Our Halloween trip this year started out from Dublin airport on Sunday 25th Of October 2015,and while there were only a few travelling, I was really looking forward to the trip as it would be my first venture North of Port au Prince to Kenscoff. I had travelled numerous times to Haiti already but my final destination was always South to the island of Ill a Vache. I had been assured that going North was a totally different experience not least because of the change in climate and the magnificent views!
After a long trek via London and Miami we landed in Mais Gate Port au Prince on Monday 26th October, greeted by a local Caribbean band on disembarking, the same gang as always, makes me smile, I know I’ve arrived in Haiti.
In no time at all we were on the road to Kenscoff after being greeted by Gena Heraty (Mayo native) and her driver. The drive was amazing, we kept ascending and moving up along a winding road and the intense dead heat of Port au Prince was left behind, not that I was sorry- a fair skinned Irish cailín, I was starting to feel right at home. The views of the mountains and the landscape were unbelievable and when my ears popped Gena informed us we would be ascending 5000 ft above sea level – I believed her…
We arrived at the orphanage a couple of hours later and after settling into our guest house we had a tour of the grounds and facilities- all credit due to Gena and NPH for the fabulous work they do, 400+ children and teenagers on a permanent basis and at least another 400+ attending for school every day, I had huge sympathy for the women in the kitchens turning out meals for 800 children and staff, no mean feat! Not to mention all the clothes that need to be hand washed and dried daily.
Kenscoff is set on 13 acres and I loved the fact that it felt like a little village. It has separate houses for the boys and girls of different age groups located within the grounds. There is also a large school, a kindergarten building, a clinic, a new kitchen and storage facilities. It struck me that all the kids are very happy, busily going about their business and doing their daily chores without complaint and smiling. Each house has its own house mother/father to look after them and stay with them at night. All in all it takes a dedicated staff and a lot of planning to keep things running smoothly, not that you would know walking around the grounds.
On Tuesday morning, bright and early I awoke to the sounds of Haitian life starting, the cockerels are just as noisy up North as they are down South) We started our first project, to lay the shuttering for a new pathway through the playground, the previous pathway ran down a steep incline that left Gena’s heart in her mouth every time a wheelchair made the journey down it. Work soon got underway as we were ably assisted by local Haitian workers, delighted to be back working with us and the chance to learn some new skills and earn a few bob. We also started breaking up another section of the old roadway, which was difficult work with a pick and lump hammer!
As always the week goes so fast and the days fly by, all in all we completed almost 200 metres squared of paths, including the continuation of a footpath in front of the school for easier wheelchair access to the school and the repair of steps that had been worn away from years of rain erosion. Kieran brought a basketball net to the teenagers for their court, and with the agility of monkeys they climbed literally up on each other to put in place, no obesity problems or lack of exercise in Haiti!
On Friday all the children gathered in the round theatre, used to hold mass and other gatherings to thank us for our work and to show their appreciation, it was really touching to hear them singing “Mesi Mesi” and clapping in such large numbers and bestowing us with gifts that they had made in their workshops in Port au Prince. We didn’t need any gifts, their smiles and gratitude was more than enough.
We finished work early on Saturday and had the time to play some Halloween games with the younger boys, they don’t celebrate Halloween in Haiti and it would actually scare the children to see you in a witches outfit due to their Voodoo superstitions. It was still great fun and there was no shortage of volunteers to bite the apple and to dip their heads in a basin of water and jellies to see what they could scoop up. Such simple games brought much laughter and smiles, a lesson to all back in Ireland and the developed world.
Sunday morning was the start of our journey home and after some heartfelt goodbyes we made an early start for Port au Prince and the airport. We had time to visit the NPH physiotherapy facility and school in Tabarre and were again struck by the wonderful work and dedication of all the team employed and volunteering to make a real difference in the lives of so many lucky children.
Gena has enlisted our help for many years to come and when asked how much needs to be done her parting words to us were “As far as the eye can see……..”