around and then went up to the veranda area to guard stuff and keep an eye on the campers still on land.
It was fun to be in the ocean at first and it sure felt great in the heat, I admit, but I’m still a bit nervous about it. Oh well, I tried. I don’t know what exact temperatures we’ve had, but I can verify that it is officially close to 1,000 degrees in the shade.

(Jesula, Mackenson, and Roseline singing)
Tonight, I tried conch for dinner....sort of sauteed. It tasted like chicken with a slight aftertaste of some kind of Asian sauce.

After dinner, we gathered the campers around the pool area and did some great music for an hour and a half! Got them all to their rooms and then I was happy to be able to swim under the stars for a little bit. My back is hurting so it helped a bit. Another great day with great people. J

Friday, July 13, 2012

Haiti Day Three - Campers Arrive!!!

Today has been an extremely exciting and rewarding day, right from the beginning! We got up and met at breakfast around 8 a.m. Then, we made lunch for the campers and made sure that their new surprise bookbags were filled and ready. Extra Swim suits and other items were located in case any of the campers didn’t have one. Then, we waited. No one was sure exactly when they would arrive until we learned when they had left St. Vincent’s. I heard a bus!!!! Here it came, down the rocky hill and into the hotel area. The first bus had the wheelchair-bound campers. We formed a little music group and welcomed each student as they got off the bus. As they were being lowered down the ramp, I wish you could have seen the smiles on their faces!! It was worth this entire trip. They recognized familiar counselors and were SO HAPPY to see all of us. The joy was incredible. I found myself shedding plentiful tears and was super glad for my sunglasses to hide it among the giant river of sweat coming down my brow. These young people are beautiful and charming. This is a bright spot in their life, this camp. What an absolute honor to be able to be a part of something that will honor them and let them know they are loved and perhaps end up changing their lives. To be treated like a normal person in a normal place with loads of fun and lots of love – this is what it should be all of the time. More tears. Then, I realized I wasn’t the only one and that everyone was moved. It was an amazing moment.
After getting the campers off both buses, we all went into the “Oval Office” – a main organizing room that was rented for the week. Once we got everyone inside, Tom talked about plans for the day and week. Then each counselor introduced themselves and told where they were from.  After lots of clapping, it was time to eat lunch so we went down by the pool and shared a meal together. Many were able to eat lunch without help, but some needed the counselors to help a bit.
After lunch, it was time to get baggage to each room and get them settled in. In my charge are three lovely blind girls named Roseline, Rosana, and Jesula. They speak Créole, understand about 75% of my French, and Jesula knows some English. I have to say that finding their bags was a challenge, as they weren’t marked on the outside. Each girl had a piece of cloth in the back zippered pocket and they recognized their bags that way. Then, leading them carefully among the sloped walkway, while pulling their luggage was a challenge – as were navigating the stairs, BUT I did it and was also able to help pull a wheelchair (with camper in it) upstairs.  We were given time to orient them to the room, explain that we would all be going swimming soon and then go change ourselves. Doing this, we led them down to the resort pool and explained pool rules. Then, everyone went swimming and when I say they enjoyed it, that would be a severe understatement. Some of them were afraid of the water at first.....but I think if I did not have any arms or could not use my body to walk or stand, I would also be afraid. After a few minutes and some pool toys - along with each counselor helping to hold them afloat, they were enjoying themselves.

After some down time, we met for dinner. Then, Andrew and Casey started some music time with a fantastic box called a cajon and a guitar. Tom brought a giant bag of percussion instruments which were passed out so everyone could play.The whole group sang and danced. Then, we moved the music out by the pool and sang until the lightning got too close for comfort. We just barely beat the rain and moved upstairs to our main meeting room where we did music for another two hours or so. I taught them three easy songs and they sang beautifully! Being an Episcopal school, I brought a hymnal 1980 which I'll pull out later in the week. I started with "Father We Adore Thee" which they already knew, moved to Louez le Seigneur, a Cameroon processional which they loved and harmonized to. Then, we sang Siyahamba, a easy South African song. They are excellent at Call & Response and harmonize well. Casey did a rhythm game with them, Gregory sang some popular songs they knew, and Andrew used the cajon to get them energized and involve them in rhythm. After we walked them to their rooms, we had a staff meeting and went over some ideas fro tomorrow. The group is such a nice one and we all have been able to share ideas, to joke around, to laugh, to get hard things done, etc. so far. Looking forward to the rest of the week!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Haiti: Day Two - Preparations

Today began around 8 a.m. for me….some others got up earlier to eat breakfast, but as I’m not much of a morning person, I opted for the extra hour of sleep J At our first meeting today, we began immediately to organize supplies, snacks, toys, school items, clothing, medical, and spa items for the kids who will be our campers. I was awestruck by the quantity of what people were able to bring: whole suitcases of shoes & socks, art supplies, musical instruments so each camper can participate, balloons, toys, tons of kinds of snacks, materials for the spa day they will experience, and much more. Many items were donated by people or organizations, but many were brought by the Red Thread Promise counselors.
After a break, we went back into the meeting room and learned how to operate the walkie/talkie units – that was fun….lots of interesting code names have sprung up during the day. Then, Matt read us the names of the campers to which we will be assigned. It was amazing to hear past counselors talk about each camper, sharing things such as: how to pronounce their name, age, their abilities, habits, funny stories, games they liked, and more. It was heartwarming and you can really tell that they care about these kids very much. It was evident that true relationships had been formed - tears were shed when talking about their young friends. We are here to make a difference and to establish trust and love and to show them that we aren't just coming to drop off supplies and then walk away. We all can’t wait until they get here tomorrow and to play with them!!!
Then we went around the resort facility to see where wheelchair accessibility is, talked about pool safety, beach safety, and who to call for various needs. Some of the campers will have caregivers with them from St. Vincent’s, as they are wheelchair bound, have prosthetic limbs, have issues eating and/or wear undergarments that may need changing. Almost all of them will have some hearing deficit and many are blind. So, I am planning music activities accordingly. In one of the meetings, we talked about art and the projects that art therapist Kelly will do. Then, we moved on to music and I gave various ideas. Andrew is the main music counselor and Casey (athletics) will help us – he even brought his guitar. We will use Boomwhackers, all sorts of percussion instruments, and I brought a boombox (to leave with them) and about 30 CDs of all sorts. I know that we will treat the campers to a relaxing spa treament day at the end of next week. I think it was also decided that we will offer a giant dance night at the end of the camp! Fun!
I helped make nametags with Kelly during the afternoon and right now, we are on free time til dinner. After dinner, we will have one more meeting. The kids show up tomorrow at 9 a.m. and it will be a joyful chaos while we get them settled in. I’m told our hours will be about 7 a.m. til 11 p.m. “on” so that we’d better take advantage of today so I am blogging now (to post after dinner), then going to go swimming, sit in the shade of a tree down on the beach, and maybe read a little bit. I am definitely in withdrawal from following and contributing to the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, but every now and then when I can check the internets, it makes me feel good and connected to do so.
Here is last night's sunset, post-storm. Man, Oh man! It POURED tonight as well. The internet was out for a portion of today and I never got in the water after all. No worries, we're all in the open-air lobby area listening to Casey and Andrew play guitar and sing. It's nice and everybody's relaxed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Haiti: First Impressions

Well, I must mention that after a 19-hr day followed by a 22 hr day, I made it - along with the rest of the team for The Red Thread Promise's mission to work with the students of St. Vincent's Episcopal School. I cannot wait to meet the kids! I think they will have a BLAST with all of the super fun activities we are planning. The entire team is vibrant, has a great sense of humor, and the talents are diverse and plentiful. They are insightful and thoughtful people who care deeply for what they do and for this project and for Haiti. Many are fluent in sign language and some practice social work on a regular basis. I will share the music adventures with Andrew Richards, the brother of Camp Jake's namesake (Jake Richards) who is very ill right now with Duchenne MD.

First impressions of Haiti are varied. Today was hard, VERY hard. I have been to many places (Bulgaria, Brasil, Argentina, Jamaica, Poland, and Romania to name a few). Sometimes, I've run into extreme poverty and seen failing infrastructure, roads, and economy, but Haiti is different because IT'S EVERYWHERE. The place where we are staying is a beautiful resort hotel and a very isolated spot in the midst of an area of abject poverty and periodic tent cities. The place is gorgeous and reminds me a little of the Zlatni piasaci (Golden Sands) in Varna, Bulgaria.....a bit dated, crumbling walkways, but insanely cool pool and beach areas and landscaping. Even what we'd call the entry road into the place is terrible.
Before passcontrol, I ran into Anne Pilot from Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, SC - HOW RANDOM! She saw my Episcopal t-shirt and said "Episcopal!" and I smiled and asked her where she and her group were from. Then, I noticed she looked quite familiar (briefly wondered if ANY Americans would be familiar at this point)and realized WE KNEW EACH OTHER!!
Then, our group got our baggage together, avoided all the "helpful" baggage sharks, watched in 92 degrees (felt hotter) as all our 40+ bags were put into a small pickup truck. Then, we stuffed ourselves into two small, old vans and drove about three hours to this resort. We stopped at a store where we were hoping to get water, but they did not have any bottled water so we moved on to what some counselors knew as a familiar gas station and got water and Cokes.
That Coke was like HEAVEN.
Along the entire drive, we passed tent city after tent city, people walking about slowly, some selling fruit on the ground, some selling mattresses, some selling sugar cane sticks from baskets on their heads. There were people bathing at every dirty river water opportunity. From the air, one can see all of the huge mudslide areas that basically closed down some flowing spots for some rivers. Still, people will use the water where it comes out and for just about everything. People were bathing in it, animals standing in it, and trash flowing through it. What broke my heart about the tent city areas was the children. There were children, VERY young children walking all through some piles of trash and among animals loosely tethered to a tree beside the side of the road. They were mostly by themselves. It was very disheartening, but the culture is used to it here I suppose and seeing it so many times makes me think that it may not bother them like it would us visitors.

After seeing everything I did today, I must say it feels a little weird to eat a nice meal and to go swimming. It really makes you take stock of what you have. From the bars of soap, toilet paper, a chair, shoes, and so much more, most of us cannot fathom being without modern comforts, no matter how small. The fact that we are very far from a hospital or store is a little disconcerting. No one is on the roads after dark.  Tomorrow, our real work begins with finalizing planning on activities with the kids and schedules etc. I will write more at that time - I'm fading fast and the internet is intermittent so photos are taking a ridiculously long time to post. For now, I say goodnight with a hope for Haiti in my heart.
Here is a link to my facebook album of pictures from today:

Monday, July 09, 2012

#GC77 and Social Media

I'm sending this in from New Orleans in hopes that it will be helpful in the testimony for Resolution DO69 regarding the Social Media Challenge to the Episcopal Church.

I believe it to be 100% necessary that we in the Episcopal church as staff, clergy, and congregants, engage ourselves and our communities by using social media. It's usually free, it's usually rapid, and it can be fun and informative. Can many of you fathom doing business without using email? Often, social media is checked more frequently than email.

Yes, we must take the good with the bad, we must also discern how often to use social media and when to put down phones and "Be still". It is a challenge, but I accept it!

Just from this #GC77 Twitter stream and Media Hub, I have learned more about the inner workings and procedures of the Episcopal Church in four days than in my entire life. I've been able to participate in conversations with people of all ages, genders, opinions, and in many levels of church life. Relationships are being formed that are affecting me positively in my faith and theological development. I am inspired by witnessing this convention and its activity.

I have watched both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops and worship services. What has it done? It has inspired me, made me more proud than ever to be an Episcopalian - we're the ones who are willing to discuss, to argue, to challenge. Social media provides another language with which to communicate.

It has been only through Twitter and the Steaming media that I have learned:
- Our youth are aware and articulate in their spiritual growth - perhaps more than anyone gave them credit before and that we now realize that they are the future - right now.
- I'm learning that our church is NOT dying.
- I saw that Bonnie Anderson is a gracefully eloquent speaker who radiates friendliness - "Madam" Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori has a stellar sense of humor and is completely amazing
- Whoever runs @iamepiscopalian is kind, quick-witted
- Lent Madness is superb and educational
- Church Publishing is approachable, responsive and has swag (just ask them about #totebagenvy)

The aforementioned items may seem silly, BUT I truly feel as if I have gotten to know a tiny bit about the bigger picture....the interactive picture of our church that I have not seen or felt in a long while. As a musician, I often get bogged down in my own conducting / singing  world and colleagues. Through social media, I now have a much wider view of the functioning Episcopal Church to which I belong....all in four days. For me, at this time in my life, this is exactly what I needed at this moment.

Caroline in NOLA

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Going to HAITI on Wednesday, July 11

Ok, I'm headed to HAITI this Wednesday if I can ever get it all done. First, all day advising and symphony rehearsal Monday night. Tuesday features work at St. Paul's and the New Orleans Summer Chorus presents a concert: "Of Cows, Cats, and Roses". Then, I can concentrate on Haiti. I'm a bit nervous about Malaria issues there, but I have dutifully stocked up on OFF clip-ons and a bazillion refills. Here is some basic info about my trip below from a press release...Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers: our team of counselors, the staff, and most of all the precious young people with whom we will be working. Here is a link to my previous blog post about the trip. It features some more info, photos, and a YouTube video about the Red Thread Promise.

St. Paul's Music Director Goes to Haiti

Dr. Caroline Carson (pictured at left), Director of  Music at St. Paul’s Episcopal and Director of Choral Studies at The University of New Orleans, has the chance of a lifetime this July 2012. While she has traveled internationally and taught overseas in academic situations, Caroline jumped at the opportunity to go to and make a difference in the lives of others in a non-tourist location: Port-au-Prince, Haiti with the Red Thread Promise ( ). She applied and was accepted.
Why Haiti? Moving to New Orleans after Katrina and seeing the city re-grow over the past six years has helped her witness what a determined community can do with each others’ help. Working at St. Paul’s Episcopal for the past four years and volunteering with The Homecoming Center’s seniors program has shown her many opportunities for service and introduced her to the movers and shakers of service in New Orleans. After Caroline learned about the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she heard about The Red Thread Promise's work there. She wanted to do something….so she and the members of Inconspicuous 8, a local professional women’s choir, gave a benefit concert for the organization and its work. Since that time, she has kept a close eye on happenings in Haiti and approached Kathy Korge Albergate (President of The Red Thread Promise) and her husband, Rev. Dr. Scott Albergate (rector of St. Paul’s) about applying for the trip this July. Caroline is the second person from St. Paul’s to go to Haiti with the organization. The first was Mr. John Joseph, Sexton of St. Paul’s, in January 2011. In talking to Caroline about the trip, she says:I’m absolutely thrilled to go and I know our team will have a blast with the kids. I believe it’s equally important to put your time where your mouth is when you say you want to make a difference…and I believe volunteering is something we all need to try and find time for.”
Camp Jake is an annual summer camp designed to meet the special needs of handicapped children from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The team consists of 16 counselors and one photographer who will be working with 44 campers—who are blind, deaf or non-ambulatory - for a week on the Haitian coast. The children are from St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children. The camp removes physical and emotional barriers, giving participating children the chance to engage in creative arts, as well as physical and social activities under the supervision of a team of volunteer counselors, artists, musicians, mentors and healthcare professionals. Photo at left of Diana in her new all terrain wheelchair donated by Episcopal Church Women across the US.
"The concept for Camp Jake was inspired by my 13‐year‐old nephew, Jacob Richard, who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative terminal illness,” said Tom Landry II, director of Camp Jake and a member of The Red Thread board. “Our camp will bring Jacob's selfless, energetic spirit to the orphaned children of St. Vincent's. We believe every child deserves the most life has to offer, regardless of disability, class, race or circumstance. Camp Jake will assure that physical limitations are left behind and replaced with endless opportunities for emotional and physical development in a fun-filled atmosphere."
                                             (left to right) Dieumene, Danika and JoJo

The Red Thread Promise (TRTP) is a not‐for‐profit organization whose mission is to provide hope and healing for needy and orphaned children—children who have no one to advocate for them and cannot advocate for themselves. Our program exists to improve the quality of life for these children. We provide them with the treatment they need so that they can each lead a life with dignity, health and hope. Find us online at Follow us on Facebook: The Red Thread Promise or on Twitter: @trtpromise
Photos by Al Laus