Sunday, June 9, 2013

June 9, honouring my heroes

June 9, honouring my heroes

It's 13°C and raining when we land in Toronto. What the hell am I doing here? 

I spent 12 days and 11 nights in hot, sunny, humid Port-au-Prince, a vital, hectic city in its third year of fragile recovery.  The struggle to take two consecutive steps forward without stumbling backwards is a historic and heroic one. Disease, colonization, slavery, civil wars, dictatorships, invasions, natural disasters are it's continuous cycles. 

But there are heroes everywhere:

- at a small private school in Delmas 19 just down the street from Wall's International guest house where I comfortably stayed.  It's operated by Edmond Joseph, a dedicated, outgoing 40-year-old school director who has focused the last 10 years of his life building his dream to educate young Haitians. His small, open classrooms hold the promise of Haiti's future, eager young minds seemingly oblivious to the heat, noise and sparseness of their lives and surroundings but determined on attaining the graduation certificates which will be their tickets to something or somewhere better. 

- at a tiny, well-kept orphanage with pink painted cement block walls in Cabaret outside Port-au-Prince, where Camille Otum, an ex-pat Haitian and her small band of volunteers from small-town Ontario have established a home for a dozen orphans aged one and a half to 12. It's as meagre a refuge as you can find but is validated by the kids who welcome their surrogate parents and visitors with kisses, hugs and bright, excited faces. A girl of seven or eight, in her best after school dress, instinctively holds her recently arrived baby brother on her hip, surrounded by siblings obviously proud to present their newest little family member. Healthy and hopeful, these kids, sustained by love and precious few resources, are also the promise of Haiti's better tomorrow's. 

- at the new, Haitian managed Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Institute, operated jointly by Healing Hands for Haiti and Handicap International where trained Haitians are providing physical therapy and fabricating custom orthotics and prostheses; and training students in internationally certified prosthetic and orthotic programs. It's bright orange walls surrounded by lush tropical trees and vegetation are in strikingly hopeful contrast to the neighboring mountain side slum (bidonville) that overlooks the facility.

- in Delmas 19 where Haitian work crews, having done with the earthquake rubble, earn the new minimum wage of $5US/ day making the new rubble of progress digging up the neighbourhood's old roadbed and laying down new in the brilliant, broiling 39C Port au Prince sunlight.

And there are my own heroes; reuniting with them was the greatest gift of this trip - Franz Noel (in the photo), Dr. Ben Nau and Antonio Kebreau, who worked with me before and after the earthquake as dedicated professionals with Healing Hands for Haiti, and as Haitians who love their country and reserve a special empathy for the 800,000 persons living with disabilities in their homeland. They and their colleagues do the greatest service to those in the greatest need. From them I have learned about friendship and loyalty; from Haiti, about myself and things larger than me.

Heroes making progress, progress making history. Can the orbits of disaster be nudged to avoid more collisions? Can the nation's DNA mutate enough so that this people, created by one of the worst failures of humanity, will be selected for survival, adapt for success and not become an abandoned orphan of human civilization. For fragile Haiti and its proud, resilient, survivors, extinction, I believe, is not an option.

Home now, with its comforts and regime; happy to have been briefly in the place I most like to be. Happy to think about and prepare myself to go back again. 

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