Haiti itself is no stranger to setbacks, and so when Hurricane Irma delayed my arrival, St. Vincent’s was not at all perturbed. When I did finally arrive, my living area was already set up nicely and immediately equipped with my own personal fan. Within 30 minutes of my arrival, there was a gigantic tray of food waiting on my desk.
When Pere Fanfan, the director, took me on a tour of the facilities, one of the residents, a little blind girl kissed my cheek then took both of our hands and accompanied us around the entire property.
That evening after dinner, as all evenings ever since, an ever growing group of residents has taken it upon themselves to teach me Creole and sign language. The process is slow and tedious, but there is an endless supply of patience and laughter as I forget or mispronounce words. The cheering and excitement when I use a new word or phrase is genuine and heartfelt.
Mornings at St. Vincent’s begin around 5:30 am, although like any time in Haiti, 5:30 is liable to run late. Breakfast is served in the dining area – an outdoor pavilion – right before 8 when the buses arrive carrying the students. As of Tuesday, roughly 50 students of the expected 200 showed up for school. This low percentage is not unusual for the first month; however, school’s cancellation until the following Tuesday was unusual. The cause of the cancellation is the outbreak of numerous ongoing riots over increased taxation that are taking place in the streets and make it, if not impossible, at least incredibly dangerous for the students and teachers to make the trip to school.
Because of the lack of students, the school has postponed the start of my planned extracurriculars until October when attendance will have increased. In the meantime, I have begun the work of starting a garden behind the school. When I asked a school employee help in locating a rake. He not only brought the rake, but also brought a friend. The two of them, without any instruction, started helping me clear the ground of the many rocks that litter the soil. At midday when the sun is too hot to continue working I said, “fini,” and they said they would be back to help tomorrow. They are helping me in addition to their own jobs, but nonetheless they have been back everyday for some amount of time to help with the tedious task.
The location of the garden was chosen primarily for its proximity to the only water spigot, but an added is that it also is within site of several classrooms from which students curiously watch me. Most smile shyly when I look up and attempt to convey the message that I am starting a garden. Several have expressed further interest by coming over after school. My goal is to have the students help plant and tend to vegetables that they can then harvest and eat directly from the ground.
My welcome to St. Vincent’s was immediate and has not lessened since I have been here. 5 days in and I am slowly but surely finding my place among the wonderfully caring, innovative, and compassionate people that make up the community of St. Vincent’s.