In April 2011 Haiti Oprhanage Project Espwa carried out needs assessments of projects in Haiti with a view to future partnerships. The second of these trips was in the south of the country, on an island off the port of Les Cayes. Travelling from Port au Prince, Trish and I left the city behind for a few days and head south by plane to the city of Les Cayes. Over coastline and mountain Haiti is a beautiful country. There are signs of large scale agriculture; remnants of plantations and unfortunately plenty of evidence of deforestation. There are miles of sandy beaches and from our height what seems to be uninhabited coastline.
In Les Cayes we are taken to the wharf where dust coated men fill cement and load the bags onto trucks – it is a harsh job. By the wharf side lies our boat, a seaworthy craft with outboard engine which could take about 15 people. The transfer to the island takes nearly forty minutes as behind us the mountains of Haiti’s mainland spread out in the darkness. On the other side of Ille a Vach, aptly nicknamed ‘Little Paradise’,are three holiday resorts but we headed for the poorer village of Madame Bernard
In the shadow of the church at Madame Bernard are timber shacks of very poor repair, dirt or mud floors and gaping holes in what counts for walls. There is evidence of some work on the road but the contractor left before the job was finished. Up the steep hill the orphanage is bordered by a block wall and at the top of the incline we turn right and enter through a red metal gateway/door. The orphanage has a number of buildings, 3 to the left and 3 to the right.
Sr Flora runs the orphanage, a petite French-Canadian nun somewhere in the region of 70 years of age. She has been here running this orphanage on her own since 1981. Over the course of the next few days we discover that Sr Flora is the ‘Mother’ of Madame Bernard. She provides food, clothing, medicine and runs clinics for the local village.
The buildings in the orphanage have vastly improved since the photographs we saw back in October 2009. It was this initial contact with Soul of Haiti that has finally brought us to the verge of a tangible project. In the interim Soul of Haiti have been coming to Ille a Vache and worked steadily improve the buildings. Building 3 on the left is new and houses up to 25 special needs children. Completed a month ago it is tiled on the inside and well laid out. A windmill gives a constant power supply. There is also a UV filtration system for the water so there is a steady supply of drinking water.
Among the needs are Occupational Therapy for the children; an improvement of the stores for the food; upgrades to all the internal kit out of the various buildings such as shelving and storage. The beds are a basic timber 4 x 4 and 4 x 2 frame with a foam mattress, a big improvement on what they had but not as good as anyone would wish. The road is another improvement needed. It would provide new options for the wheelchair bound children who hardly ever leave the enclosed orphanage. From cock crow at 5am and the bell rung for breakfast at 6 the day is a cacophony of chatter and babies crying. We start painting work on Building 3 along with the local workers. Mosquitos are a big problem at night so we send to Les Cayes for mesh and use it on the external bedroom windows. We also do a little work on some of the beds, closing the gaps in the sides so the children’s hands or legs don’t get caught during the night. We hope we will make a good impression with our industry.
On Wednesday we finish at lunch time and make our second attempt to bring twenty children to the beach to swim. It’s a process that requires a lot of time and patience but is rewarded with a swim in the Caribbean Sea. At 4.30am the following day, Thursday, our boat captain is outside ready for the off. Our bags are emptied of the many gifts of clothes, medicines and toys given to us by our Haiti Orphangage Project Espwa companions. It is with light baggage but a heavy heart we depart Ille a Vache. We wish them well and we look forward to our next trip to Haiti; hopefully in partnership with Soul of Haiti and a return to our ‘little paradise’.