Saturday, April 3, 2021

2021Better than 2020?

Like just about everyone, our hope for 2021 to be better than 2020 was high as the year began.  Since this year began, we have seen some of both.  With God all things are possible.  

The US government is now requiring a negative covid test to enter the US.  Haiti has been requesting negative tests for a while, but has begun requiring them for entry into Haiti.  There is still a significant amount of concern regarding covid in Haiti, however so far Haiti has been spared the devastating effects that were predicted.  A lot of prayers have been answered in this regard.  As of the time I am writing this Haiti is reporting 12,722 cases with 251 deaths from covid since this began.  This is a blessing, but we must remain vigilant in prayer.

The rats at our home have been brought under control (mostly), so I have turned my attention to the mice inside the house.  You know you have a mouse problem when you catch 2 mice in 1 snap trap at the same time (I would post a picture, but it is a little too graphic).  We have caught 12+ mice in the past 3 weeks, often times with no bait on the trap.  We seem to have some mice that are too small to trigger the traps.  We caught a mouse that was no bigger than a quarter (body size).  We hope to have this under control soon.

I seem to be continually working on cars here.  Mostly because parts are very difficult to find, or are extremely expensive.  I buy brake pads for Linda's little pink car from Britain for about $20 a set, while those same pads are $200 here in Haiti.  I want to buy local, but cannot justify 10 times the cost.  For those that don't know Linda's car is a Suzuki Jimny.  They are all around the world, but not in the US.  We have made some upgrades to the suspension to handle the tough roads here.  She has a bushing that has gone out and I cannot get a replacement.  I have ordered the material to make a polyurethane bushing myself.  I am learning how to do a lot of things myself, that I would not even consider in the US.  In February I took all of the fuel injectors out of the Kia pick-up to clean them and put them back in. 

Linda's car

      
Kia's Fuel injector



I was fortunate to go to Sonis (the village in Novelle Terrain) a few weeks ago.  It was my first trip on the motorcycle trail that we have provided some supplies for.  I can tell you that I am getting a little old to be on a motorcycle for 4 hours on a trail barely wide enough to walk on with 1000' drop offs on either side.  Rosias (Mouse to some of you) hired motos to take us up there.  We met up with the motos in Kenskoff at the moto "station".  As we were getting ready to leave I noticed a group of other moto taxi drivers watching intently.  I asked Rosias why the attention, these drivers see white people all the time? He said he told my driver that I may want to drive part of the time, so they were all waiting to see me drive the moto with the driver as my passenger.  So, I traded places with the driver and we started up the mountain from Kenskoff to Sonis.  These are small (150cc) street bikes, not designed for this type of use.  After about 30-45 minutes, I decided to let the driver drive.  Probably not the best idea, as he was in his early 20's and then it became a race to Sonis with the driver for Rosias. I survived the ride, but was sore for a while.  While out there, I was able to attend church and take some measurements from the spring to the village for the water supply.  I was given a tour of the school, and we discussed some options for next school year.  

Linda has been very busy with Counseling, Dog training, Training for her next competition, and Gymnastics. Both of our dogs participated in the first Society Canine Haitian (SCH) competition in February.  Cristof is still very young, but placed third in German Shepherds.  Django did well, placing first in the Terrier group and receiving the hardest hit award for attacking (video attached).  We are confident for the next competition to have Cristof place better and hope Django can bring home the best in show.

Cristof

  
Django  











Linda has a bodybuilding competition in early May. She is constantly modifying her diet to be ready at the right time.  I don't like to see her stress over one pound here or two pounds there, but she enjoys it, so we encourage her.  She has reached the point where people see her and say to me, "Don't mess with her".  My usual response is that I just need to be able to run faster than her. 

Gymnastics is also getting better.  With  Covid and security issues, she lost quite a few students.  Most have started returning and new students are starting as well.  She has also started teaching gymnastics at a local school for their after school program.  There are a few students that show great potential.  This is a much needed outlet for kids here.  Linda has also been approached about doing gymnastics with the Haiti Special Olympics.  This is something Linda has done in the past and she loves it.  Please pray with us that the details can be worked out.

The general situation in Haiti continues to be unstable.  Two weeks ago there was a SWAT team ambushed by a gang.  Many police officers were killed and brutally displayed as trophies.  The gang also "acquired"  an armored vehicle in the ambush.  They were attempting to raid an area suspected of housing kidnapping victims, but the gang knew they were coming.  This was shocking even by Haiti standards.  The kidnappings continue and have actually increased.  We are not as big a target for kidnapping as a well known Haitian, but there is still considerable risk.  I am glad that Linda has Django or Cristof with her in the car.  This is not perfect, but it is a good deterrent.

We feel so blessed to be here and pray that we are making a difference.  We pray that we can help make Haiti better in 2021 than 2020. Please consider signing up for our newsletter notification and prayerfully consider supporting our efforts in Haiti.


God Bless



Friday, January 1, 2021

New Year New Haiti ?

 As we wind down 2020, many thoughts to look back on and many more for the future.  In the beginning 2020, the kids were in Oregon and Linda and I were trading places every few weeks.  The kids and I spent most of the year in Oregon trying to get back to Haiti, before finally arriving in August. Once we arrived, most of my time has been spent repairing things that had issues;  The generator had a dead battery, the gas in the pickup was bad (I had to completely remove the gas tank from the truck to clean it), Linda's KitchenAide had bugs in it again, and many other minor items were in need of attention.  

Inside KitchenAide
Toyota gas tank
Toyota gas tank

 

We also returned to a rat infestation.  They are mostly staying outside now, but they are quite comfortable just running around the yard in the daytime.  I have had ten traps set up outside for over a month and only caught one rat.  This has been very frustrating.  I have tried multiple different types of traps.  They seem to learn quickly, and are reproducing faster than I am catching them.  I have looked for a BB or pellet gun to buy, but they are not easily found here.  I was told by another American that they must be registered like a regular firearm (this is very expensive).  I am going to try to make some alternative. 

In March, Linda took second place in her second bodybuilding competition.  This is a great accomplishment.  She has worked hard for this, and we are proud of her.  It has been a great way to promote the gymnastics, as well as the fitness training business she is running.  We have stopped gymnastics for December, and look forward to starting again in January.

 

As you might remember from an earlier post, the Haitian government has been manipulating the exchange rate for the currency.  They injected US dollars into the economy to bring the exchange rate down.  The exchange changed from 115 to 60 in just a few days.  This made everything effectively twice the cost for us in Haiti.  The current exchange rate is 67 gourdes for a US dollar, so for those of us with US money everything is still about 40% more expensive than in September.  

 

60 Day Chart


We were privileged to bring some Christmas party supplies up to be sent out to Sonis and given to the students.  The motorcycle road is not yet paved all the way to the village, but we hope to see that completed soon.  We are hoping to get supplies to the village on motorcycles instead of carrying everything in. 

 

       
Christmas party supplies















As we finish this crazy year, please pray.  So many of our supporters have been affected by the COVID-19 restrictions and we are receiving a lot less support (down 75-80% from last year)  This coupled with the exchange rate, we are really feeling the pinch.  Please prayerfully consider supporting the work we are doing here in Haiti.


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Haiti "Normal"

 

I just thought I would share a few observations about "normal" life in Haiti. This is by no means comprehensive, just a few thoughts.

Driving In Haiti:  As more of our kids reach driving age, we face the dilemma of deciding whether or not to teach them to drive in Haiti.  In addition to the normal driving lessons to consider (which is already enough for any parent), we also have Haiti to consider.  Traffic laws are mostly the same as the US, however adherence is nothing like it.  Intersections are "every man for himself" so to speak. If you see a chance to block the intersection, you better take it.  If you don't, you will never get through.  Signs are ignored--if they exist at all.  Lights and stop signs are simply suggestions.  A couple of years ago, I almost got a ticket for stopping at a red light!  I stopped looked both ways, and by that time I had a policeman standing at my window yelling at me to get going or get my license taken.  Police will randomly stop you to try to find a problem, so that they can demand money.  

Pedestrians are everywhere, as are motorcycles.  Motorcycles don't follow the same rules, they somehow even ignore police directing traffic.  They weave through traffic like it is an obstacle course challenge.  To add to the confusion, they are either covered with lights, or have no lights at all.  This is quite dangerous in the dark.  When curb parking, you are required to have both right side tires on the sidewalk.  Our car was impounded by the police 5 years ago, for not being far enough on the sidewalk. 

Haiti is a very mountainous country, and all of our vehicles are manual transmission.  This is good for the kids to learn, but difficult since the hills here are very steep.  And to top it off, if there is an accident, the courts are likely to say, "It was their fault, but you have access to money. Therefore, you need to repair their car as well".  So, do we teach them to drive here?  This has been a struggle for us every time someone turns 16.  

Banking in Haiti: Most Americans in Haiti will tell you it is not safe to go to the bank here.  If you withdraw what is considered a lot of money here($50 US), you can be at risk of being robbed or killed.  Many people are robbed and some killed after leaving a bank.  The teller is often in on the robbery and will get a small cut from the robbers for the notifying them who has withdrawn money and how much they withdrew.  Despite this risk, banks here are very busy. I went to the bank last week and from the time I arrived until I left was 1 hour 55 minutes.  This is in line with a normal trip to the bank here.  

Just going into a bank here you will see a lot of differences from the US.  First, the line is likely to go all the way outside.  I have gone to the bank where I stood in line for 45 minutes before even getting inside the building.  The security guards regulate the entry of people.  There are always at least 2 guards with 12 gauge shotguns and pistols.  As the security in Haiti gets worse you can see this in the guards.  My last trip to the bank, one guard unlocked the door and let me in while the other stood watching with his shotgun raised and finger on the trigger.  Once the first guard determined I didn't have a weapon, the second lowered his gun.  They did this for every person that entered while I was there.  They are also responsible to tell you where to stand in line.  This works well, since no one wants to argue with the guy holding the gun.  Once you are inside the building, everything changes from Haitian Creole into French (which I don't speak).  Also, you cannot use your cell phone in the bank.  Not even to check the time; it stays in your pocket.  Some banks don't even allow the phone inside.  Since everything inside is in French, I need help filling out the forms.  This is different depending on the bank, branch, or employees mood.  Sometimes, I have to go through a different line, just to get the form, and return to the first line to get back to the teller.  All of this while watching the wealthy regulars walk in and go straight to the front of the line, sometimes actually moving someone away from a teller window.  All with no complaints from the other customers.

Shopping in Haiti: This experience can vary greatly depending on what you are trying to buy and where you are.   There are a few upscale shops, but not many or at least not widely known.  There are a handful of "American" style stores (where you would push a cart through the isles).  Then there are the smaller stores that you can select things from the shelves.  All of these stores have a few things in common.  They will all have security guards with shotguns, cashiers at registers, and almost always a boss sitting in an elevated platform to watch everything.  They will also have a lot of employees milling about. Their job, however, is to watch you and not to help you. 

Hardware stores, as well as a few others add another level of protection from theft by checking everything you are carrying to the receipt.  This is nothing like Costco or Walmart.  I once purchased a box of 1000 screws, and they dumped out the box to count every screw three times over!  There were only 992 screws.  They were confused and didn't know what to do.  I told them it was not a problem.  They still would not let me go.  They called a supervisor over and he gave me a small measuring tape and let me go.  

Most of the population does their shopping at what are called "boutiks" (boutiques). These are not generally specialty stores like a boutique would be in the US, but they do have a theme (food, hardware, auto parts, some others).  These stores vary in size from that of a convenience store down to barely large enough for the seller to stand inside.  The standout characteristic of these shops is that you need to know what you want (and for me, I need to be able to say it so that they can understand).  All of the merchandise is inside behind bars with the person selling. You tell them what you want, they either write it down or tell someone else.  Then you go to the cashier, who is in a different room behind bars and plywood with a slot to slide money and a tiny hole to speak through.  You give them money, hoping that you are paying for your stuff since there are customers all pushing money through the slot.  They give you a receipt and you either return to the first person, or find a worker to take your receipt and bring you items.  

Most fruits and vegetables are sold on the street...everywhere.  Although there are dedicated markets and market days for this, Haiti law allows anyone to sell anyplace (mostly) on the street.  Many items can also be purchased from people walking the streets carrying their inventory.  These vendors could be selling food, water, juice, coffee, alcohol, windshield wipers, phone chargers, shoes, bowls, bread, fans, lights, gasoline, puppies, or anything that they can carry or push in a cart. They will come right up to your window with their stuff (even if you tell them no).  Linda likes to buy papitas--plantains sliced full length and fried like a potato chip.  We have really only ever bought papitas and the occasional phone charger from these vendors.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

We're back in Haiti and getting settled!  Boy, are we glad to be back too. Don't get me wrong, it was wonderful to spend so much time in the States especially for the holidays. Still, Haiti is home now and Dorothy was right; "There's no place like home". True, we got back almost two months ago...but we're still a lot of people so getting back into the groove takes some time.  

While we were gone, the rodent invasion kicked into high gear! We've always had pest problems to deal with in Haiti. Roaches and rats, the occasional Tarantula, and more lizards than I'd ever seen before (exercising lizards always doing their morning push-ups on the ceiling, haha).  The lizards are harmless apart from distracting the dogs sometimes. We have the vehicles running, now we need to renew papers for some. Gymnastics is up and going, as schools begin opening here.  There is a lot of planning going for Sonis/Novell Terraine.  Everything is a process here, but life in Haiti is getting back to normal (at least Haiti normal).  

 

Regardless of all that, the rat king noticed our absence and unguarded palace. He sent in his troops to pilfer and pillage...to even set up camp ! Maybe he When we got back to Haiti, most of our food had been eaten by rats.  The plastic bins had been chewed through.  Mice and rats in almost every room.   We ordered some poison that is supposed to be safe for dogs, let's hope it works. We have been placing traps in almost every room. We mostly have the rats under control now--meaning they are staying outside in the yard. They have either moved outside or been caught. So many rats have been caught, that Naomi asks every morning to see the catch before it is taken away.

Linda has been very busy with Counseling, Gymnastics, and Training.  She continues to amaze me with the amount of energy she has.  Linda has met with the Haitian Olympic committee to discuss the possibility of training Haiti's first Olympic gymnast.  This could help to improve the perception of Haiti abroad. 




She has taken on a new project, with the same goal in mind.  She has been working with a US military contractor to setup training for search and rescue dogs for the Caribbean.  Being able to send help to other Caribbean nations during a crisis.  This is a long term and expensive process.  The expected cost to train a search and rescue dog is $25,000 plus, but the benefits could be saving a life. 



 

 

It is hurricane season, so that makes getting to Sonis more difficult. We are planning for when it is ok to walk in again.  We are planning a latrine project and some health training.  They are beginning school up there and we are hoping to provide some materials for the school.  The road is not completed to the village yet, we are hoping that it survives the hurricane season.  Some of you might remember that Hurricane Mathew washed out the road we were working on at that time.  It was not repairable and a new route was selected through the mountains.  

The current situation in Haiti is very tentative.  There has been some protesting and violence, but not all over the country every day.  You can still feel everyone on edge. A few business owners and some politicians (a very prominent attorney) have been executed on the street.  This violence is mostly political.

Covid 19 has affected life here, but not as much as in the US.  A lot of people here believe they have had Covid, however they are not being tested en mass.  The Haitian Department of Health has given guidelines for the doctors to diagnose without a test.  People on the street will tell you that if you have a fever and a cough, you have Covid.  I pray this does not come back to bite Haiti.  

There seems to be a lot of jobs leaving Haiti.  I recently saw a string of Facebook posts from an expat group discussing the number of NGO's that have left Haiti in the last year.  There is a government estimate that claims 85% have left, without plans to return.  Most of the expats in the discussion group agreed.  This means the loss of thousands of jobs for the Haitian economy, and the loss of assistance they were providing.  The government is also messing with the economy to try to help with inflation.  Since the Haitian economy is tied very closely with the US dollar, the government injected US dollars into the economy to affect the exchange rate.  September 1st the exchange rate was 115 gourdes for 1 US dollar (at the bank you would get 113 gourdes), today October 2nd the exchange rate is 65 gourdes for 1 US dollar (at the bank you would get 60 gourdes).  This means that it takes almost twice as much US money to buy the same item as last month.  This would be good for the Haitian people, if it didn't have such a drastic affect on the businesses here.  The prices on the street are starting to come down, but not to the same extent.  I have only seen prices come down about 10% not 50%.  Many Haitians are paid in US dollars or the Gourde equivalent, so they are now receiving just over half as much as last month (if they still have a job).  Businesses are also leaving.  Many business people are saying they will close their businesses and move to a more stable country (then they joke that the US is not stable right now).  The NGO's and businesses that are not leaving are mostly putting projects on hold, due to costs, and waiting for the exchange rate change.

300(USD) United States Dollar(USD) To Haiti Gourde(HTG) Currency Rates  Today - FX Exchange Rate

This chart is the international exchange rate, the exchange rate in Haiti dropped about 3 weeks ago.

 

Our hope does not rest in exchange rates, or politics, but in God and His sovereignty.  We do however, pray that God will heal this land.  Please consider signing up for our newsletter notifications on the right side of this page. We also ask that you prayerfully consider supporting us as we try to continue the work that God has before us.  God will provide. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Last November Linda and I decided to bring the kids to Oregon, due to the growing unrest in Haiti.  Linda and the kids arrived expecting to spend a few weeks waiting for the protests to pass. Then we traded locations back and forth for the first few weeks (keeping one of us in Haiti).  It was great for the kids to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US, especially since Naomi had no real memories of celebrating either holiday here.  In mid January, I began planning to take the kids on our return trip to Haiti, but God had different plans yet.  By the end of January, we realized that concerns about the new virus might affect our ability to return.  In February the US even began suggesting citizens abroad to return to the US. We get to mid-March and Haiti reports it's first case of Covid 19! Immediately, the borders closed down locking Linda in Haiti. All flights canceled, some even returned to the US empty. It took almost a week, very little sleep, a lot of prayer, and knowing the right people to get Linda to Oregon.
It has been great to see our grown kids in Oregon.  Talitha, Billy, and Rose all graduated high school and will remain in the US.  We are so proud of our kids, but it is always difficult to see them go.  We're down to just 6 at home with us now. The family feels so small. Such excitement, filled with concern.  Please remember them in your prayers, as the transition back to the US and into young adulthood can be rough.

Linda arrived in Haiti less than a week after the country reopened its borders.  She reopened her gymnastics classes while trying to social distance and also give a sense of normalcy.  (note: this photo is from before Covid)

She has also returned to her counseling as well as her fitness training/bodybuilding.  She brought Cristof (the new German Shepherd family member) with her to Haiti.  He is going to dog training just as Django does.
 The village in the mountains (Sonis) is still working on the "road" (think motorcycle trail) to the village.  They are getting close to finishing it. However, it is now hurricane season and that will slow things down.  They are also attempting to get the school/church building completed in time for the school year.  We're still planning the water collection and storage system, but we hope to make progress once the road allows for transporting materials out there.

The six kids still living with us and I are going to try to go back to Haiti this week.

Please prayerfully consider supporting God's work through our family, as we transition back to Haiti.

God Bless,

Ron

Friday, March 15, 2019

Midwife Training

Greetings !
Living in a rural village like Sonis or Belot means you don't have easy access to basic medical care. Sonis, Nouvelle Terrain is a 3 hour hike from the nearest road (well, maybe a 4.5 hour hike if you're carrying a bunch of stuff....or you're Dad). We sometimes have mobile clinics to provide medical care in rural areas of Haiti. Sometimes we have trainings about the importance of drinking clean water. Regardless of the particular project, we try to involve the community so they take ownership of the work being done. Well, buckle in 'cause we're going to talk about a topic that gets a little bit heavy.

Last year, we were involved in a 12-week long midwife training in Carrefour Badio (near-ish Nouvelle Terrain where we're helping the community rebuild their church). Around 30 midwives from the surrounding areas showed up for at least some of the classes. Perhaps surprisingly to some of you, midwives in Haiti are mostly men. Women--especially in rural villages--are almost always too busy with daily household chores like washing laundry, cooking food, carrying water, etc to have a paying job.

Anyway, neither Mom nor Dad...nor any of us Sheppards here are midwives. But, a friend from the US who was a certified midwife lived to Haiti for a while; she wanted to help us out while she was here, so she hired a local midwife from Tabarre and they both taught the midwife course.

The training mostly centered around hygiene. The first picture is the midwives clapping their hands and singing a song about washing hands. I'm gonna say this part as PG as I can, but one of the midwives took it upon himself to carve some wooden models (fashioned after himself and his wife) to serve as anatomically correct visual aids during the class and that caused a bit of a stir. All-in-all, we chalk the training up to a big success.

Mom is doing many things here in Haiti, but a large part of what Mom does is in the field of mental health. Unsurprisingly, many Haitians have experienced significant trauma which effects their quality of life. Mom talks about the first three trauma factors too often coming into play in Haiti: Stressful pregnancy, traumatic birth, and early hospitalization. The majority of children born in Haiti aren't born in a hospital or with a midwife present (UNICEF said it was about 37% back in 2016). As a result, many children die before their first birthday. The infant mortality rate in Haiti is one of the highest in the western hemisphere (around 46.8 compared to 5.8 out of 1000 in the US). That's why it's so important that expectant mothers have access to prenatal care and a skilled attendant on hand at the delivery particularly in rural areas.

We are so grateful to have been involved in the midwife training. We were given a basket with vegetables as a gift of appreciation from the students. Another interesting thing, the mayor of Carrefour Badio showed up for the graduation ceremony to give a speech as did other important members of the community. It's great to know that we aren't the sole driving force trying to improve the community. They are picking themselves up and encouraging each other. We're just glad God has put us in a place to help them in the ways we can.

Please consider donating to help us with the work we're doing in Haiti. There are many projects we're involved in and many more we hope to undertake, but we can't do this alone. Thank you very much for all your support ! Tax deductible donations for this or any other project can be made at The Chance to Dream's website https://www.thechancetodream.com/donate

That's all for now. Talk at you next time !

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Our Work in Nouvelle Terrain

Woah, life's been busy since I've been gone. Hi everyone, my name's David and I'll be writing a few blog posts to update you on the goings-on here in Haiti :) Looks like the last post was about the volcano erupted in Guatemala and Linda (Or, as I call her, Mom) went there to help with the relief work. That was last June ! Sorry for the long wait between posts...I'll try to get the next one out sooner.

While Mom's busy with all her various projects, Dad's been chugging along with the rebuilding of the church in the village of Sonis, Nouvelle Terrain that was blown away during hurricane Matthew in late 2016. Nouvelle Terrain (which means, "New Land") is about a 3 hour hike from the nearest "road"...over a few mountains, down into a valley, and then up the side of another mountain. It's quite an adventurous hike for us...especially when you're carrying supplies. We've hiked in there for medical mission teams, for water safety education, and for building projects.

Hurricane Matthew was quite a while ago, you might say. How come it's taking so long to rebuild a church ? Well, we want to build something that will last and won't be blown away by another storm, it's difficult getting supplies to the village, but most importantly we want to encourage the community to help themselves. We don't want to build a church for them...we want to help the people of Sonis build their own church. So, the wood being used for the church are cut by a local wood farmer nearby, for example.

We've also had other projects going on in Nouevelle Terrain aside from the church building. We recently finished a 12-week long Midwife training with the help of a Haitian midwife as well as an American RN midwife. There's also a project going on to build a motorcycle pathway to the village. Dad bought shovels, pickaxes, and hoes to supply to Pastor Saint Pierre for this project. Finally, we have entered the "plannificating" (ie planning) stage of a new project to pump water up the mountainside using a special, homemade, water ram pump that Dad's built.

So, after two years of carrying supplies and plannificating this church building, the building process has started ! The foundation is finished and made of sturdy, rebar-reinforced concrete; the framing is also finished. We've got some pictures below to show you.

Great progress is being made and we're proud of the community, Pastor Saint Pierre, and all of you who've helped through prayers and financial support. Next up, we need to get a bunch of plywood wall sheeting and hike it up there. The sooner the better, otherwise the framing might get damaged by the mountainside winds.

Please consider donating to help us with the work we're doing in Haiti. There are many projects we're involved in and many more we hope to undertake, but we can't do this alone. Thank you very much for all your support ! Tax deductible donations for this or any other project can be made at The Chance to Dream's website https://www.thechancetodream.com/donate

That's all for now. Talk at you next time !