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Sunday, August 29, 2010

HLD on 1150-WDEL Radio

This is a clip from the Friday (8/27/2010) edition of the Rick Jensen show on WDEL. Austin Osborne talks about Mother's Day, Haiti and future HLD plans!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Austin: Final Impressions and Acknowledgements

My trip to Haiti was an unforgettable one, filled with emotion, danger and excitement around every corner. It couldn't have been possible however without the work of the Haiti Family Initiative. I would like to express my undying gratitude for all the people who made this trip possible: Linda Brennan-Jones, Lynn Shapira, Carole Downs, Karen Antell, Nadia Kiamalev, Fouad Kiamalev, Andy Aerenson and all the other leaders who were involved.

Thank you all very much for your hard work, and I hope to be a part of any future HFI endeavors!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Austin: Day 7

So it is the last actual day in Haiti because tomorrow is strictly reserved for traveling. Yippee. I am fairly conflicted as to whether or not I want to leave. I won't lie, I miss my bed, I miss my shower, I miss a lot of things about home, but then I think of what I have to leave behind and the people that I can still help. I do plan to return one day soon, but can these people afford to wait? Do they deserve to wait?

We didn't have camp today because we needed to spend the day cleaning and packing up our supplies. We did fortunately meet up with Antoine and Bajo again, however, so we spent most of the day with them. Antoine took us to his house, and it wasn't in much better shape than Donald's. He lived with many other people and it was a small tent behind a shop. He consistently tried to give us things, when we just could not take any more from him. He had already given us so much in possessions and things to think about going forward. We did as much for him in return as we could. We bought him food, bracelets and necklaces (all in secret of course, we didn't want to appear as though we were showing favoritism). We needed to head back to the bus early however, because the group wanted to go to a waterfall on the other side of the city.

This is when the begging started. The 'all-out, guns blazing, throw everything you've got' begging. The children knew we were leaving for good, and we knew that we couldn't give them anything. Even Antoine succumbed to the frenzy, but not at the same extreme. I do not blame him in the least, and if I had anything to give him, I would have in a heartbeat. People said they were just using us all week, so that we would give them something at the end. I will let these people believe what they want to believe, but I think our friendships were genuine. They could have gone to a lot less drastic measures if they just wanted a 5 dollar tip at the end of the week. Antoine and Donald went above and beyond for us, and we will repay them soon enough for their hospitality.

We couldn't take our regular bus to the waterfall, so we had to take a 'tap-tap'. Why is it called a tap-tap you may ask? I have no clue. However, I would venture a guess that it is because that is the sound your head makes as it repeatedly bangs against the walls of the bus. This was possibly the most uncomfortable hour of my life, and then we came to the river...

Now any other time in America, the driver would say, "We can't go across. There's water in the way", which I think is perfectly sensible. However, we weren't in America. Donald (who was driving behind us on his motorcycle with Antoine) decides to get off his bike, take his pants off (he had underwear) and wade into the river to find the best path for the bus to follow. If Six Flags needs an idea for a new ride, I think we've found one. The driver slammed his foot on the gas pedal and ran completely through the river to the other side.

I can't say that I've ever come across a moment in Haiti where I've guessed correctly what was going to happen next.

So we arrived at the waterfall, took a 10 minute hike through more forest and scattered farm animals (more cows and goats?). Now this was where the trip turned a tad sour for me. We all decided to go cliff diving at one of the waterfalls. I thought this was a perfectly good idea, until I climbed on top of the cliff. Then it was not so great... Like I said, I'm not really a heights person, so the idea of jumping off a 30 foot cliff wasn't exactly my idea of fun. My hesitation ended up costing me, as I "gracefully" fell off the rock and belly-flopped into the water below. At least I got some more scratches as souvenirs and I didn't even have to negotiate for them...

We went back to the hotel and had our last dinner as a group, we reflected on our journey, and how we all affected each other, and how we affected the Haitians and how they affected us, and how we wished that there was more that we could do. I couldn't help but think that there is more that we can do. Maybe not at that exact moment, maybe not in that week, maybe not even this year, but there is more that we can do to help. All it takes is a little piece of the Haitian drive and cooperation, and the people can benefit more than anyone could imagine.

Austin: Day 6

I'll just skip straight to the beach today, where once again, we met Antoine and the Energizer Bunny running child. I am still puzzled as to how he makes this trek each day. While unloading the sports equipment, Antoine came up to Jae and I and handed us a rock. Puzzled, I inspected the rock more closely and noticed that he had painted and designed rocks for all four of the male Charter students. He also gave us each a sculpture that he made. His dream is to be an artist, just like Donald. It is hard to express how I felt receiving this gift from someone I barely knew, but it instilled a sense of trust. I felt as though Antoine would be a great friend to have for the rest of the week.

Now I know it was wrong of me in a sense to do this, but I am still proud of my decision and will stick by it until the end. When we walked back up to the Salvation Army for lunch, the local children were all locked out of the compound because HFI didn't want them to accidentally get food. At this moment, there was a decision to be made. We (Yashwant and I) knew full well that if these children had green necklaces, they could come in and eat, but if we were caught handing them out, we would be in big trouble, and possibly lose all HFI trust. I think our morals got the best of us, because we decided to pass out the necklaces.

This turned out to be a more difficult operation than I expected, as some of the translators appeared to be on to our game. They began to stop letting us hand out the meals. Once again, there was not a shortage of food and this was a very contraversial move on our part, but as I said before, I stick by my decision. The children in Jacmel were just as starving and just as poverty-stricken as the children in the tent-city. Besides, everyone got food and everyone was happy. I do acknowledge however, that the situation could have escalated beyond our control, but I am very grateful that it did not.

It all comes back to my previous point. What was our mission in Jacmel? What were we actually trying to accomplish? A segregation of the community? I think not. We were there to help everyone and anyone that we could. I watched leftover rice leave the camp everyday and I watched starving children see it go. There comes a point when you get fed up with seeing someone who has already endured more than their fair share continue to be shunned and forgotten.

After lunch, Jae, Chris, Yashwant and I went with Donald to do more exploring of the town. We shopped for some souvenirs, which introduced us to another aspect of Haitian life: the world of bargaining. We were warned about this before we went, and I've been to other island countries where it is the same type of situation, but here? It was a necessity to get the upper hand in any negotiation, and you must use anything and everything that you have at your disposal. In one instance, we traded a baseball bat and five dollars for a painting. Welcome to Haiti.

Donald rents a motorcycle for 250 goud a day. 250 goud is about $6 US. He wanted to show us the darker, grittier side of Haiti, from the back of a bike. Jae and I obliged. It was an incredibly exilharating (not to mention, fairly dangerous) experience, but one I wouldn't trade for anything. He took us to his other house where his girlfriend and child lived, which was touching. We also stumbled upon a group of about 15 people sitting outside their tent. Jae happened to notice an Outreach International wrapper on the ground. This was the greatest news I could've hoped for. This is the organization that HLD plans to buy the meals from. If a wrapper is in the tent city, that means that the meals are arriving safely. On top of that, Donald gave the meals rave reviews, saying "Those are real good". Someone call Zagats.

We asked Donald to translate to the group of 15 that we would be bringing 10,000 of the meals back with us in December. As soon as he uttered the words, there was an eruption of joy and happiness from the crowd, and I have to admit that it was a great feeling. To actually see firsthand what your work is doing is the greatest reward you can give someone. That reaction made my day, if not my entire trip.

When we returned, we ended up having a small army follow us around everywhere we went. Donald, Antoine, two children named Bajo and Phillipe and the four of us. I'm sure we appeared menacing as we bought our trinkets. We decided to exhange addresses and phone numbers with Antoine and Donald, and hopefully we will become lifelong friends. This may be the address that we decide to deliver the meals to, but it still being chosen at the moment.

I am feeling myself becoming numb to the constant begging. I hate to say it, but it is starting to become irritating. Not the children themselves, but just the fact that they keep asking and there is absolutely nothing more I can do without completely throwing myself in HFI's line of fire. I have to just let the cries go in one ear and out the other.

Austin: Day 5

Well it's Wednesday, and the trip is halfway over. It seems as though it has gone quickly, but at the same time, it hasn't. The sheer exhaustion makes it feel as though we've been here 4 weeks, not 4 days. But this is what we signed up for, I suppose, so we must trudge onward.

There were rumblings of mutiny today when passing out the water. Dr. K., Nadia's father, gave one of the local children a cup of water. HFI members quickly scolded him for his actions. Now, I can see both sides of the coin here, but I still side with Dr. K. If you give one of the local children water, they will all want some; that is absolutely true. However, we did not have a shortage, and it's not like the water was imported from the springs of Canada. It was bought with the donated money from the volunteers, so it really wasn't hurting anyone to give away one cup. As a side note, no one else came up to ask for water.

Our third trip to the beach was fairly uneventful, but we did meet another person that became one of our closest friends. His name was Antoine and he was a local boy about 17. This was the first day we had seen him at the camp and he spoke very broken English, but he was very nice to us from the start.

While playing with the kids, I noticed a familiar face. There was a child; he was roughly 7 years old and I remember him from the tent city. I also remember him being pushed off the bus... I asked him how he got to the beach, and he said that he ran. Let me pause for a second and just say that I'm not sure you remember how far I said the tent city was, but it is about a 25 minute drive to the beach/Salvation Army. This young child ran at least 10 miles just to play soccer for a half an hour. The strange thing is that he didnt even seem out of breath. It was like nothing happened.

After lunch, the entire group went to another beach. I don't remember much from it however, because I slept most of the time (lame, I know..). In the times that I was conscious however, the beach was absolutely gorgeous and a popular tourist hotspot, and for good reason. There was hardly any trash, there was a lot of shade, and $4 lobster! How do you beat that?

We also got some insight from one of the translators that came with us named Junior. He was about 20 and just finishing the Haitian version of high school. He wants to get a degree in Psychology at his university. Junior is middle class, but I was still surprised at the opportunities he seemed to have. He exuded an appreciation for those opportunities, however, something that may not be seen in America as often as it should be.

He was very supportive of Wyclef Jean, as was every other Haitian that we spoke with. Now that he cannot run however, we'll see what kind of uproar that causes.

I suspect it won't be pretty.

Austin: Day 4

After seeing pictures and hearing stories, Yashwant and I decided to go to the tent city today. It was not a long ride, maybe 25 minutes at the most, and I was shocked when we arrived. The tent city actually seemed... nice (for lack of a better word). Now by no stretch was this the Hamptons, but based on my expectations going in, the city was clean, orderly and overall inhabitable. There was evidence of a water runoff system being put into place and there were at least 100 brand new, large tents provided by USAID. There were UN soliders stationed there and a large basin of drinking water. The people even seemed very happy in the city, which brings me back to a point I made previously about the orphange. I have very rarely run across someone in Haiti that seems utterly and completely defeated. A glimmer of hope shines in each individual, no matter their housing situation or how much food they have. It is absolutely incredible and it speaks volumes about the Haitian drive, determination and will power.

Now this may come back to bite me later, but I feel that it needs to be said as I was incredibly bothered by it. After exploring the tent city, Yashwant and I came to the school bus to find it bombarded by children. Zu, who I have incredible respect for (being in Haiti all seven weeks) was choosing which children were going to come to the camp. Due to some behavioral issues, the decision was made to always bring new children to the camp each day. I understand this completely because you do not want conflicts and you want everyone to have a chance to go.

However, the way the children were handled was not unlike the way someone may handle a stray dog. There was much unnecessary grabbing, pulling and pushing and the situation could have and should have been handled in a more humane way. I feel as though being in a country like this for too long hardens you; in fact, it must. Otherwise, you would be consumed by your own sorrow and grief. But in that hardening process, we as a group must be careful as to not forget why we came to Haiti in the first place. We must continue to treat the Haitians with respect and treat the children as if they are our own.

Another problem I had with this system was that there were about 15 empty seats on the bus as we pulled away, with about 30 8-year-olds chasing us. Is there something wrong about that? I will let you decide on your own, but personally I felt that it is defeating the purpose of the trip. I came to help the children of the tent city, not watch them disappear in the rear view mirror.

So we arrived back at the Salvation Army and the camp went exactly the same as yesterday. Give out water, go to the beach, play a little bit, mediate a little bit, pretend to know Creole, disarm angry children, rinse and repeat. It was after the camp had ended that my real day began.

His name was Donald. He wore a red Ohio State University shirt, some stylish jeans and a white baseball hat. He seemed like any normal guy that you would meet on any street in America, but he was anything but. We met him outside of the Salvation Army, as he would always help HFI members. The Charter students actually thought he was one of the translators due to his kindness and helpfulness. He spoke 4 languages, Creole, French, Spanish and English, and he instantly became an invaluable ally on our trip. He first took us to his home, and just like many of my experiences in Haiti, I was once again shocked by what I found. He lived across the street behind one of the shops with some of the local kids that would play in the camp. His home was no larger than 8 x 8 feet. On one side was his bed, and on the other was a broken television (which he ended up selling the next day). Paintings and mobiles that he made were hanging all over the walls and ceilings, and we later came to find out that he was an artist. He tried to give us some of his paintings free of charge, but there was absolutely no way we could accept in good conscience.

He took us on a walking tour of Jacmel, through the markets, side streets and pathways that are not usually explored by tourists. It would take hours to express all of the emotions, sights and sounds I experienced that day, so for the sake of time, I'll only hit on a few that were especially poignant.

Anyone who has been to New York knows how hectic and crowded it is. Anyone who's been to Haiti knows that New York is nothing in comparison. There were so many people yelling and trying to sell you things and pushing and shoving and fighting! It became overwhelming at times and I almost got lost from the group on multiple occasions. We ducked down another side alley to get away from the bustle of the market and we stumbled upon a playground. This was probably the most affecting image of the trip. There was brand new playground equipment everywhere, slides, jungle gyms, swings, everything. And then there were tents.

One thing I've tended to notice is that Jacmel is rife with contradictions, paradoxes, and double standards. Even when the Haitians try to make something fun and enjoyable like a playground, it is never used to its full potential. In this case, it was just another site for yet another tent city. The people need so much and it is obvious that the government cannot, and seemingly will not provide it. The citizens of the town are actually not dressed as poorly as you would think for a country with a $1,300 per capita income. However, those same people go home to their small, barely livable tent. On our tour, we were taken to the rich side of town. The architecture was spectacular, the buildings were imposing and reminiscent of an upper class European country.

There were no people.

Should I have expected this? Probably. After the earthquake, the area was abandoned. I began to think that this was just a microcosm for the entire country after the disaster. There was only one class in Haiti, and it was poor.

Austin: Day 3

The first day of camp was less hectic than I suspected it would be. Each day of camp, the bus would pick up our team and drop us off at the Salvation Army, then take some of the team members to the tent city to pick up the children for the camp. I decided not to go to the tent city today, not sure I could handle what I might find there, so I waited to hear some opinions from the other courageous team members that decided to go.

The children arrived at the camp about an hour later, and the heat was already becoming unbearable. I understand that we as Delawareans are not necessarily accustomed to extreme heat, but it still amazed me that the Haitians could bear this weather on a consistent basis. There was no respite for them, due to the lack of funds for air conditioning and cold water. My respect for their situation rises each day.

Our first task of the day was to give water to each of the children that attended the camp. We lugged two large buckets out into the main area and began to parcel out the water. Already, I was facing some moral conflicts. First of all, some, if not the majority, of cups that we were using were very dirty. I understand that you don't look a gift horse in the mouth, but are we really helping people by giving them dirty water? They were appreciative of course, but I wished we could have gotten new cups for the week. My second problem was that we had to skip over some children because they were not in the camp. The counselors could determine the campers because they received a green necklace at the tent city. Basically, no green necklace meant no water.

After the children received their water, it was time to go down to the beach to start the sports portion of the camp. We were given roughly 40 minutes a day to play with the kids, which may not sound like a lot of time, but in the 98 degree weather, it was plenty for everyone. We led the kids single file (surprisingly easy) down to the beach through an alley of shops and homes. There were already many people coming out of their homes to beg for money or food. Sadly, we just had to follow the motto of the trip: just ignore them. Maybe it won't always have to be this way, but for today, there was nothing I or anyone else could do.

The first impression of the beach was that it was very dirty. Without the trash all over the place, Jacmel could easily be a resort town. It overflows with natural beauty, all it needs is a good cleaning. But anyway, we arrived at the beach, and immediately realized that many problems were going to erupt due to the lack of sports equipment. The smaller children would all ask the counselors to get a ball for them, but we couldn't because they were all taken. No one seemed to want to cooperate with eachother, and many of them were quick to fight. Don't get me wrong, the children were incredibly nice to each of us, but they just weren't used to having this much equipment.

After an exhausting half hour of quelling potential conflicts, we went back to the Salvation Army and had our first lunch service. It was the same set-up as the water in the morning. Only the children with the green necklaces could receive food, so once again, we had to walk by the ones without it. Every fiber of my being is telling me to give some of the food to some of the local kids, but I know that we can't.

I'm not sure I want to do lunch service anymore.