A pause for FSRL, but a pause filled with work and hope

It is Holy Saturday, 11 April, 2020.  A pause in the pace of life, on many levels.

So much has happened since our last posts, in early January, that I am embarrassed even to try to summarize!    But let me try.  First, our GRADUATION!  On January 18, between the great storms of political demonstrations (up through December 2019) and coronavirus (March 2020), a door of opportunity opened and to our GREAT delight all ten of our first students graduated!

caps off! Graduation 2020 cake
from left: Back row: Jean Laurent Michaud, Emerson Barthelemy. Middle Row: Nicholson François, Amendocia Dorcé, Ramona Adrien, Merly Dorestan, Marthe Gabriel, Roosvelt Pierre Louis, Stephyole Edmond. Seated: Micza Louis.  Hurray!

How too wonderful!  And HRF members even came to join us for the occasion: Janis Handte, Catherine Manix, Judith Straub, and Donnel O’Flynn!

We recruited two more marvelous professors from Chile, one PT (Fernanda Valdebenito ) and one OT (Sofia Galleguillos, to stay to teach for a full year!

We welcomed for the first time (hopefully not the last) a wonderful PT professor from Brazil, Dr Fabiane Gioda, who stayed for three weeks to teach Basic Therapy Skills to the second-year students!

Dr Fabiane Gioda, with a well-deserved smoothie at the Arawak Hotel!

We welcomed two returning U.S. professors: Linda Robinson, PT, and Zara Harris, OT!

Then, everything changed.  I am at home in Montana now, very much and very thoroughly at home, as are most of us during this time of sheltering-in-place. I came home on Feb. 28, intending to be here to celebrate Donnel’s birthday on March first. Within a week it was clear that airports and borders were closing due to the international coronavirus outbreak.  Where to weather the siege ?  I decided to stay home in Kalispell.

During the following week the same question became urgent for our professors from Chile: if they were to be home with their families, we would have to act fast.  We bought them one-way tickets to Santiago and gave them 24 hours to pack up to go.  Norman had planned to retire from FSRL after his one year contract ended, May 1, which would have allowed time for one of those wonderful parties of farewell that the students are so good at putting together!  But as it was, this beloved member of FSRL had only a day to go to each staff member on campus to say good bye. Fernanda had only been on campus a week!  And Sofia hadn’t yet arrived!

The borders of Haiti have now closed.  What we hear from Norman is that he is providing respiratory therapy in seven-day long shifts, a normal part of the job for PT in Chile.  (In the US this work is done by another professional, a respiratory therapist.)   We send him love and respect!

Our students took in the waves of news with growing concern.  First, our volunteer professors packed up and went home a little precipitously.  The students asked, “Who will teach us?” and were reassured that our three Chilean faculty would be there all year.

Then, we sent the Chilean faculty home.  “Who will teach us NOW? Should we be worried?” was the next question from the students.  (You can already hear the hint of a smile in the way that was asked!)  “No worries” I said, by WhatsApp.  “Even our obstacles have obstacles.  But we eat obstacles for breakfast, no?”    “I hope we don’t get indigestion.” was the dour reply.

On March 18, the president of Haiti closed all schools and universities and asked Haitians to go home and stay home to limit virus transmission.  Our clinic, Centre Universitaire Tèt Ansanm (CUTA) took in patients for one more day, while the new secretary of CUTA, Mlle Cedria, called all patients to cancel pending appointments. Then CUTA closed, in the realization that we did not have adequate PPE to protect the patients and staff.

patient, Peter Son, Emerson, in masks-CUTA 13 March 2020
One last day at CUTA, with third-year student Peter Son Badette and Clinic Director Emerson Barthelemy showing good protection for their patient.


As all our students are now at their homes, we are presenting classes remotely, not by laptop and internet, but by cell phone and WhatsApp!   Few students have laptops or internet.  Few even have electricity at home.  But, at some risk, they can go out to a corner vendor to buy minutes and to recharge the phone.  Right now three volunteer professors (Dr Cindy Clough, Mme Stephanie Goodrich, and M. Norman Villagra) are working with three local instructors (our new grads: Ramona Adrien, Stephyole Edmond, and Emerson Barthelemy) to present three courses (OT Foundations; Geriatrics; and Therapeutic Exercise).  The students receive a passage to read, and a set of questions to answer.  They answer by hand-writing the responses and sending a photo of the page.  It is like putting a swimming pool through a drinking straw, for sure!

For the handful of students who have laptops and good internet, this seems not really enough.  For those who are completely without access to electricity, this isn’t working and they will need to re-address these courses when FSRL opens again.  But for the majority of our students, this method is viable and at least keeps them in the mode of developing a therapist’s knowledge base and a therapist’s mind-set.

The first-years are also engaged in WhatsApp learning.  They were in a traditional schedule, with 8 concurrent classes that were intended to last a full semester, but each prof is now taking a turn to finish out his or her course.  Jephté Noel has taught First Aid and Rescue Techniques,  and Abimael Lindor has been teaching Anthropology.  Jorel Simplice will soon be teaching Professional French to the second-years.

We have other resources too.  Two professors from Quebec, René Bélanger and Frédérik Marquis, are standing by to teach the next courses in sequence.  The PT capstone students of Dr Julie Booth, at Quinnipac University, will be contacting the  FSRL students who are more able to find internet, to offer English conversation sessions.   Our colleagues from U. de Sherbrooke, led by Mme Carmen Moliner, remain in contact with our students and have become a source of good science-based information on the coronavirus, with the goal that our students be able to teach the facts for prevention in their areas.  (Rumors and superstitions are going wild in Haiti, as they did here before good information became available.)

Finally, and with genuine sorrow, please join us to mourn the loss of one our founding members, Dr Yves Roséus.   Yves was a Haitian-American Occupational Therapist who died in the course of duty, in his work at a New York city hospital.  His energy and devotion to the emerging professions of OT and PT in Haiti were a source of inspiration for us.  He was a good good man: a leader in his church, his work place, his professional organizations of NYSOTA and National Black OT Caucus, and in his service to OT through ACOTE accreditation visits.  He was devoted to his family.  He was proud of our Haitian students and professors and wanted with all his heart to see FSRL succeed.  We will do our best, Yves.  Rest in a well-earned peace.






A tiny article about the life of FSRL: a reflection upon the occasion of the memorials for those lost in the catastrophic earthquake ten years ago

This little article was written on January 9th 2020.  It is a reflection on the life of FSRL, in light of the earthquake in Haiti ten years ago on January 12, 2010.   If you are in a town with a local paper that might reflect on this anniversary, please feel free to share this for publication, or for a Letter to the Editor !

“After January 12, 2010

In our living room, in winter, shocking photos and videos suddenly erupted on television with the announcement of a disaster of Biblical proportions in Port au Prince, Haiti. In the hours that followed we learned that our close friends, the handicapped people of St Vincent’s Center, had been destroyed in 30 seconds by the earthquake. My family members began calling each other, to cry together.

But we were among the lucky ones. After 24 hours, we discovered that this news was false! Almost all of our friends were safe, even though the building was in ruins. And with joy, the ideas started. How can we express our love for this community of true personalities, strong in spirit, in good humor and compassionate towards each other?

Haiti had no school for the education of rehabilitation professionals. It was possible for a disabled person to spend all their life without contact with a professional to give them the therapies and adaptations that could free them from limitations. The rehabilitation services that foreign volunteers could provide were limited and partial, and lacked the cultural elements that are salient for the strong ties between Haitians.

In 2015, doors opened within the nursing school at the Episcopal University of Haiti for five students in the professions of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy.  Collaboration has grown and so has the school. This month, 10 years after the earthquake, the first cohort of FSRL students will graduate.  In the audience will be members of the community of people with handicapping conditions who grew up at St. Vincent’s.

The current academic coordinator and the university administrator are Haitian, accompanied by professors from universities in the United States, Canada and Chile. This school has no real campus, no library full of books, no constant internet. But this school has a goodness of creativity, energy and direction for the improvement of the life of more than 1.1 million Haitians who live with physical, intellectual or mental limits. They are an inspiring group, of which Haiti can be proud.

Yes, there are positive results in Haiti.   Come and visit us in Léogâne!”

Marthe, Stephyole, Ramona, with OT smiles!
Marthe Gabriel, Stephyole Edmond, and Ramona Adrien, the first three OTs to graduate in Haiti, with their wonderful selves, on fieldwork in Gros Morne.



Our biggest class yet!

School is back in session in this new year!   The twenty-seven new first-year students are here!  They should have started in the first week of October, but their first day was Tuesday 7 January.  On Wed. the upperclassmen (upperclass persons) presented the with the challenge of learning the school song. Pretty hilarious and wonderful!

First year students learning the school song of FSRL-8 Jan.2020

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS: The bad, but also the very good

I am at home in Kalispell, Montana. It is really pretty wonderful to be here with my husband, Donnel.    I have missed him, a lot, so the companionship is great!

DOF & JOF-Kalispell-28 Nov2019
Donnel and Janet O’Flynn at home in Kalispell, sending you good wishes for Thanksgiving!

The reason that I am at home during this time is not wonderful though.  The country of Haiti is in turmoil.  The Global Mission office of the Episcopal Church asked me to leave in the third week of October, due to safety concerns, and, as it turns out, I think they were right to make that request. If I had waited it would have been hard to travel to the airport in safety.

The reasons for the turmoil are summarized here, at the end of this blog entry, in Appendix A.  Probably not everyone is curious about the political causes for the unsettled situation, so I am putting that at the end.

The troubles, while severe, have not directly touched our campus.  I took these photos just before heading out to the airport to show how VERY calm it is on Rue Barrière Rouge 2, our little street. Not even a chicken crossing the road, at least at the moment when the shutter clicked. And, except when the students are on campus to study, it is very calm inside the gate of  the campus too! You can see the Haitian flag and the flag of FSRL.

What does this all mean for us, as long-time supporters of FSRL?  Two remarkable things.


  1.  Our students have continued to go to school. We have tried to use some humor, calling it “ninja FSRL”: a stealth operation.  They don’t wear uniforms, and they don’t say where they are going.  But they have been dedicated to completing the courses they started during better times.

Here is the group of five OT students who have been participating with five Canadian OT students of the Université de Sherbrooke in a demanding and high-level course called Fonctions Cerebrales et Ergothérapie. The students are Abigail, Wood, Clinetana, Annabelle, and (back of his head only) Karly Emmanuel.  In the back is a very good cook, Mme Anne Marie.   One of the PT students, Boaz Telfort, is there too, lending his technology expertise.   

This picture was taken after I left by our wonderful chaplain, Père Sonley Joseph, who went by to encourage the students and staff.


2.  Our students have also continued to go to our clinic at the local hospital, Centre Universitaire Tèt Ansanm, at Hôpital Ste Croix.   The students are led by Nirva Elisma, 4th year PT student, who takes a mixed group of all the class years, OT and PT, to the clinic for outpatients and also to work with inpatients. Clinical supervision is provided by Mr Norman Villagra, PT Clinical Coordinator, who is in daily contact, from Santiago, Chile!  His photo is in the last post, with a soon-to-graduate senior student.

Nirva at STAND-April 2019
Nirva is in the scrubs filled with hearts, on the right side of the photo. Here she is with a patient and a volunteer at STAND, an American-led clinic in the north, a few months ago.

Meanwhile, the administration continues to be coordinated by Mlle Miselene Lafleur, Administratrice d’excellence! lafleur et jof at desk

And our two newest faculty members, Mr Jorel Simplice and Mme Cécile Auguste, photos in the last post, keep the academic life on track, in spite of the many many challenges.


I have been doing a lot of thinking about an article published this week by Charity Navigator:  the link, and an excerpt, are below in Appendix B.  (So that you can read it all for yourself! )  The article endorses organizations that take on risky tasks, which for that reason experience failures along the way.    We, the supporters of FSRL, certainly took on a risky task.  Taking on the job of offering two new professional education programs, with an annual budget of $8,000 the first year, was a big risk.  What failures have we experienced along the way?  Well, we hired a dean precipitously in October of 2016, and parted ways by mutual agreement soon after.  We accumulated various debts  (which we are now happily paying down).   We bought a used generator at a good price only to find it broke down within a month.  We tried putting a dorm into our new small building last May, but it was so cramped that we changed our minds and had to let our students go out into town to find rooms to rent. We have had twice now to send the dean (me) home due to civil unrest.

I can’t resist quoting two lines from the Charity Navigator article (link to full text below).

“The process of designing and piloting new ideas is inherently risky, costly, and may result in failure,…”

“A nonprofit that is willing to openly share what has worked and what has not worked understands the relevance of tracking and analyzing results, and values the importance of accountability and transparency.”

I give thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for the gift of FSRL in my life.  The Haitian academic and administrative staff have proven their worth, their dedication, time after time.  The unmeasurable gifts of time by North and South American volunteer educators (therapists, social workers, nurses, doctors) have added ripple to ripple, to make a wave of good going out into the world.  Small and large donations have been the energy source for this effort, without which it could not be happening.  As a result, I have had the privilege of seeing this beautiful multiplier effect: young people are becoming compassionate and competent professionals, and people with disabilities are receiving care.   That is one sign of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, and I can see it with my own eyes, and you can too!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Appendix A: the background of civil unrest, going back to October of 2018.

  • Two years after the election, the results continued to be contested, due to overwhelming influence of the departing president, Martelly.   Groups of citizens affiliated with political parties that were against the president, Jovenal Moise, began to hold organized protests demanding that he at least change his prime minister (PM) to include opposition representatives. At the same time the terms expired for one cohort of Parliamentary representatives (senators and deputies), but no election was held to replace them.  In response, Moise fired his PM and invited an opposition PM.  The opposition PM encouraged resistance to the government.  He was soon fired too, leaving the post vacant.  Demonstrators shifted to demanding that Moise resign.
  • Moise has become silent. During the past six months he has spoken to the people only twice, in hidden settings that are broadcast on radio and TV.   He says “we must continue dialogue.”  But he has not even started a dialogue.
  • PetroCaribe scandal:   Demonstrators raised the issue of a Haitian government report (over 100 pages) saying that more than a billion dollars loaned to Haiti by Venezuela had gone missing, and that in order to repay the debt the few methods of taxation were going to be drastically increased.  Moise was one of the people implicated, but never tried.
  • Hunger, limited ability to buy food and gas.  Inflation is making the earnings of ordinary Haitians dwindle.  When Donnel and I arrived in Haiti in the fall of 2015,  60 gourdes (local currency) would get you a US dollar.  Now you need 94 gdes for that same US dollar.   If a person’s earnings (for small business or a job) have not gone up, that means they can buy only 2/3 of the amount of food for their families.
  • Pays-Lock or “Country-Lockdown”: The opposition leaders organized the demonstrators to lock down the country, that is, to block movement of goods and people: not too hard to do because all roads between north and south pass right through Port-au-Prince.  Entrance and exit to the city has been more and more thoroughly blocked by physical blockades and burning tires.  Increasingly the barricades are reinforced by members of gangs, paid by the parties to use force. Spill-over into gang conflict now causes additional violence.  Schools have been forced to stay closed since mid-September, in what is called a “school strike”.

Appendix B: a timely article from Charity Navigator


“The fact that so many nonprofits have achieved limited success in their pursuit of viable and long-lasting solutions underscores the need to venture into uncharted territories. This exploration and innovation are almost always easier said than done. The process of designing and piloting new ideas is inherently risky, costly, and may result in failure,… Consequently, the nonprofit community,…, is often discouraged from implementing fresh ideas, fearing the loss of financial support if the program fails to meet its goals. However, the fear of failure, as if it were a foe, only serves to fuel stagnation and extinguish creativity and innovation.

Successful organizations are champions of failure. They know that the road to success is marked by twists, turns, and setbacks. …

The fear of failure, criticism, and risk of losing the support of funders dissuades nonprofits from taking the kind of programmatic risks necessary to learn, progress, and succeed in their missions.

As donors, we have the ability to change how we view failure or mistakes. We can choose to reward the organizations we believe are tackling long-standing social issues with new and fresh approaches, even if they don’t work out as planned. A nonprofit that is willing to openly share what has worked and what has not worked understands the relevance of tracking and analyzing results, and values the importance of accountability and transparency.”

Presenting our new academic staff!

I am happy to say that we have four new positions for teaching staff, and three have been filled!  I would like to introduce our new Vice-Dean, Mme Cécile Auguste; our new  Coordinator of  Academic Affairs, Mr Jorel Simplice; and our new Clinical Coordinator, Mr Norman Villagra!
Cecile Auguste at SoHaPh conference
Mme Cécile Auguste, Vice-Dean of FSRL, presents a talk on Physiotherapy and Chronic Pain, for the PT association of Haiti in September.

Mme Cécile Auguste is uniquely qualified for leadership in FSRL.  After high school she entered a competition for a complete scholarship offered by the government of Taiwan, for students willing to study at the university level, in Mandarin Chinese!  She scored second highest on the exam and was accepted for a year’s study of Chinese, plus four years of Physiotherapy, and then after that she stayed on to earn her MBA.  Once back in Haiti, she was the coordinator of the other PT program in Haiti, UNIFA (the University of the Foundation of Dr Aristide).  Mme Cecile is married, with two young children. She has a love of the profession of PT and a love of university teaching: a perfect combination for us!  She is currently teaching Kinesiology and Biomechaniques to the second years.

photo-Jorel Simplice-Oct 2019
Mr Jorel Simplice, Coordinator of Academic Affairs

Mr Jorel Simplice is also uniquely qualified to be the Coordinator of Academic Affairs at FSRL.  He is from Léogâne.  He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Education at UNEPH, our parent university.  He continued to earn his Master’s degree in Education at Quisqueya University, in a joint program with the University of Paris-East.  He consults with the Ministry of Education on ensuring the quality of education for K-12 schools in the provinces.  His passion is teaching teachers. Once we have new graduates in the field he has agreed to provide a training course for them on how to become therapy educators themselves.   He is currently teaching Research Methods for the fourth year students, and is accompanying the fifth-years, who are soon to graduate, in their research projects.

Norman Villagra, Micza Louis
Mr Norman Villagra, PT and Clinical Coordinator, with graduating student Micza Louis.

Mr Norman Villagra, physiotherapist, is also uniquely qualified for his new post as Clincal Coordinator.  He is Chilean, and he came to Haiti as a volunteer with the America Solidaria program.  He  spent about a year and a half working in Les Cayes, Haiti, at Consuelo Alzamora’s  clinic, Fondation Tous Ensemble.  During that time he became fluent in Haitian Creole.  Norman is shown here with our graduating student, Micza Louis.  His work is multi-faceted: he supervises the OT and PT students at our own clinic, Centre Universitaire Tét Ansanm, at Hopital Ste Croix; he teaches PT classes (most recently Pediatrics); and he is now arranging the clinical placements for all our students, to begin in February or March.  (The plan to begin in January has been delayed.)

We are truly excited by the power of these new staff members.  We now lack only the OT Program Coordinator.  For the time being I am filling that role, as I am an OT.  But the brilliantly appropriate OT who will step into the fourth space is just around the corner, I am sure!



Our end-of-year slide show!


FSRL slide show-Aug 1 2019

Please take a minute to click on the slideshow above which shows YOUR FAVORITE STUDENTS hard at work.  It lists some accomplishments by FSRL during the year just past, and some notable events that are still to come!


2016-06-10 FSRL patch, rotated 11.20.59

You’ll see the words of our school song at the end, one verse or chorus per slide, to encourage the students to sing with gusto!  In case you don’t already know the tune, here is a little video of the authors and composers of the song, mainly Stephyole Edmond, with some advice and some lyrics given by Ramona and Marthe: our first three OTs in Haiti!  Enjoy the goose-bumpy harmonies – lovely.

Thirty-six courses done and graded, Hurray!

Phew!  We have JUST completed the grading for the 36 courses that our students completed between Sept. 1 2018 and Aug. 9 2019.  This is the first year that we’ve had all four cohorts in place, 1st year through 4th, and it looked pretty daunting, that’s for sure.  Here’s why there were “only” thirty-six:   the freshmen took all but one course with the nursing school, and the fourth-years, due to the unexpected wave of temporary cancellations by universities in February, still have four more courses to complete before they graduate in December.  AND, in some cases we had two cohorts taking a course at the same time.

LIST OF COURSES TAKEN IN 2018-2019:      Would you like to see the list?  Here they are, not in any special order!

Wound Care; OT Adult Treatment; Acute Care & Cardiopulmonary; Professional Issues in Haiti; Assistive Technology & Environmental Adaptations; Differential Diagnosis; Leadership & Entrepreneurship; Neuroanatomy; Imaging; Pathophysiology II, Developmental Psychology; Musculoskeletal Conditions 2; Advanced Manual Therapy; Normal & Abnormal Gait; Intro to the Rehab Professions; Health & Wellness; Nutrition for Rehab; Pharmacology for Rehab; Psychosocial Aspects of Physical Disabilities; Geriatrics; Adaptive Equipment; Musculoskeletal Conditions 1A, Musculoskeletal Conditions 1B; Psychosocial Conditions; Physiology of Human Performance; Kinesiology & Biomechanics; OT Foundations & Applications; OT & Mental Health; Functional Neurology; Team & Patient Communication; Basic Therapy Skills; Orthotics & Prosthetics; Anatomy II Musculoskeletal; and Logical Thinking & Clinical Decision-Making. 

CLASS OF 2019:       To finish out the year, the class of 2019 still needs to take Research Methods & Memoire (“memoire” meaning Capstone project); Justice, Ethics, & Disability; Advanced Clinical Decision Making with Competency Exams; and even Pediatrics!  (Peds will be taken earlier in the program for the subsequent groups: but for this first group it is still ahead.)

Then they will defend their Capstone projects, at a public jury, on Dec. 4 and 5; and, God Willing, Graduate on December 15!

We have had MANY changes this year that put these courses at risk including demonstrations in Feb. that caused re-scheduling (so that the students went out again to clinical ed rather than taking academic courses, for the time being), a hectic move to a new building, the disappointment of having to discontinue the dorm due to lack of space, BUT, Grace à Dieu, all of the classes have gone on as planned.

Our students are strong and focused.

Our faculty, from the USA, Quebec, and Chile,  are dedicated and flexible.

Our clinical supervisors are REALLY super!  They took our students back without complaint, and allowed us time to re-group to re-schedule the classes so no time was lost.

Our administrative staff is mighty in energy and purpose.

AND, the Board of Directors and the Academic Committee of the Haiti Rehabilitation Foundation are faithful and constant in their encouragement & support.

I am personally grateful to all of the FSRL and HRF community.  Congratulations for a “heavy lift”, well performed!!

First year std make cardboard furniture w JOF
first year students, and friends, making cardboard furniture in courtyard
OT Karly & Clinetana-self-feeding p CVA
OT students practicing self-feeding after stroke
MSK 2 paints Peter Son!
PT students painting the brachial plexus on a brave classmate

FSRL, better-than-ever! (We have a clinic!)

The next-to-last post was sort of a cliff-hanger: when will FSRL get back to normal?  The answer is that we are back in business, even though with some changes.  I got back to my desk in Leogane on March 17 or 18, and we did have visiting faculty (including two Haitian faculty) to keep classes going until the end of March.

In the first week of April the students in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year left campus to go on clinicals.   The clinicals  were supposed to be in summertime, but we have exchanged the seasons: classes will be in the summer instead.

I want to thank the wonderful supervisors who agreed to take our students back, some of them within a couple weeks of the end of the last clinical placement!

  • Dr Rhonda Nisbett, PT, of My Life Speaks, Neply
  • Mme Ashley Kahila, OT, of Respiré, Gressier
  • Mme Consuelo Alzamora Bien-Aimé, OT, of Fondation Tous Ensemble, Les Cayes
  • Mme Ulrike Schaller, PT, of Centre de Réhabilitation, Port a Piment
  • Mme Naika Paul, PT, of Clinique St Esprit, Croix de Bouquets
  • Mr Anani, PT, of Healing Hands for Haiti, Bourdon
  • Mme Julie Van Hulse, PT, of Medecins Sans Frontières, Drouillard
  • Dr Irma Henry, PT, of Hôpital Adventiste

I also want to thank the fourth-year students for their work this month getting our NEW CLINIC at Hôpital Ste Croix open for the first time!  They have cleaned it, bought paint and rollers, commissioned a welder to make parallel bars, scouted out mats and loaned their own mat tables, all necessary to have the basics ready to receive patients, probably in April!

The name will be Centre Tèt Ansanm: Heads Together, as in, Let’s put our heads together about that!”  Actually the full name will be something like


and on the sign it will give credit to  FSRL and UNEPH.  This is a wonderful, excellent ,exciting new development, thoroughly welcomed by the medical director and the nursing director of the hospital: Dr Alexy and Mme Germain.

New clinic-parallel bars-2019-04-18
Setting up Clinic Tèt Ansanm! New parallel bars that the students commissioned from the welder on the corner of Rte de Belval, made after studying the photo in the catalog!

Special congratulations to Emerson Barthelemy, Nicholson François, Amendocia Dorcé, Ramona Adrien, and Roosvelt Pierre Louis, fourth-years who have been scrubbing and walking and carrying heavy things this past week!

New clinic-unpacking barrel-2019-04-18
Emerson opening a barrel sent to us last year by OTs Caroline Larson and Judy Criscitiello, of St. Pault’s Church, Bedford, Mass!

Celebrate, Celebrate, Dance to the Music!

Onstage, in the dim light of midnight, formal dress!

At least three times during the academic year, the students of FSIL and FSRL organize and execute a formal party on the scale of a prom or a wedding reception, in the U.S.

Each cohort (sophomores, juniors, seniors) takes a turn.  Classes are shut down the day before.  The class forms itself into work crews: cleaning, setting up tables and chairs with white tablecloths and chair covers, stringing fairy lights and ribbons and balloons, hammering together the stage for performers, beginning to cook for 200 people.  I’m sure that each person does also some preparation of ironing their formals and tuxes, as well as polishing the black shoes, trimming hair or setting it, and finishing manicures.

On the evening of the fête, at about 9 pm, the place looks like a fine restaurant or club: the school has been transformed.  The elegant students begin to emerge from the dorms, not looking at all like their everyday selves.  Everyone comes, everyone stays, there are bubbly drinks, there is great entertainment.  A lot of the FSIL and FSRL students are at a professional level as singers, dancers, and actors.  There are funny skits, choreographed dances, social ballroom dance exhibitions, solos and duets, hosted by a tuxedo clad MC (also a student).  And at midnight there is a feast!  A buffet table with special dishes, ballooning in volume, ample for all the students plus any guests.  I am told that after that the general dancing begins and goes until 4 am.  I wouldn’t know, myself, as I go to bed after the midnight feast, and sleep like a log.

THEN, amazingly, at 4 am most students go to the dorm to sleep, but the class designated to present the fête goes to work again to dismantle it.  I got up at 6 am one time and went over to the courtyard, where I found students in elegant clothes, now mostly unbuttoned, and in bare feet instead of heels, pushing brooms and mops, moving slowly but still moving.  By 10 the next morning, you would not know there had been a fête.

There is a similar aspect to life in the Episcopal parish just across town, Église Ste Croix.  The Episcopal church throughout the world observes a cycle of Feasts and Fasts.  In most Episcopal parishes in the US, a “Feast” might mean that rarely used vestments are brought out for the clergy, and the choir prepares special music.  But at Église Ste Croix, some of the Feast days are Over the TOP.   For instance, the patronal feast of Église Ste Croix is Holy Cross Day, Sept. 15.  The church is decorated in thick generous garlands of flowers, there are visiting choirs (at least three, sometimes more), clergy come from other parishes, and there is a procession of children, followed by adolescents, followed by middle aged adult women, followed by elderly women, each carrying a basket of fruits on her head to present at the altar.  There is incense, lots of it!  And afterwards there is a feast of food, prepared by the ladies of the parish, that is ample enough for all members AND all guests to eat their fill.  People dress UP.  Men of all ages (including toddlers) in two- or three-piece suits, women in elegant dresses, little girls in white frilly dresses with red sashes.

A lively rocking hymn, little girls dancing in procession, for the patronal feast of Ste Croix church,  on the Sunday closest to Sept. 15 (Holy Cross day) every year.


One explanation can be found in the cultural parameter of Low Context versus High Context cultures.  This discussion of cultural parameters comes from Chris Pullenayagam, a trainer with the Episcopal Church Mission Board.   Low Context cultures, such as those in most of the USA, emphasize individual agendas, most or all the time: what each of us is doing at any time might overlap with what other people are doing. Our parties tend to allow dropping in and dropping out again, “come as you are” outfits including sneakers and sweat pants, “help-yourself” feeding (an endless snack table and a bucket of drinks).

High context cultures emphasize “Occasions”: times dedicated by the whole community to preparation, formality of dress and ceremonial, long feasts. It is very important that you are there, dressed appropriately to honor the event, and that even if you don’t say a word at the event you stay the whole time.  People need to see you sitting there and will ask you afterwards how you enjoyed it.

I now appreciate the value of these occasions.  Life here is stressful for Haitians, much moreso than for their American visitors.  The list of everyday stressors is long and repetitive, and wears people down with discouragement. Things just don’t work, and it’s hard to get them fixed, and people who are sick can’t always go to the doctor, and jobs end without warning, and the money is losing value quickly, and food is expensive not to mention gas for the motorcycle.

Celebrations give a respite:  for the duration of that splendid ceremony, all who attend are human beings with dignity, presenting themselves as people of worth, and giving respect to others around them.  It is a time to “ENJoy” , to admire each other’s very being, to stop time. It is a vacation from being stressed by the difficulties of getting through each day.  It is an experience of joy in each other. It is community.  It is grace.