Bringing light and inspiration to Haiti
By: Christine Owers
Last December, the Air Canada Foundation provided financial and employee support to construct a new community school and bring light to a remote village in Haiti. The foundation assisted its Canadian partner, KANPE in their mission to put an end to the cycle of poverty.
Answering a Horizons Daily request from the Air Canada Foundation for adventurous-type volunteers interested in helping others while having some basic construction skills and two weeks of vacation time available, employees Dan Fillman (Licensed Aircraft Technician – YYZ), Michele Taras (Service Director – YYZ), and Debbie Iversen (Retiree, Financial Analyst - YYC), and Christine Owers (Tariff Specialist – YUL), set out to improve the quality of life of the people living in Baille Tourible, Haiti.
Baille Tourible is an isolated village of about 1,000 people with no running water or electricity.
KANPE has empowered 315 families in this community to become more self-sufficient by providing education resources to farm the land or raise livestock in order to better their health and well being.
After a few hours on the paved highway north from Haiti’s airport, Port-au-Prince (PAP), our truck turns and we are off-road. Another few hours drive into the interior over countless rolling lush mountains we arrived in the beautiful valley of Baille Tourible which became our home base. Our residence was a secure eight-room cement building beside the medical clinic and is one of six cement buildings in the village. The others are a bakery, a government school, and two churches.
Haitian caseworkers have their work cut out for them: visiting these 315-member families every week to monitor their changes, support them as they learn the details of running small businesses, repairing their homes, accessing free health care and education. KANPE’s aim is to develop both their capacity and confidence until these families have their own functioning small business that will operate autonomously after the weekly visits are over.
We became fondly known as the “quatre blancs” and on two different occasions, were fortunate to accompany a caseworker on their daily walk up and down the valley to visit a few dozen families and report on their progress. These visits afforded us a first-hand look at the methods taken to develop the family members, in most cases, the women are the heads of the family. The caseworker reviewed writing and math skills, the bank account, and monitored the progress in development of the household business, whether it be farming with the starter bean, corn or pearl millet seeds given to them or livestock production from the supply of pigs, chickens or goats.
Equipped with resolute enthusiasm, work gloves and a hammer, the “quatre blancs” set out to make a difference! Over the next two weeks, we worked with locals to construct and rebuild the road. We laid the cement floor foundation of the school, set up partitions and painted them black to be used as chalkboards. We continued with the construction of 15 wooden benches and added a few more touches to ready the school for the 100 students composed of four different learning levels. Another Air Canada Foundation initiative, during our sojourn—eight solar street lights and solar technicians arrived from PAP. Many locals supported the effort and before long, holes were dug, the poles encased in cement, and the connection made to bring light to a village that was otherwise steeped in darkness each day at sundown.
“I consider myself blessed to have been given the opportunity to help build a school, install lights, and repair the road in one of the poorest villages in Haiti. I am in awe of the amazing work the Air Canada Foundation does both here and abroad to help those in need. I would like to remind my fellow crew to never forget to make the announcements for the ‘Every Bit Counts’ program. Your help goes a long way to making this world a better place,” says Michele.
Most evenings for a few hours after dark, with the aid of light from the clinic generator, we planned our activities, played cards, and shared stories with our KANPE guide, Fritz, the clinic doctor and her staff, and the local women who helped maintain our residence. We could be seen joining local women in bean sorting, helping to fetch water from the river, in addition to playing games, sports, and doing craft activities with the children who were numerous and random in just about every field and path.
We were rewarded not only with the satisfaction of seeing these tasks complete but also with children’s smiles and impromptu gatherings to share songs, music, and food. The families we met warmed up to our presence and shared smiles and actions that emitted an overwhelming happiness. As we explored paths in the village cutting across family properties, we’d meet four generations of family members who were on their front stoop ready to greet us and offer us a chair to sit down—they became our friends and taught us how living with very little still contains kindness and hospitality unlike any other we'd experienced.
Our last evening, we could not help but venture out down the well-known path through the valley noting the social gathering and activities under each new solar street light along the way. We stopped in the main village area and immediately attracted a circle of children and adults. They began singing Christmas carols, with in their beautiful Creole voices, Then we did the same in English.
As the magic of our last evening waned, we wandered down the now well-lit path back to our residence content with what we had accomplished with the support of the Air Canada Foundation.
"If you saw someone or something it warranted an acknowledgment or attention, no one walked by without at least a ‘bonjour’ or ‘bonsoir,’ and at the most a full 5-minute discussion without breaking step towards their destinations, often in opposite directions. I can count this as one of my most beautiful and pure experiences of my life." Christine
"The people of Baille Tourible impressed me with how happy they are with so little they have and their importance of family and community support was amazing." says Dan.