Saturday, March 30, 2013

March Nou degaje

Greetings all,
Well, it’s getting hotter and hotter in Deschappelles. March, April and May are the hot months here, I’m told. In May, when the rains come, it gets even hotter, probably muggy with humidity. My in-house-weather-reporter, Marguerite (our house staff) says we will have anpil anpil chaleur (lots and lots of heat). In Haiti, there is an expression, “nou degaje” which means, “we make do” or “we get by.” We are getting real talented at ‘degaje.’ God is ever present here.

We have a breeze nearly every day and are thankful for that. On the days that are still, we remember those breezes. We turn on the fans, thankful that we have them and the power to run them. I have those little neckerchiefs that you soak in water and then keep in the fridge. They help me through the heat of the day and help me get to sleep at night. Nou degaje and we are thankful, Lord.

When we turn on the tap and have water, we are thankful. When we turn on the tap and don’t have water, nou degaje and we are thankful that we saved the tub of water sitting on the floor.  Since we are in dry season, we are thankful when we have water in the well. The strange thing is that the sewer is full…we are trying to be careful in using water sparingly, which is a challenge when it’s still 30 above at 10 o’clock at night and you’d like to just stand in the shower. Nou degaje and we are thankful, Lord.

When we turn on a switch and have electricity, we are thankful. The Delco is old and has a tough time charging the batteries in two houses now. Nou degaje and pray that we have enough power to allow us to have fans for the nights. Turning the switch back and forth from Delco to inverter keeps us hopping. We have uplugged anything and everything we don’t need; printer is only on when it’s needed, freezer has been unplugged and nou degaje with our fridge freezer. No microwave…takes too much power; no problem, as I was training myself to use it less and less…butter still melts in a pan on the stove, you know:)  Meat takes no time at all to thaw:P

When we turn on the computer and have internet, we are thankful. There’s no degaja for this one. We simply do without. Last week, the tower for the internet satellite dish fell down and it took all week to get it back up. Now we have no internet and this time, we’re not sure why. Getting the kids’ schoolwork sent in is a challenge. I try to phone my Mom through Skype once a week and Brad phones his Mom, but we pray they are not worried by this little gap in communication.

We have had propane consistently and are very thankful for a propane stove that does not depend on electricity. Do you know you can boil water on the stove and pour it through your coffee maker and still get coffee??? Nou degaje:) This oven makes great cinnamon buns and banana muffins. We are blessed!

We were thankful for hot water to do dishes and wash one load of whites per week. Too many nights of being dry…too late we discovered the hot water heater  was draining out when we turned the water off each night…and the element is gone. Back to degaje with the propane stove…amazing how little hot water we use here!

Each evening, when we sit down to supper, we are thankful for Marguerite who cooks and cleans for us. Tasty Haitian food is always waiting for us at the end of the day. There is more than enough work for her, so we continue to do simple things. We make our own beds, fold our own clothing, and keep our rooms tidy. I use the washing machine to wash clothes. Brad & I hang it the wet clothes up together and we do dishes together each evening. In our wedding vows, we vowed to work side-by-side for as many years as God gave us and we still enjoy our working side-by-side time. I often make lunch and Kaeli is beginning to take a turn at lunches too. We are thankful we have food and even though we went 3 weeks without going to a grocery store, we had our staples of rice, spaghetti, cornmeal, bread, chicken and ground beef. We are thankful.

Speaking of food...Karen often provides food to those less fortunate than us. She has Germaine buy rice, cornmeal, beans and gallons of oil. All the dry items are measured out into bags; 12 measures of rice, and 6 each of cornmeal and beans. Luckner will decide on the people to invite to come here to collect the measured gifts. We all lend a hand in the preparing and then the food is handed out to those who need it most.

Each day, I get to know the house mommies better and I am thankful for that. This is the real stuff of the work. I would love to share that I am thankful for each one, for their ability to work; cook the meals, sweep the yard, bathe the children, do the dishes, sweep the floors, wash the floors, braid the girls’ hair, wash the kids’ clothes, wipe noses, sing and pray in morning and evening devotions, iron the clothes, and still greet you with a smile every time you appear. I’ve probably missed some of the tasks they do. Please pray for Antoinette, Cifila, Leona, Magalie, Naomie and Yolene. They do this job, sleep overnight with the kids several days a week, and take care of families at home. It’s a big job and I am thankful for each one.

I’m thankful for the children and feel that I know them quite well by now. I have noticed leadership skills, I have noticed some with the ability to see what needs to be done and the work ethic to do it, and I see some who consistently have the ability to notice when a younger child needs some help. I see mischievous eyes, twinkling eyes, and sparkling eyes. I see eyes full of longing and eyes full of love. Please pray for Vladimy, JJ, Mo├»se, Djemima, Leica, Josee, Dieunel, Judel, Karena, Jofky, Anne, Sandra and Jonathan.  Jonathan is one and half, the youngest, and Vladimy is 17, the oldest. What a blessing it is to work with these children. We pray that we can help raise them up, that they might follow God’s will for their lives.

I’m thankful for the huge mango tree that stands outside our front door, with no less than 1000 mangoes waiting to ripen and fall. The first few are ready and when they fall, the children are there in a second! Soon, there will be enough for us all and I hope to try and preserve some. As anyone who has been here in Haiti knows we have the best mangoes in the world!!

Please pray for all of us as we work, love the children, miss our families, think of you at home with thankful hearts, and strive to do the work the Lord has laid out for us to do. The next biggest project we have taken on is to ask some of you at home to give us a one-time gift to help us buy a second vehicle for the mission. The last few weeks, we have been without a vehicle, borrowing Luckner’s truck when we absolutely have to pick something up. Karen’s vehicle is in PAP for repairs. We had always counted on God’s provision and we have heard that someone has already donated $5000 toward our vehicle fund. Please pray that God would move hearts and help us find the perfect second-hand vehicle.

I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1: 3-6

It’s all about God and His will for our lives.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thank you Liette and Rick. For everything!

It was a wonderful week.  You are both missed so very much today.

Liette, it is always a joy to have you here.  This time it was only Luckner and I awaiting your arrival with excitement and anticipation, as I decided to surprise the children and employees. They all loved the surprise of seeing you climb out of the truck. Your time here is always too short.  Each day seems to pass so quickly - perhaps due to all we try to pack into a 24 hour period. Your arrival is always exciting and your time is special, meaningful and a lot of fun.  Your departure, however, is anything but exciting, special and fun - it is sad and difficult to see you leave.   You left today and I am already waiting for your return.

Liette & Rick's arrival at PAP airport

Godmother Liette with godson JJ

Walk along river edge with older kids

Patiently waiting for us in Verrettes

Rick, I did not know what to expect when I knew a friend of Liette's was coming, someone who was interested in Haiti and wanted to experience what HATS was about.  I figured if you were a friend of Liette's you must be 'somewhat okay'.   It did not take very long for me to know that you were 'a lot more okay, than somewhat'.  You are a great guy, with a crazy sense of humour that matches ours.  I enjoyed seeing you accept everything you saw, heard, smelled, and experienced while here.  All of us at HATS grew to quickly love you.   On your last blog you mentioned a dog's breakfast and a cat's meow.   You, my new friend, are the epitome of 'the dog's breakfast and the cat's meow, rolled into one.'

Rick going to leave the compound for a run. Security will follow on moto

Afternoon walk

Mr. Blogger in fine form

Almost home from an early morning walk

Thank you for accepting me, the children, Luckner, the employees, and everything you experienced here.  It is a different world here than what you are used to but you fit in beautifully.  Thank you for blogging your experiences while here and doing so in a candid and humourous manner.  As many of our followers said 'it was good to read and follow it through the eyes of a first timer'.   I am awaiting your return also.

Arrival at airport

Difficult for me to see them leave

No matter who comes to help, or if we are on our own - what we do here is  -
A L L    A B O U T    T H E    C H I L D R E N

Blessings everyone.  Happy Easter!!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Not goodbye, just until we meet again.

Rick from Chicago here, by request (Karen), and acknowledging that the reason that Chicago is called the Windy City has nothing to do with the wind, rather that we tend to be talkers. So, pardon my being verbose, but I have 2 days of catch-up to write. (or else?)

Yesterday Liette and I went to Deschapelles to distribute the donated school materials that we had brought down with us (thank you again Therese & Paul, Madeleine, Tanya, Laura and Brian, Heather and Marc, LT, and Uncle P and Auntie). We were supposed to go via Luckner’s truck, but there were some mechanical problems, so we had to hire 2 motorcycle to bring us in (and Richard, the head of Security had a motorcycle as well). The bags weighed around 50 pounds each, and there were 2 of them. And 2 of us. Neither bike had mirrors, helmets, or anything that might even slightly resemble anything of the like. I think the headlight worked on one of them though, which didn’t matter to us since it was daytime).

Liette & Rick heading off with school supplies for adults in a literacy program

Per Liette’s comments in the last blog update, we weren’t sure exactly how many people of the students would show up at the adult literacy school for us to handout the donated school goods. Could have been four, could have been twenty-five. Turns out, it was right around fifty. And we had only twenty-seven sets of items. Some quick thinking had us splitting the sets of items in half, which meant some folks wouldn’t be getting a bag. They were quite gracious about it though.  I should note that there were a few people who tried to double dip and get two sets of materials. I could easily pick these folks out though, as they were wearing their small backpacks already. That, and several people who had gotten their items would point me away from the double dippers to those who’d not received anything.  The students were so happy to receive some school supplies and many came up to thank Liette individually. 

Adult students with their new school supplies

Once we finished up at the school, they thanked us and Liette and I then continued on to her friend Rigaud’s house. He showed us around his property, and Liette and he caught up on old times. When it was time for us to go, Rigaud insisted on carrying the bag that I was holding, and he lead us around a mile to the road and said goodbye.   We walked thirty minutes or so back to HATS, got dinner, and then hit the roof for rooftop stars with the kids again. Then it was off to bed, as Wednesday would mark our last full day for this trip.

Wednesday update: This was my last full day at HATS, and it started at 4:45 AM with a solo run along the river. Kind of odd to jog with a security detail behind you, but I probably needed the protection, and definitely needed the light (it was pitch black until I got back around 6).

Rick going to leave the compound for a run.  Security will follow on moto.
Rick is off with security following

After the run and a quick shower, I gathered up with the children and staff for morning Devotions (songs). I’ve come to enjoy these very much, and it will be one of the things I miss most about Haiti while I’m away.

After breakfast we went to the market in Verrettes, and it was an experience like no other. Haitians must have iron stomachs. I think I’ll leave it at that.

At Verrettes Market

I also had an opportunity to ride in a Tap-Tap. This is the Haitian equivalent of a group taxi. And by “group taxi”, I mean “How many human beings can we jam into the back of a pickup truck – standing, sitting, and what not”. Today’s answer was eighteen (not counting us. I’m not kidding, I counted eighteen people in the back of this small pickup truck. To be fair though, after the first stop, a few people got off and we went down to a significantly more manageable figure (fourteen or so). Yep.

We returned to the compound for lunch, and then took a trip with Luckner to Ti Riviere – a town with an aging Haitian Castle that will hopefully be revitalized in the near future. We also saw Fort Pierrot (built in 1802), the site of the second to last battle for Haitian independence. There was also a voodoo site in the fort, which was kind of odd, but very interesting. Voodoo is very much alive in Haiti, but there wasn’t much to be seen where we went.

Luckner teaching about Fort Pierrot

Along the way, we also saw the river dam, currently under construction. It was once automated so it self-regulated according to need. However the person running the dam was corrupt, stole a huge barrel of oil, and the automating system was ruined. Now it has to be regulated manually, and we’re reminded the corruption adversely affects the poorest of the poor the most.

Palais 365 Doors

We wound down our trip shortly thereafter, and headed back to the Compound. I declined the afternoon walk in favor of starting to get my things packed for the trip back to the States. Dinner after the walk, final Devotions (for me for this trip), and then to the office for this last blog update.

It’s going to be impossible to put my thoughts into words about this experience, so I’d say this – if you can get here - do. I think most people probably think they’re coming to help others. To some extent, that’s true (at least this temporary blogger thought so). To a larger extent, you’ll leave Haiti a better person than when you arrived. The heat may be a dog’s breakfast, but everything else is the cat’s meow.

The staff has been so great to me, and the children…. priceless. I’m quite thankful for having had this opportunity to come down and spend some time here, and I told the children as much this morning when Karen asked me to say a few words.

Happy kids with sugar cane

Nelson Mandela once said something like “Everywhere I go, I wear you”. It means that none of us is our own person entirely. Rather, we’re the culmination of the people and experiences we have had. I leave Haiti wearing 16 HATS children, 10(ish) Haitan staff members, a Calgarian, 2 Winnipegian’s, and a Newfie. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

Until We Meet Again My Friends,
-    Rick from Chicago

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It's Chicago Rick here again today.

Day 4 in Haiti down, and I continually find myself feeling like a kid - totally fascinated with the new world that I’m visiting.

Since the last blog update, I’ve become pretty hip to the rhythm of how things flow around HATS - at least on non-school days. Early in the morning (usually before sunrise), Karen goes for a walk along the river. These are usually 45-60 minutes, and the bigger kids are allowed to join in – if they can keep up. There’s an afternoon walk as well, which everyone is welcome to join in, and is a much slower pace (complete with 2 strollers). In either case, the walks are along the canal in front of the compound.

Canal walk at sunset

Sunday, naturally, was Church day, and HATS holds ‘church’ in the school. Attendance can vary from 20 – 200, depending on what’s going on in the community, and if school is in session. On this day, there were 54 people present, with HATS staff and children being around 20 of them. There was a tremendous amount of singing, and other churchly goings-on that you’d expect.

After the service, we piled into the back of the pickup truck to go to Luckner’s place, where the kids were treated to the Haitian equivalent of Oreo’s and banana soda.

Later that night, Liette and I took several of the bigger kids to the roof of the house to play Uno as the sun went down, and to look at the stars. This was a special treat for the kids (and for me, to be honest), and they were enamored with it.

Monday proved a routine day, with two exceptions – the trip to the hospital (and dump), as well as Liette and I guesting on Luckner’s radio show. He interviewed us about HATS, and me a bit about what my thoughts were about Haiti – before and after coming here.

Measuring food for needy families
A few people from the community who came to pick up food

I don’t think I can articulate how I’m feeling about this place – and this experience. The children are amazing, the staff… unbelievable. And it comes together so well, with the emphasis on exactly the right things (what’s best for the kids drives everything).

I’m not looking forward to leaving on Thursday and heading back to the States at all. I know I’ll stay in touch with the people, and furthering the cause of the organization, but the idea of being so far away from something so positive just feels….well… a little sad.

That said, I do miss my home, my friends, and my family. I think I’m going to miss this place very much too.

- Rick


As for me, Liette, it's always interesting to travel to Haiti with someone for the first time and to see the country and Hands Across the Sea anew through their eyes.  Rick is ready and eager for everything we throw his way and asks lots of great questions.  I appreciate his willingness to jump in and lend a hand, his excitement to see and try everything and his love for the kids. 

I always love being here - I feel like I'm truly myself in Haiti in a way that I can't always be in my life at home.  In spite of all of Haiti's challenges, the country is beautiful, the children precious and the people resilient.   I had two great opportunities today to make connections in the community and to share my vision of helping adults learn to read and write.  I visited with a local school director who runs a small adult literacy program and make arrangements to visit the school again tomorrow.  School is out this week for spring break, but he's going to try and round up some of his students to come in.  And on Luckner's radio show, I was able to share my dream of having a basic literacy program here at Hands Across the Sea for adults and older teens who never got the opportunity to attend school. 

Rick and Liette being interviewed by Luckner

Yvette, I tried to visit your toad but haven't seen him yet.  I'll try again this evening.  And we've been playing Dice every evening with Vladimy :)   Aunt Sandy, I saw one of your spider friends today in the bathroom but when I turned my head for a moment, he had hidden himself away.  Shhhh.... don't let Karen know I let a tarantula escape! 

Playing our daily evening dice game with Vladimy

I had the fun of bringing gifts for my family's godchildren as well as Yvette's godson Moise.  JJ and Moise were SO pleased with their new fancy clothes!

JJ in his new suit jacket
Moise in his new shirt and dress pants

Miss my kids like crazy and sure hope to bring them to Haiti later this year.

- Liette

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hello Everyone!

This is Rick from Chicago, temporary pilot of the HATS blog. I arrived yesterday with Liette for my first trip to Haiti, not quite sure what to expect. I had done some research, heard some stories, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw when we hit the ground.

We arrived Port Au Prince around 10 AM, and Karen, Luke Ner, and 2 other staff members retrieved us from the airport. Right away, the feeling that I was in an extraordinarily different place washed through me. The people seemed friendly, but the country is in a desperate situation. Poverty is everywhere, but the folks seem happy despite their challenges. We started out on the 3 hour journey to the HATS Compound immediately from the airport.

airport arrival

The ride to the Compound took us through some very challenged towns, with people selling everything you can think of on the side of the road. The situation is desperate, there is no tourism or industry, and the locals are doing their best to make ends meet.

When we arrived at the Compound, the children were very excited, to see Liette. Karen hadn't told them that she was coming ahead of time so they'd be completely caught off guard. Clearly they have great love for Liette. They welcomed me with hugs as well, despite the language barrier (I don't speak Creole, though several of the children speak English). We spent the afternoon playing soccer and getting to know each other. These. Kids. Are. Amazing.

Another family on our walk
Four new helmets arrived for biking and rollerblading
HATS family walk time

Despite being in a very difficult location economically, Karen and the HATS crew have created an amazing place for these children to grow up. They are fed, educated, and generally kept after by HATS - and they are thriving. Each child has a special story, and each radiates optimism. Their smiles, their demeanor, is unbelievable. I'm proud to know these kids, and  to have been invited down. After dinner, I watched their Devotions, where each child sang a song of their choosing, as well as group songs, and their voices were angelic.

Karen, Liette, and I ended the day laying on thin mattresses on the roof, watching the clouds pass across the sky, and the moon peaking through occasionally. Karen shared stories of some of the crazy situations that have played out around the Compound (it's a fortress, with 12' concrete walls topped with razor wire). Though this spot, the Compound, is an island of peace and tranquility - the areas around it don't offer the same. We're not talking about routine gunshots or anything like that, but there's an armed security guard on the premises at all times (and with us when we travel). As a result, Karen (and Liette for the matter, as she's lived down there too) have had some fascinating experiences.

Today is day 2, and we got some early exercises accomplished (with the larger children, and then on our own), and then went to the market. The market is a crazy place, and a neat experience. After returning, we spent time playing with the kids, and Liette and I installed and painted new doors for the front and back of the house. I convinced some of the kids to sing while we were working, and ..... wow.   Just a really neat place to be in the world.

Jonathan's first time on mini trampoline
New man on the block time
Play time at HATS
Ti Luc slam dunk the basket ball (with help from Brad)
Water shortage bath
Rick ready to paint the doors

After dinner, two of the older children came to Karen's house (on the back of the Compound), and Karen, Liette, and I played Uno with one, and then dice with another. And now, the day is winding down so I'll sign off.

Not allowed to wait for Sandra to return

I'm amazed to be at this place, and to have been fortunate enough to have been asked to be a part of it. Karen, Liette, Luckner, Germaine, Brad, Lois, and the rest of the HATS staff have worked very hard to make the children their top priority, and it shows.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Thank you to the Texas team who left us on Tuesday.   They came as a 'workteam' and they worked.  They also played, loved on the kids, laughed a lot (can't not laugh with Brooks around),  did radio air time, and enjoyed time with kids at school.  They were a great team!!

Sara - it was her first time in Haiti.  Thank you, Sara, for coming, accepting, and helping everywhere you could.  Our kids are not the only ones who came to love you, so did the rest of us.


Jennifer and Jake - need to put them together because God did that last July.  They are individuals but are also one.  They both put all of themselves into helping in every way possible.  It was a second time for Jennifer but a first for Jake.   Thank you Jenn and Jake for all you did.  Despite the joking about you two and your PDA I must say it is nice to see 'love' for each other.

Jennifer and Jake

Julie - second time for her too.  Julie, thank you too for what you did for HATS  I, however, am also saying a huge thank you for the iPad for Ti Luc.  Thank you for  the tender loving care you put into buying it, all the apps on it, and the funds to add more in French. This is fantastic for him.  He is using it every day and can do so without any help from me.  He truly is one smart little cookie.


Brooks, the comedian, the singer, message giver in church, the man who makes things disappear and reappear, Jofky's godfather, and friend to all - children and adults.  Never a dull moment with Brooks around.  This was Brooks' third trip.  He will go to great lengths to entertain us.  The first time he came to HATS he entertained us up to the moment he was leaving for the airport by taking a fall in complete darkness into the ti canal next to the mission compound.  Thank you, Brooks, for everything.


David - the fearless leader.  Without his leadership we would not have the yearly Texas teams.  David organizes, fundraises, plans, prays, sings, paints, enjoys the children on site and at the school.  Thank you, David, for continuing to lead teams to HATS.

David - team leader

Thank you to all six of you.  Thanks for all your support in many ways, for your acceptance and special friendship with Ti Luc, and for your awesome encouragement to me.  It means more than I can say.

                  IT  IS  ALL  ABOUT  THE  CHILDREN.  Thank you for helping to make it thus.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 5 - Monday - Our last day

6:45 - Wake up excited for a new day, yet sad it's our last one.

7:30 - Attend opening devotionals and flag ceremony at the school. This is always a special thing to see.

Morning devotions at HATS school

8:00 Luckner and Karen come up with brilliant last minute painting plan for us. We've done such an amazing job with the secondary school that they'd like the administration building to look just as great, so they request that David, Brooks, and Jake paint the top and bottom trim. After some deliberation, we get out a bucket of "Destiny Green," (the color of the main house) and get to work.

The painting continues.  The school continues to look nicer.

11:50 We run out of Destiny Green with just a few yards of concrete left to paint. We consider this a parting gift for Brad.

12:00 Spaghetti for lunch! They feed us well.

1:00 The team (minus Julie) heads back to school and finish with final painting touch-ups. Julie goes to work teaching TiLuc how to use the new iPad she brought him. Thais will help him a great deal with his school, and he picks it up like a pro. Is there anything that boy can't do? He amazes us.

Ti Luc receiving his iPad gift from Julie

3:30 We admire our painting handiwork.

4:00 Brooks puts on his annual magic show. Kids are entertained. House mothers are scared. We all laugh.

Brooks entertaining us with his magic tricks

5:00 Early dinner to prepare for our final big night on the radio.

6:00 Brooks and the 5 Blancs go live once again on Radio Creole. We sing a bunch of songs. Brooks breaks out a freestyle rap with Jake beatboxing. Jenn, Julie and Sara ruin this wonderful and touching performance with inappropriate laughter. All listeners are touched and amazed (we assume). We can't wait to come back on the air next year. We promise Luckner to have a much better organized show next year. He probably doesn't believe us.

Brooks and the five blancs

Brooks and Luckner

7:00 Final devotional with the kids. All but the little ones each sing a song to us. We present them with Jesus Storybook Bibles in Creole, then spend time praying for each of them, then hug all those precious kids. Apparently it gets a little dusty inside because there were lots of watery eyes.

Julie praying with Josie & Ti Luc

Jennifer & Sara praying with Kaeli, Djemima, Leica and Sandra & Jonathan

Jake praying with Dieunel and Judel

Brooks praying with Peter, Moise and JJ

8:30 Special time of prayer and reflexion on the roof with Karen. This is always a highlight. We love praying for and encouraging this amazing Red-headed Canadian!

10:30 We head to bed for a quick sleep before heading out at 4am. What an wonderful time with some of the most precious people on the planet. Our hearts are full, and a piece of them will remain with our HATS family.