Haiti group returns from latest trip with warm hearts, new partner

By Bob Steenson, bsteenson@charlescitypress.com

A group of area people who traveled to Haiti on a recent mission trip accomplished a lot while down there.

Still, there is a sense of guilt when leaving the impoverished country, said one of the group, Jeremy Heyer, “because there’s so much more still to do.”

Twenty-five people returned last week from what is becoming an almost annual project for the Homes for Haiti group.

And they are already working on a big new project.

Susan Ayers, the organizer and one of the driving forces behind the trips which go to Croix Des Bouquets, Haiti, to help the Imagine Missions orphanage and school complex, sent back regular reports and photos on the group’s progress while in Haiti, which were published in the Press.

The group had a long list of specific goals on this latest eight-day trip which began Dec. 29, and it was able to complete all of that and more, Ayers told the Press this week.

This latest trip had the added advantage of counting former University of Iowa and NFL football player Tim Dwight among its members.

Dwight, a speedy kick returner and wide receiver with the Hawkeyes and then the Falcons and the Chargers, got drawn into the Homes for Haiti experience when Ayers went looking for someone to provide solar panels to power the orphanage.

Dwight got involved in solar businesses after he retired from the NFL in 2007 and is currently president of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association.

Dwight not only agreed to supply the solar panels, he accepted Ayers’ invitation to join the group and help install them. In fact, he’s returning to Haiti this week to finish some of the electrical work.

In addition to the putting up the solar panels, the participants in this year’s mission trip were able to replace the roof on the Imagine Missions chapel, provide medical checkups to more than 850 people including all the children at the orphanage, perform various repairs, set the foundation for a computer lab, build benches for the soccer field and more.

Heyer, who traveled to Haiti with his daughter Sami, 17, and son Justin, 15, said the country has significant problems because of lack of infrastructure and poverty, but the people there are warm and friendly and caring.

His daughter was so moved by the experience and by working with Haitians at the orphanage that she didn’t want to come home when the trip was over, Heyer said. She’s planning her major in college to enable her to continue helping there.

Heyer said some of his favorite images from the trip are pictures of his son, Justin, working with the kids at the orphanage, building benches for the soccer field.

One of the problems the orphanage faces, said both Ayers and Heyer, is that children are required by law to leave when they turn 18, regardless of where they are in their schooling.

Some of these young adults have a difficult time transitioning to life outside the orphanage, Heyer said.

Ayers said the orphanage would like to be able to ensure that they at least are able to receive their high school diplomas.

Toward that end, the mission is interested in purchasing a plot of land across the street from the mission compound, to be used for a transition center.

Homes for Haiti started out on its first mission trip in 2012 shipping and installing Safe T Homes built by Sukup Manufacturing in Sheffield.

Now the group, including Dwight, is going back to Sukup next month to try to get 10 more of the 18-foot round steel Safe T Homes as well as a corrugated steel 50-foot by 100-foot building to be used to build the transition center, Ayers said.

The building, like the Safe T Homes, is designed to withstand hurricane-force winds, she said.

Heyer laughed, saying Dwight plans to round up some of his NFL contacts to see about raising funding to help pay for the project, including purchasing the land.

The 10 homes would be able to house three to four people each and the large building would be used for a community center at the transition center, Ayers said.

“They could live there for up to two years and go to professional school, to learn a trade,” she said.

“Imagine Mission wants to at least get them their high school educations,” Ayers said. “Their chance of success becomes much, much higher.”


(Susan Ayers is leading a group of Floyd County residents and former Hawkeye and NFL football star Tim Dwight on a mission to Haiti. The group is sending regular reports on its activities.)

Homes-for-Haiti-logo

 


Sunday, Jan. 7 — Friday was our debrief day. We set out in the morning to Wahoo Bay, a small resort about two hours from the orphanage.

I haven’t talked much about transportation. The orphanage bus is no longer functional so alternative transportation needed to be arranged. The solution is two pickups with crew cabs. In the back are safety bars.

Most of the time, several team members are riding in the back of the pickup holding onto these bars. This allows for a really up-close and personal view of the countryside and it puts us right out in the open.

I noted right away that there are usually 2-4 Haitians riding in the back with us for security. They are continually watching over us to make sure we are safe.

We have also noted that at times Haitians do not want their picture taken. It was explained that for those who follow voodoo, taking a photo is capturing a spirit. We watch closely to make sure we don’t offend anyone.

Slums are very obvious as we travel through small towns. Markets are full of people. Trash is everywhere and is burned as possible, leading to a constant odor.

There are public wells and people carry water for long distances in buckets on their heads. The living conditions are small and very dirty. Very few have running water, toilets or electricity. We worried about the cleanliness of both food and water for all people living here.

People typically use 2 forms of transportation, motorcycles and tap taps. Motorcycles gather on street corners and people hire the driver to take them to specific destinations.

We saw motorcycles with anywhere from one to four people on board and often passengers carried something on their heads from mattresses to chests of drawers to bunches of bananas.

Tap taps are small pickups with a covered box and built in seats. Passengers pile in and ride the tap tap to locations on the established routes. When they want to get off, they just knock on the cab of the truck and the driver stops.

Excess passengers might ride on top or hold on to the side.

People are everywhere and there are very few regulations regarding driving. There are not really lanes and at times there might be five vehicles trying to navigate through spaces that would be two lanes in America.

There are no street lights. Horns are used extensively! In addition to people, there are goats, chickens, dogs and pigs loose that also wander into the roads.

Wahoo Bay is beautiful and really reflects what this country could be with an adequate infrastructure. The ocean is gorgeous and the background of mountains with soft breezes provides for a relaxing environment.

We spent most of the day talking about our projects and what other needs are evident at the orphanage. Everyone commented on how the children are well behaved, clothed and fed adequately, and very loving.

We are happy we are able to contribute to their well-being with all of our projects. It is so rewarding to go to work at the orphanage in the morning and be greeted with hugs and affection.

The children know our names and hold hands with us as we go about the orphanage. Several children wrote personal letters to team members thanking us for what we have completed.

We had a nice lunch and then started back to the team house and hotel.

I’ve already discussed transportation and the dangers involved. On the return trip, we came across a traffic jam that resulted from an accident. There was chaos in the form of multiple vehicles honking horns and people yelling.

As we got closer to the accident, an “ambulance” passed us. When we finally reached the accident site, we observed a young man who had been killed on the road. The back of the “ambulance” was open and it was just a cargo van — obviously only for transportation, not for treatment.

This was a grim reminder to all of us as to the difficulty of daily living in this country.

The drivers of our three vehicles continued to work their ways through the stopped traffic and make phone calls and I noticed several Haitians on the ground assisting us in moving through the backed-up traffic.

The Haitians riding in the pickups with us were on high alert. When we finally reached the end of the jam, our driver gave money to the last person on the ground assisting us. Pay-offs continue to be the way of life in Haiti to solve problems as they occur. Again, we appreciated the efforts of our hosts.

Friday night as we were having dinner, one of our team members, Jeff Staudt, started talking about Haiti in general and the orphanage in particular. He said that he had wondered why Americans were always being asked to give money to Haiti because nothing ever changed.

However, after participating in this mission, Jeff said that we weren’t giving money to Haitians, we were helping the children at Imagine Missions and he couldn’t think of a better cause.

Our group is convinced that this orphanage’s commitment to education is the only way to make change lasting. We certainly have suggestions that we believe could improve the functioning, but we all believe that the objectives of this group are focused in the right area.

Saturday we spent the morning at the orphanage. This was a very emotional event for all of us. Team member Pastor Kevin Frey from New Hampton led our team and the children around the orphanage and blessed the projects that had been our focus for the past week.

These included six benches for the soccer field, razor wire at the team house and the orphanage and wall repair for safety and security, solar projects virtually completed at the orphanage and complete at the team house, the cafeteria has a new stove, a big screen TV installed in the community room, a garden including multiple beds and pop bottle strawberry plants, foundation dug and cemented for a computer lab using the shipping contained we sent down during our last trip, (another mission group will be completing this conversion), seven donated laptops programmed, 69 school desks completed, five classrooms in the new addition painted and chalk boards installed, 854 patients seen in medical clinics including at two mobile locations, new shelving in the clinic with supplies inventoried and stored, church painted inside and out, and an entire new roof on the church.

As we walked from one project to the next we were overwhelmed by what had been accomplished in such a short time by working together as a team and also with the Haitians.

Dave Ayers received a note from two of the boys that helped him during the week that stated, “We write you because we see you have encouragement and we so proud about you. And we will continue work with you because you have encouragement. We would like to be a carpenter like you.”

Pretty good for two teenage boys with English as a second language.

Team pictures were taken inside the church and we parted with lots of hugs and tears … until the next time. Feel free to contact me at 330-4235 or any of our team members if you have any questions or would like to have a presentation for your organization.

Our entire team is so grateful to so many in this area for their help and support. This mission involved our entire area, not just the team, and we so appreciate the help of all.

— Sue Ayers, Team Leader, Homes for Haiti


Thursday, Jan. 4 — Today was our final work day!

Earlier this week Tim (Dwight) stated that at one point he just looked around the orphanage and every place he looked there were projects going on!

Today our medical team went up the mountain again and saw 176 patients. On the way we passed a penitentiary and found out that when prisoners’ sentences are finished, they have to pay to get out. Prisons are full of people who don’t have the money to get out.

We continued on and passed the Olympic Training Center which was small but very well maintained. But across the road was a memorial site. I asked about it and found out it was a mass graveyard used after the earthquake in 2010.

There’s a saying that it’s more expensive to die in Haiti than to live in Haiti. The solution following the earthquake was to bury hundreds of people together. Hard to imagine.

We continued to our very rural church to set up the clinic. At the end of the day, the pastors were praying over a woman trying to give birth.

Back to projects. Our soccer benches were completed. Our gardens with raised beds were constructed and planted.

When the medical team returned today and drove into the orphanage, the church roof was done, solar projects were completed at the orphanage and the team house, the computer lab footings were poured, all desks completed and placed in the new classrooms along with chalkboards.

The team even installed shelving in the medical clinic per our request.

It was so humbling to see what a mixed team of Iowans could accomplish with the help of some Haitians in one week!

So we ended our work celebrating with the kids in an impromptu dance party. Our backs, hands, and muscles are sore but our hearts are full!

— Susan Ayers


Wednesday, Jan. 3 — The gardening project headed by Izzy Worrall is complete! Medical team totals: Saturday,76 patients;Monday, 109 patients; Tuesday, 275; Wednesday, 218; for a total of 678 ranging in age from 1 month to 102!

Fifty-seven of 70 desks completed and second-story classrooms are ready to use after Dave Ayers finished putting up chalkboards.

The church roof is 75 percent complete. Footing ditches for the computer lab have been dug. Solar panels have been installed at the team house AND the orphanage.

Entire church painted inside and out and school rooms painted. Medical clinic reorganized and updated with our current supplies.

And of course, the New Year’s Eve party for the kids is under our belt.

And all completed in temps in the 90s. No wonder we are sleeping well at night.

— Susan Ayers


Tuesday, Jan. 2 — Tuesday the second was another amazing WARM day in Haiti.

We left a little earlier today to get a head start after the holiday and to beat rush hour. I’m pretty sure the people that are here for the first time will never complain about crazy drivers or bumpy roads in the States again.

We are moving fast with all the projects around the orphanage. Issa has been working really hard busting sod, filling in soil and her gardens are almost ready to go.

The solar project is currently waiting on parts, but they are looking at how they can make the experience even better!

The school room desks are about 3/4 done and the workers are going to start painting the additional classrooms tomorrow. The roof of the church has trusses and the guys are putting tin sheets on; it looks amazing.

Today the the medical team took a trip up into the mountains. We reached out to a community about 20 miles from the orphanage. We were able to help people ranging from 2 months old to ones in their 80s.

We had eight interpreters helping us including the pastor of the church we were working in today. It was really rewarding to provide medical service for people that don’t even have transportation, or a school to send their children to. We all have many blessing to count!

— The Haiti Team


Monday, Jan. 1 — Our team is really rocking.  Last night we hosted a New Year’s Eve party for the orphanage. The kids had so much fun playing games, singing and dancing and they enjoyed the ham dinner we provided.

Today started early. The medical team finished unpacking and then saw 100 patients.

The garden is shaping up with sod removed and dirt placed. Three of the soccer benches are done. The solar project is almost complete. More than half the rafters are up so progress at the church should move along quickly.

Visiting with Tim Dwight over supper and found out that he designed and installed the solar panels so they could be unplugged and brought into a building when a hurricane is forecast. This assures they remain functional for a long time. The products are designed to have a life expectancy of 25-30 years.

Not as much breeze today and a muggy 95.  But everyone is positive and working hard.

— Susan Ayers


Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017 — The Homes for Haiti team got off to an awesome start yesterday!

The medical team inventoried all of the items brought to the orphanage and saw all of the 90 plus orphans from Imagine Missions as well as another 40 or so children from visiting orphanages. We removed stitches, treated bumps and bruises and identified and treated many other health issues in addition to lots of hugs.

Tim Dwight and the solar team got a trench dug and footings cemented. Mick Gage and the building crew started lots of projects including assembling school desks, modifying the church roof design, and painting. Justin Heyer got a great start on the soccer benches and Sami Heyer even schooled some of the orphanage team in a quick game of basketball.

The new school addition looks great and is nearing completion and it is heartwarming to see the classrooms built during the last trip being used for educational purposes. The orphanage masons have been at work repairing the outside security wall and razor wire installed at the team house.

Izzy Worrall got a great start on her gardening project organizing over 200 cement blocks and getting a load of black dirt. Not as black as Iowa dirt but she thinks it will work.

The drive back to the hotel at sunset pointed out how poor and needy the people of this country are.  It would be terrifying to face the challenges each of these people face daily.  For example, the nurses in the hospital only administer medications. No linens, no food, no care. Families stay in shifts to actually provide care. Most just don’t bother to go.

Church was awesome. Ballet to solos to prayers. Very humbling to see others so thankful for so little. Then a (New Year’s Eve) party to follow. Thanks to Martin Brothers for subsidizing the meal!

— Susan Ayers


Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 — We are waiting on layover in Atlanta. We loaded all our checked bags (about 30) and all team members arrived.

Tim Dwight just got back from the Pinstripe Bowl and Hawkeye victory celebration. He was still generous enough to do a midnight shopping trip and bought 2 more laptops to donate to the orphanage.

The Cedar Rapids airport was swamped with Iowa State fans headed to the bowl game, including Walt and Luann Armstrong, formerly from Charles City.

But the first leg of our trip is under our belts.

On to Port-au-Prince this afternoon!

— Susan Ayers


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