Having travelled with our fellow Volunteers from Dublin via New York we parted company outside the airport at Port au Prince where our ‘Big Boss’ for the next week in the form of the one and only Gena Heraty from Westport welcomed us and brought us to her Orphanage in Kenscoff.
Kenscoff is about 5,000 feet above sea level so we had a gradual and extraordinarily scenic climb up from PaP for about 90 minutes on a recently well surfaced road before arriving at our destination. As we were so high up the weather was completely different to what we have previously experienced in other parts of Haiti in that it was ‘only’ about 20 degrees Celsius versus 35 to 40 in Ile a Vache and the humidity was high – all very welcome for us pale faced Irish having left much lower temperatures behind in Ireland. Have a look at our photos on Facebook in the album entitled ‘Espwa Easter 2015 Kenscoff Project’ and you’ll get an understanding of the beauty of the area – amazing to be looking down on the clouds………and our progress during the week.
Gena gave us a running commentary on our skyward trip to Kenscoff and quickly filled us in on the wish list for the week – ‘a few footpaths’ she said ………’ and maybe a few potholes to be filled in here and there’ !! Little did we know….
On arrival , we offloaded our gifts of clothes and all sorts of assorted bits and pieces for the children including gluten free Christmas cake for Gena all the way fromCork.( anything to declare Sir ? )
We then had a tour of the large 13.5 acre site which is on a steep slope with its 22 separate buildings , which house and cater for 400+ children and upwards of 200 staff , a large school and lots more – it’s a very impressive facility overall.
Our primary focus for the week was to be on providing a footpath/ramp which would allow a smooth journey for the wheelchair bound residents to move from their house to the school and church along with a number of much smaller jobs.
Gena , our host ,intepreter, facilitator, foreman, and whip cracker had our raw materials ready and waiting for us along with 10 local workers , so after a ‘short’ 2 hour Mass on Palm Sunday we got a dispensation to re-commence work at 1 PM having got some preparatory work in for a few hours earlier in the morning.
It didn’t take us long to get in to our stride after John Cronin gave very specific instructions on the ‘mix’ he required – any deviation from which was punishable by some harsh words and a threat of the ‘carte jeune’ or worse still the ‘carte rouge’ coupled with reductions in wages………’one dollar’ was mentioned a few times.
In Irish there is a saying ‘Tús maith leath na hoibre.’ (pronounced Toose mawh lah na hib-reh ) which means ‘ A good start is half the work’ so we got a good start every morning and a little time planning and organising saved us a lot of time later and allowed us to push hard every day to get as much as possible done in the short time we were there for.
You’ll see from our photos on Facebook how we progressed during the week and a few of the older residents in the Orphanage also got stuck in to help us when all hands were needed on deck – particularly on a few occasions when we had a few torrential downpours of rain and we still had to finish off a few square yards of concrete. We hand mixed the equivalent of 10 readymix lorry loads of concrete for this part of the project which as mentioned earlier Gena called ‘a few footpaths’ – more like a runway as it became known later in the week.
John O’Connell had to leave on the Thursday so we were invited in to a ’Thank You’ presentation of locally made gifts and some lovely music/singing to show us their appreciation for the work we had done for them – a very welcome and moving experience which only further energised us for the remaining few days.
In between all the mixing and concreting we had plenty of laughs , a few songs and some interesting international cultural exchanges with the Haitians and all of the many other nationalities who were volunteering or working there during our visit.
We were made extremely welcome in Kenscoff by Gena and all of her hard working staff , they looked after and fed us extremely well and we were on first name terms with so many of the lovely well mannered children and adults long before the end of the week.
We finished up on Saturday afternoon, cleaned up , sadly said our goodbyes and joined the rest of the Espwa volunteers who had returned from Ile a Vache for a night out in PaP . We are very happy with the volume of work we got through for the week and look forward to returning to our friends in Kenscoff hopefully at Halloween to finish off Gena’s runway and ‘few other bits and pieces’…….
Due to maintenance works on the local DART line, our walk has put back by a week to a new